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How do the Witches in Macbeth Reflect contemporary ideas of witchcraft? Are the Witches solely responsible for Macbeth's Downfall, or can you suggest some other Influence?

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Nicholas Marshall 11A How do the Witches in Macbeth Reflect contemporary ideas of witchcraft? Are the Witches solely responsible for Macbeth's Downfall, or can you suggest some other Influence? When comparing the witches from the play 'Macbeth' to their image of the time we must first make clear what that image is. During Macbeth's time, the 17th century, there was a universal belief of witches. This belief was in the fact that witches were powerful and fearful, unlike their pantomime figures of today, and that they had extraordinary powers which the public couldn't understand. Using their power they would do evil things and so as a result the witches were hated. In the play, 'Macbeth', I will analyse in detail how the witches reflect this image and then with my accurate answer I will decide if the witches are solely responsible for Macbeth's downfall or if there were other factors involved. To get an image of the witches in Shakespeare's time we must first look at a contemporary source. 'The anatomy of melancholy' by Robert Burton is a good text source where a very specific image of witches is given. I will compare this to 'Macbeth's' witches to see whether they reflect Burton's ideas and consequently contemporary ideas. Within the text he mentions that witches can; "...cause tempests...make friends enemies, and enemies friends...enforce love, tell any man where his friends are... hurt and infect man and beasts... fly in the air, meet when and where they will...the aid of demons, and put deformed in their rooms, which we call changelings...make men victorious. Fortunate, eloquent...they can walk in fiery furnaces, make men feel no pain...can stanch blood, represent dead men's shapes, alter and turn themselves into several forms at their pleasures." From this text is the general idea of what witches were thought to be able to do within their time. Obviously an exact image can't be given because people's views of witches varied from place to place in that time but the above source gives a general idea of what witches were thought to be like: powerful, mysterious and fearful. ...read more.


It is obvious upon Lady Macbeth's first scene that she is already corrupted. On hearing Macbeth's predicted future she immediately has evil intentions; "...yet I do fear thy nature, It is too full o'th'milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way." This is an extract from Lady Macbeth's speech about Macbeth's letter that concerns the witches. This scene occurs quite soon after Macbeth's encounter with the witches and so shows that Macbeth's first reaction is to write to his wife. This shows how much he values Lady Macbeth opinion, and perhaps signifies his love for her as well. Lady Macbeth however feels quite the opposite; instead of seeing love for Macbeth she sees an opportunity to take advantage of Macbeth's luck. Instead of loving Macbeth for who he is she points out his bad points, 'full o'th'milk of human kindness' and starts to consider how to overcome them to get her goal, this goal being gaining kingship as fast as possible. This shows us that Lady Macbeth merely thinks of her husband as an object that she can manipulate to get her way. The word 'milk' is associated with children and babies. Because this word is describing Macbeth it implies that Lady Macbeth thinks her husband as weak and child-like, which is strange as we have seen Macbeth only to be a ruthless general up until now. With further thought Lady Macbeth can easily be seen as the maternal dominant role to Macbeth's childlike personality. This signifies her control over Macbeth. Later on in the same scene Lady Macbeth is clearly shown as evil; "...Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts...And fill me...topfull Of direst cruelty..." After realising the challenge of persuading Macbeth to kill Duncan and take his crown, though this is not said it is hinted quite extensively, Lady Macbeth calls on demon spirits to help her. Without much thought she sells her soul to hell to get her way. ...read more.


By the end of the play this end of Macbeth's personality has disappeared leaving him as a fearless and uncaring demon. I think that it would be plausible to say that Macbeth is type of schizophrenic because the two sides of his personality contrast greatly enough to gain him this title. It is also worth noting that there are three points where Macbeth is alike the witches. This likeness may mean that the witches' job to degenerate him may be easier. It is this violent side, along with the war, Lady Macbeth, his likeness to witches and the witches influencing it and bringing this side out, that consumes Macbeth's good side, which leads to his degeneration. Macbeth's tendency to violence is shown in several ways throughout the play. One of the ways is how Macbeth repeats or uses the word blood many times, wither on its own or in an image. The most noticeable use of this is after Macbeth has killed Duncan he is discussing with his wife how he'll get the blood of his hands. Macbeth, in a state of fear, describes that he'll never get it of in an artistic way. "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand?" It is this image of blood and many other references to blood throughout the play that give us the idea that Macbeth has a natural tendency to violence as blood id associated with death. This quote shows more than just a reference to blood though, it shows that Macbeth has imagination, it also shows that Macbeth feels fear because with imagination you can think of various outcomes to things, including outcomes that you fear. My other reference to show Macbeth's tendency to violence is implied through this quote; "Stars, hide your fires, Let not light see my black and deep desires..." This is an extract from one of Macbeth's sentences before Lady Macbeth has had any influence on him yet. This suggests that Macbeth already has the evil intentions that Lady Macbeth forces onto him. ...read more.

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