• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Form an opinion on how Shakespeare in his play "Macbeth" appeals to seventeenth century interests and beliefs in witchcraft.

Extracts from this document...


The aim of this coursework is to form an opinion on how Shakespeare in his play "Macbeth" appeals to seventeenth century interests and beliefs in witchcraft. For this purpose the research has been carried out through detailed analysis of the play, as well as through the study and evaluation of materials presented in books, professional publications and websites, so as to explain seventeenth century views about witchcraft and to state how the witches played a role in Macbeth's downfall. Macbeth is considered to be one of the most popular and masterful work of drama with an appeal that has lasted for centuries. Macbeth was most likely written between 1605 and 1606 following the succession of James the Sixth of Scotland to the English throne as James the first of England in March 1603. Its story of a once noble man brought down by temptation is timeless: it appealed to the seventeenth century audiences, and it appeals equally to performers and audiences nowadays. We are amazed at the playwright's deep understanding of human nature, as he makes the spiritual downfall of Macbeth, the main character, horrifyingly clear. At the time, Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, people were interested in the idea of the supernatural and the unknown. This seems to be one of the reasons why Shakespeare chose to write a play about this particular theme. The belief in the existence and power of witches was widely accepted in Shakespeare's days. The practice of witchcraft was seen to challenge the established order of religion and society, and hence was not tolerated: "Witch hunting was a respectable, moral, and highly intellectual pursuit through much of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries"1. ...read more.


The witches flatter him in two ways. First, the witches greet Macbeth as a superior, "all hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis." (Act 1 Scene 3). This courteous salutation, "hail," is only used for the great leaders of men, not subordinates like Macbeth, who at this point in the play is only a vassal of King Duncan. The only other instance in which one of the characters in the play is greeted by "hail" is when Malcolm takes power at the end of the play after Macbeth's head is chopped off (Act 5 Scene 8). Never outside of Act 1 Scene 3 is it used to refer to Macbeth. The witches greeting to Macbeth also flatters him by differentiating him from Banquo. While Banquo at this point in the play is an equal of Macbeth, Banquo is not greeted at all; the witches do not even refer to Banquo until halfway through the scene. And the witches only refer to him after he begs the witches to predict his future. The witches appear announced by a roll of thunder, to relate their misdeeds to each other, and the audience: "FIRST WITCH: Where hast thou been, sister? SECOND WITCH: Killing swine". "Killing swine" was exactly the kind of thing that accusations of witchcraft in England turned upon, so this fact could definitely draw the attention of the audience. The First Witch then continues with: "Here I have a pilot's thumb, Wrecked as homeward he did come." And this may again be read as an allusion to which the audience of that period would respond. The use of joints of the dead to raise storms and the general prohibition of grave-robbing for sorcery was imported into England with James VI and I, when the English ...read more.


At the beginning of the play she is Macbeth's "dearest partner of greatness", but at the end she is his "fiend-like queen". She has a desire for power and she provokes Macbeth to seize the throne of Scotland by murdering Duncan. In my opinion, she is the same symbol of evil as the witches. Macbeth is brave when it comes to thought but when he is faced with the action, he hesitates and has to be persuaded into action by lady Macbeth and the prediction of the witches. However, in my opinion, Macbeth is neither forced into crime by Lady Macbeth nor by the witches. Macbeth chooses evil knowingly, and it is him alone, who is responsible for the consequences that follow. In conclusion, it is important to underline that Shakespeare used many different aspects of the supernatural to make his play fascinating for the seventeenth century audience as well as for the audiences of today. In his tragic play, Shakespeare exercises the thematic tools of witchcraft, darkness, horror as these themes appeal to the audience's curiosity of the mysterious and thus strengthen their interest. Without the mystery in this play, the plot would be ordinary, and there would be nothing unusual to attract the attention of the reader. It is these tools that are also used to provide insight into the motivations and thoughts of the characters. The darkness, witches, visions and hallucinations, all add to the plot of this play and make Macbeth a play that can surely keep the attention of the reader and audience. 1 The Witches' Influence on Macbeth by Jennifer Riedel online available from http://www.engl.uvic.ca/Faculty/MBHomePage/ISShakespeare.html 2 http://www.verona-world.de/group2/supernat.htm 3 Thornton B (2001) Macbeth, Shakespeare Lesson, Stratford upon Avon: Croft Study Centre www.croftstudycentre.freeserve.co.uk/macbeth 4 Underhill R (1995) Stage and State: The Censorship of Macbeth, Shakespeare by Individual Studies, www.engl.uvic.ca/Faculty/MBHomePage/ISShakespeare/Resources/Essex 5 Witchcraft Trials in Scotland ://homepages.tesco.net/~eandcthomp/#Endnotes 6 http://www.geocities.com/heartland/ranch/8728/macbeth.html 1 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Macbeth section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Macbeth essays

  1. Peer reviewed

    Discuss the Role Played by the Witches in the Tragedy of Macbeth

    3 star(s)

    It begins with the first witch telling the other two about the havoc she has just been wreaking on a sailor and his wife. When Macbeth enters the scene on horseback with Banquo, he also speaks of "foul and fair".

  2. How is Macbeth persuaded to kill Duncan: Is his wife entirely to blame?

    Only after killing the king does he realize what he has done. Still, Lady Macbeth bears no guilt and says, "A little water clears us of the deed." As a director, I would force the actor playing Macbeth to show that he is become insane, and all the lines are

  1. How did Shakespeare appeal to his audience, both in the 17th century, and in ...

    He only mentions three lines about his wife. After this, he starts talking about life. When the messenger tells him the news about Birnam Woods, he becomes really rude and calls him a "liar and slave!" Very soon after, he appears much less confident than at the beginning of the scene.

  2. How is Macbeth persuaded to kill Duncan: Is his wife entirely to blame?

    Once again Lady Macbeth is quick to strike back with "What beast was't then That made you break your enterprise to me?" so it is quite clear that whatever argument Macbeth may wish to take, Lady Macbeth will be ready to pounce back.

  1. How does Shakespeare influence the audience's opinion of the character and the actions of ...

    People started to become more scared by witches, and when Elizabeth Sawyer, was put on trial for witchcraft, in 1621 it was a common thing. In Shakespeare's day, the threat of the Black Death was sweeping across Europe, and Puritan influences, led more people to believe in witches.

  2. How Does the First Act of 'Macbeth' by William Shakespeare Form an Effective Opening ...

    Another contradiction introduced in scene one is "Fair is foul, and foul is fair:" This is another theme of the play. A major topic of the play is that appearances can be deceptive. The words of the witches introduce this idea at the very beginning of the play.

  1. How do the Witches in Macbeth Reflect contemporary ideas of witchcraft? Are the Witches ...

    The witches within this act are discussing where and when to meet. The quote carries the image that 'Macbeth's' witches can meet when and where they like by the quote's open questions. They are open because the witch is not being specific and so, as a result, it shows that witches have a choice.

  2. How is Lady Macbeth presented by Shakespeare? In what ways does she change throughout ...

    In this quote in particular there is clear iambic pentameter, making various parts of the quote ring out to the audience, which is a common literary device used by Shakespeare in his writing. Comments such as "That my knife see not the wound it makes" indicate a wishful blindness or ignorance to the foreboding events.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work