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Macbeth - The Witches are the Heart of the Play

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"The Witches are the Heart of the Play" Paddy L In Shakespeare's day many, most people would have had no doubts about he actual existence of witches, and in their powers of evil, demonstrated by the European witch craze, where some 9 million women were burnt at the stake for practicing 'witchcraft'. There were however strong arguments as to their non-existence in the same period. Even the play's opening stage direction, "Enter three witches", could be interpreted as a compressed historical commentary on the belief in witchcraft from antiquity, until the 1700's. The practice of witchcraft was perceived as subverting the established order of religion and society, and thus was not tolerated, while death for murder by witchcraft had been the standard punishment since 1563. The prominent part played by the Witches in this case came at a fitting time, since King James first encountered witchcraft while returning from a trip to Denmark, where it came to light that several witches had tried to cast spells upon him. This resulted in the development of a passionate interest in the Black Arts: "In respect of the strangeness of these matters" he "took great delight to be present at [the Witches'] examinations". His interest would only have been fanned to learn that "by reason the King is the greatest enemy he hath in the world". ...read more.


If MacBeth had listened to Banquo then perhaps the tragic events to follow could have been stopped. Their very foreknowledge of their meeting with MacBeth implies they see a flaw in him, which they would manipulate. In the opening scene, the weather is thunder and lightning which is a mirror image of the way the witches are perceived. Evil and destruction are associated with stormy weather and this is exactly the way witches are represented in this play. The witches are indeed maintained as the centrepiece of the play, because it is they that offer the protagonist the real temptation to commit murder. If Thomas Cooper is correct in his The Mystery of Witchcraft, then "Satan cannot preuail effectually upon any of their condemnation, unless with full consent they yield themselves...". In this case the guarantee of success and security that they seem to offer him proves too good to ignore, though this does not necessarily imply evil means of achieving this prophesy of the crown. Even after Duncan's murder, he does not think to use the witches as scapegoats for his crime, knowing that it was completely his own responsibility, admiting that: Chance may crown me Without my stir [I:III,143-44] The witches only proclaim the prophesy to MacBeth as they realise the extent of his ambition, and the contrast in the way that he and Banquo receive this information acts as further testimony of MacBeth's flawed character, succumbing to his pride. ...read more.


Like dreams, they do not keep to spatial reality or time, they show some connection to real life because the witches seem to show what MacBeth desires are and how he can get them. This is very similar to a dream- as suggested by the phrase 'a dream come true'- which might show what we want and desire. Both dreams and the witches are a blurred form of reality; neither do they conform to any fixed structure. The witches are rebellious by nature, suggested by (amongst other things) their 'chorus' "Double, double, boil and trouble", and by raising the thought of rebellion in MacBeth, lead him to his eventual downfall and death. This definitive triumph of good seems intrinsically linked with the paramount message of the play, displaying how evil thoughts only need a little weakness of will to turn into actions. This Christian moral is deeply embedded in the play, as shown by MacBeth receiving the ultimate retribution for allowing the evil of ambition, then of power to corrupt him utterly. Thus, the conclusion that one can reach is that MacBeth was not just a hopeless victim of fate. He may have been guided by evil influences, but in the end, he made the choice to kill Duncan, the guilt following which led to his insecurity leading to his further murders. Therefore, though fate may have played a part in his life he made his choice and had to face its consequences, showing that we can't just sit back and blame "fate". ...read more.

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