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How does shakespear use the witches in Macbeth?

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Introduction

How does Shakespeare use the witches in Macbeth? Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare in 1603 when he was part of 'the king's men' - a group of actors that wrote and performed plays especially for James 1. It was therefore important the plays were supportive of the monarchy and were of subject matter that was relevant to James. Shakespeare knew of James 1's fascination with witchcraft and so revolved the play around witches to make it more appealing to the king and to gain favour. James's interest in witchcraft was more than just a hobby to him, he had written several books on the subject including one entitled 'Demonology' in 1603. He was convinced witches were evil especially since, he claimed, a witch called Agnis Tompson had tried to kill him. The witches in Macbeth play a major role for this reason. At the time when this play was written, there was great concern in society with witchcraft, which continued to develop in to a real social crisis. Shakespeare's ideas for Macbeth went back as far as Plato and Aristotle's, where he used the ideas in another of his tragedies 'Troilus and Cressida' which concerns the Trojan war where Ulysses described the order of the universe as being like a "ladder". ...read more.

Middle

This gives their speech the effect of an incantation and distinguishes it from the largely iambic speech of other characters: "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Cool it down with baboon's blood, then the charm is done and good". The concept of witchcraft has existed since the tenth century and even earlier. All witches would be charged with heresy and burned at the stake by the Church of the time. The peak of both witchcraft rituals and persecutions were in the 1500's and the 1600's. Nearly seven million people were subject to persecution, torture, and hanging in the name of eliminating witchcraft. Almost any hardship was marked as the work of a witch. Whether or not they were actually responsible, an accused witch would be tortured to admission. Macbeth was written in the beginning of the 1600's. This was a time of religion and great beliefs in things that we today would feel was stupid and irresponsible. A main topic that people in the 1600's were fearful and afraid of were witches and anything that they felt was associated with witches, such as lightning and thunder. ...read more.

Conclusion

The audience experiences these prophecies almost immediately in the opening scene and act of the play - they talk about meeting Macbeth and say they will greet him, "when the battle's lost and won." And then they yell together, "fair is foul, and foul is fair." These two examples foreshadow that some sort of evil will be coming and that there will also be a victory of sorts, but the audience doesn't know specifically what yet. These also suggest a great battle is to be fought against good and evil and the events that follow will unfold at a rapid pace. This foreshadowing can be detected by the audience because they can feel the emotion of doom and evil rising. This anticipation of what's to come keeps the audience interested and ensures they will be hanging on every word the actors utter. In conclusion, Shakespeare uses the witches in Macbeth for many reasons. To gain favour with James 1 by using subject matter which is of interest to him. To keep the plot moving and maintain the sense of foreboding that runs throughout the play. To interest the audience and engage their emotions (such as fear) for a more thrilling performance and finally to make the play up to date by addressing a social issue of the time. ...read more.

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