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How important are the witches in Macbeth?

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How important are the witches in Macbeth? During the play, the three witches appear many times and prove to be a very important influence on the characters. The start of the play immediately features the witches and causes a spectacular opening that would grab the attention of a Shakespearean audience. At the time of the play, the majority of people believed that witches were real and between 1560 and 1603, over 16,000 people were convicted of witchcraft and burned to death. The sheer presence of the witches in the play would have been enough to terrify an audience of that time. The witches would have appealed to a subject of popular fear and fascination. King James who was king at the time of the play was also fascinated by witchcraft and so this aspect of the play could have intrigued him. The thunder and lightning at the beginning, immediately suggests that evil will have a part in the play. The witches' appearance would be grotesque and ugly. One of the witches begins to talk of Macbeth, who was at the time a mighty and ambitious warrior. The audience would wonder what Macbeth has to do with such creatures. They appear in a storm and talk of meeting again in a storm. This would give the impression that they can create bad weather, which was one of the typical stereotypical beliefs about witches. They seem to belong to an unhealthy and dirty world of 'fog' and 'filthy air'. They are being hailed by their familiars in the first scene; these are Graymalkin and Paddock (grey cat and toad). These are demons in animal form. They always seem to speak in rhyme as if they are constantly casting spells. They also seem to be suggesting confusion in the natural order by using paradoxes such as 'fair is foul and foul is fair'. The first scene is evil and would leave an audience wondering what Macbeth has to do with such evil beings. ...read more.


He seemed determined to be unaffected by them and so an audience would be left wondering why Macbeth couldn't take the same attitude towards the visions. The answer, of course, is the other two main influences on Macbeth. His burning ambition and his wife proved to be the source of his killer instinct. Macbeth experienced hallucinations and the inability to pray in the play and at the time this would have been looked upon as the work of the witches. Both hallucinating and the inability to pray were apparent symptoms of demonic possession. Although some audiences would explain these events as work of the witches, they could also be accounted for by the conscience of Macbeth. Examples of these events occur during Act 2 Scene 1, when Macbeth talks of hallucinations in a soliloquy. Of course, he explained them as he saw it. He talked of seeing a 'dagger' with 'the handle towards his hand'. There are many examples like this in the play. As he returns from committing the murder of Duncan, he explains to his wife that he heard voices coming from next door to Duncan. One said 'God Bless us' and the other said 'Amen'. After explaining this to her he then tells her that he was unable to say amen. The inability to pray and hallucinations were both apparent symptoms of demonic possession. Macbeth also experienced hallucinations during the banqueting scene. The people at the banquet were all the lords of Scotland gathered together with their new king. Macbeth had invited Banquo to the banquet and made sure that he could definitely attend. He had organised to have Banquo and Fleance killed on the way to the banquet. Then, when he began to talk to his guests, he mentioned Banquo by saying 'if only Banquo could be here'. As soon as he mentioned Banquo's name, his ghost appeared in Macbeth's chair. ...read more.


He is unable to feel grief after all of the deaths that he has been associated with. Indifference to life was also a sign on possession and this quote may also give a Shakespearean audience the impression that he is possessed by demons. Later in act 5, scene 5, the army with Macduff and Malcolm arrive and as camouflage, they cut down Birnam wood and carry it to Dunsinane. When they arrive, Macduff finds Macbeth and they begin to fight. Macbeth isn't as worried as he should be because he still believes that he is immortal because of the witches' prophecy. Then, Macduff tells Macbeth that he was not born of woman due to a caesarian operation. The witches tricked Macbeth and Macduff killed him. The witches betrayed Macbeth by leading him to believe that he was immortal. At the end of the play, the audience may be reminded of Banquo's words from act 1, scene 3. He spoke about the witches in this scene and said 'to betray's, in deepest consequence'. Banquo's warning came true and the witches betrayed Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in deepest consequence. Overall, the witches played a very important part in the play. They were a great influence on Macbeth's actions from the beginning, but there were also other influences on him. There were always two possible explanations why Macbeth did what he did, a psychological explanation, and a supernatural explanation. For example, Macbeth could have had visions of killing Duncan because the witches put the visions into his head. It's also possible that he had such a burning ambition to be king, he created the visions and made himself believe that killing Duncan was the only way of fulfilling his ambition. An audience from the time of Shakespeare, would probably prefer to believe the supernatural explanation because at the time, witchcraft was a subject of popular fear and fascination. Today, with just a minority of people believing in the powers of witchcraft, an audience may believe the psychological explanation. Either way, the witches played a very important part in the play. ...read more.

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