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The Role of the Witches in Macbeth

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Introduction

THE ROLE OF THE WITCHES IN MACBETH Since Macbeth was first performed almost four hundred years ago, the three Witches have been portrayed in numerous ways on the stage and, over the last hundred years, on the screen. But the Witches have remained, in all their various guises, one of the most powerful elements in the play and one of the most powerful instruments for affecting audiences. One of the reasons for this is that Man throughout the ages has been fascinated by the supernatural, and this was especially true in Elizabethan England. The Witches are able to unsettle audiences by the way in which they are portrayed on the stage and by their use of language, particularly their descriptions of the evil deeds they perpetrate, which are delivered in an incantational style. But the main role of the Witches in this play is the part they play in the tragic downfall of Macbeth. The extent to which he is a victim of the Witches' evil is an essential part of the drama of his fall from grace. At the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, England was very different from the England in which we live today. ...read more.

Middle

They also add the organs of humans: "liver of blaspheming Jew", "Nose of Turk", "Tartar's lips" and "Finger of birth-strangled babe, Ditch-delivered by a drab". All of these would appeal to the Witches as they were not baptised, and therefore could add evil to the Witches' broth. To allow Macbeth to see the apparitions which will tell him of his fate, the Witches pour into the fire the fearful "sow's blood, that hath eaten Her nine farrow" and "grease, that's sweaten From the murderer's gibbet". Shakespeare then presents the Witches, without any doubt, as an evil force and yet from the first time we see them, as they plan to meet with Macbeth (upon the heath, There to meet with Macbeth"), it is clear that they are inextricably tied to the fate of the general. The Witches leave the heath in Act 1Scene 1 saying "fair is foul, and foul is fair" and Macbeth echoes these words in his very first line, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen". The Witches are influencing Macbeth's thinking before he has even set eyes on them. When the Witches have vanished after his first meeting with them, Macbeth wonders whether or not the reason he saw them was that he had inadvertently eaten the "insane root" (hemlock). ...read more.

Conclusion

This line clearly links the Witches to the actions and fate of Macbeth. Yet Macbeth's decision to go beyond the messages of the apparitions and murder Macduff shows a real thirst for blood. This leads to the horrific slaughter of Lady Macduff and her children. It seems possible that Macbeth, like Lady Macbeth, has a diseased mind. The tragedy of Macbeth is that not until he knows his death and damnation is certain, with the dramatic message that Birnam Wood is moving towards his castle, does he see that he has been manipulated by the Witches, the evil instruments of his fate, "I pull in resolution, and begin To doubt th' equivocation of the fiend, That lies like truth". His last words remind the audience of "Brave Macbeth" of the beginning of the play, "At least we'll die with harness on our back". The Witches create a sense of evil in Macbeth by being presented in a way that Elizabethans would recognise as truly witch-like and frightening. Shakespeare intensifies their evil power by the vivid, incantational use of language in which they describe their ghoulish acts and weave their spells. Above all, the role of the "Weird Sisters", as they play with the fate of "brave Macbeth" and knowingly send him to his doom is a vital element in this tragic drama. ...read more.

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