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Explore the role of the witches in 'Macbeth'. To what extent do they influence Macbeth and how would the Elizabethan audience have responded to them?

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Explore the role of the witches in 'Macbeth'. To what extent do they influence Macbeth and how would the Elizabethan audience have responded to them? It is the purpose of this assignment to explore whether the witches influenced Macbeth sufficiently to cause him to commit murder, treason and regicide, or whether Macbeth was capable of committing these crimes on his own and the witches only made this happen a little earlier and a little more certainly. We will also explore the Elizabethan audience, their superstitions, and how they would react to the character of the witches as seen in Macbeth. Historically, the witches have been seen as evil beings that gain evil powers from the devil to use during their lifetime, in return for their souls when they die. In the United Kingdom, man's belief in witches and the supernatural was very strong during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Laws were passed by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and James I prohibiting witchcraft and making the practise punishable by death. Witches were used as scapegoats in Elizabethan society. During the years 1580-90 there was a famine and rebellion throughout the land, 160 witch trials took place in south-east England alone. In the years 1620-30, there was relatively little famine only 25 trials took place, the Civil War then broke out in 1642, the number of trials rocketed to 75. If the crops failed or if an animal was sick, people would automatically suspect that a witch was involved because the people at this time had very little medical or scientific knowledge to explain these occurrences. The majority of witches executed were old women who lived alone, if they kept any sort of animal for company, e.g. a cat, then people could claim that the animal was a "familiar", an evil spirit given to the witch by the devil and the woman would be tried. ...read more.


This is perhaps the strongest proof in the entire play that the witches are purposefully influencing Macbeth and using him as a vessel through which great evil can be done. As Hecate says: "And by the strength of their illusion shall draw him on to his conclusion" The final scene where the witches appear is the scene where the witches show Macbeth these illusions, Act 4, Scene 1. This scene is perhaps the one most laden with special effects in the entire play. The stage directions read: "A cavern and in the midst a fiery pit with a boiling cauldron above it. "Thunder", as the Weird Sisters rise, one after the other, from the flames." Shakespeare is making this a scene that the audience will remember, all these special effects are designed to show the awesome power that there is at a witch's Sabbath. This scene would have affected the audience more than any other, because in this short scene, Shakespeare shows them the comparison between humans, such as themselves, and the amazing power held by the supernatural beings that are the witches. When Macbeth meets the witches for the second time, it is under entirely different circumstances. Macbeth has now turned evil, even in comparison to the witches, as the 2nd witch says: "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes" Macbeth shows the witches no respect, " I conjure you..., answer me:" "Had I three ears, I'd hear thee" And he alludes to the battle between good and evil that the witches are fighting. "Though you untie the winds, and let them fight against the churches" Macbeth in this scene shows that he is capable of doing evil without the help of the witches, as he decides to kill Macduff's wife and children. This scene is important because it shows that although at the beginning of the play, the witches had to influence most of Macbeth's decisions in order to make him do evil (for example, the air drawn ...read more.


the morals of the play is that "Fair is foul, and foul is fair", or that things are not always as they seem. This is certainly true of Macbeth, who began the story as "Worthy Gentleman", and ended it as "this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen". The witches influence of Macbeth by use of prophecy (Act 1, Scene 1), hallucinations (Act 4, Scene 2) and mind play (Act 3, Scene 4) would only give him the desire to commit such murders, The confidence and determination had to be supplied by Lady Macbeth, who coerced him into agreeing to murder Duncan by questioning Macbeth's manhood in Act 1, Scene 7. The witches' role in Macbeth is that of the "baddie", the personification of evil that must be defeated by the good (i.e. Malcolm). The witches manage to convert Macbeth to the path of evil, but he is only a tool of the greater evil of Hecate and her witches. The witches and Lady Macbeth cannot be solely responsible for Macbeth's actions. His "boundless ambition" and easily-led nature that allowed him to follow the path of regicide are also responsible and we see these traits at work after Act 4, Scene 1, when his "boundless ambition" and the influences of the witches' apparitions make him engage in a final battle between the two armies of good and evil at the end of the play. The Elizabethan audience would have hated the witches, partly because they would attribute any misfortunes in their own lives to the actions of similar beings. Shakespeare chose to use the witches in this way for two reasons. Firstly, the audience's fear and superstition about witches would mean that there was little need to develop their characters further than evil beings, because the people would already know a lot about them, and secondly because of how fervently James I not only believed in witches, but believed that they were the cause of all the suffering in his kingdom. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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