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How does the initial scene with the witches set the atmosphere of 'Macbeth'?

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Usman Ali How does the initial scene with the witches set the atmosphere of 'Macbeth'? The play is based loosely on fact but more importantly it is set in a violent time when the succession to the throne was not guaranteed. Shakespeare wrote 'Macbeth' very soon after the Gunpowder Plot was discovered. In 1605, of a group Catholic gentlemen tried to kill the king James 1st by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. The play was first performed in front of James ? between 1605 or 1606 and the audience would have been aware of the recent events. Consequently both eras were times of fear and turmoil. The witches reflect this; they create a threatening, and unsettling atmosphere and go onto exert a profound influence of the events of the play. Shakespeare also wrote 'Macbeth' at a time when belief in witchcraft was much stronger; their appearance on the stage would have had a powerful impact on the audience. That time people believed that the witches could fly and cast evil spells. King James I was also personally terrified of witches because he believed a group of them had raised a storm to drown to try and drown him then had made a wax image to make him sicken and die. ...read more.


They cast violent evil spells, "killing swine, Aleppo gone, peace! The charm's wound up." Their spells and prophecies are expressed in the form of riddles and grotesque images, they chant in unison and can apparently control weather. "Posters of the sea and land, Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine. In thunder, lightening or in rain?" The witches introduce the theme of reality and illusion. Things are not as they seem. They speak in form of riddles and it's hard to understand them. This is emphasised even more when we hear Macbeth echo the same words as the witches, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen." This is the first time in the play we hear Macbeth's very first speech. Why are the witches words in Macbeth's mouth? Are we meant to associate him with the witches and their evil? Furthermore Macbeth and Banquo are not sure if the witches existed or whether they were a product of their imagination. Banquo even suggests they might have been hallucinations, "have we eaten the insane root." ...read more.


The witches seem to speak Macbeth's innermost thoughts. They know exactly what to and their timing is very precise. They act as a team. They seem unnaturally close; they seem to speak with one voice and act with one mind. When Ross and Angus arrive with the news that king Duncan has made Macbeth the Thane of Cawdor, the first prophecy has come true. Therefore this makes him believe his greatest prize is near. Macbeth appears to have immediate proof to believe that the witches know the future. Macbeth seems to be under the witches spell. The witches only appear once but there words stay in his thoughts. Where as Banquo knows that the witches are evil and often seduce us with small rewards in order to cause our destruction, "to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths; Win us with honest trifles." To conclude, Shakespeare opens the play with the witches to frighten, confuse and unsettle the audience, he also wanted to make a dramatic impact in the theatre. Furthermore, he wants to introduce the main themes of the play: Fate, Destiny, Illusion and Reality. Although the witches are only on stage for a short time they exert a powerful influence throughout the rest of the play. ...read more.

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