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The role of witchcraft in Macbeth

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Macbeth Coursework Throughout Shakespeare's life, witches and witchcraft were the objects of morbid and fevered fascination. A veritable witch-mania characterised the reign of Elizabeth I and persecution reached terrifying proportions. Between 1560 and 1603 hundreds of people were convicted as witches and executed. Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare in 1606 for King James I who was obsessed with the supernatural and had even gone as far as to write a book on the topic titled Daemonolgie. Act 1 scene 1 opens with thunder and lightning, which on stage would open the play in a dramatic way with loud noises and flashes of light. This would immediately capture the audience's attention and they would be focusing on the stage as the witches appear. The thunder and lightning create a frightening and menacing atmosphere and this sets the tone for the horrifying events that are about to unfold on the stage. The mood and atmosphere are set in this way but the effect of this scene is wider than simply the setting of mood and atmosphere. It also gives us information about the events that occur later on in the play. ...read more.


The number three seems to have a magical significance in Macbeth concerning the witches. On Banquo's first encounter with the witches, he describes their physical appearance as, "So withered and so wild in their attire, That look not like th'inhabitants o'th'earth, And yet are on't." We begin to get a clear picture of the witches' appearance, Banquo then says, "You should be women And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so." Elizabethans believed that women could lure men into committing sin and they became known as temptresses. We can see that Banquo is nearly amused by the witches and queries their prophecies calmly, unlike Macbeth who reacts very differently to the witches and what they have to say. Macbeth seems to be dumbfounded by them, "rapt withal." The prophecies are in rhyming couplets. They do not tell Macbeth or Banquo how to act; instead they stay neutral and let them act on their own accords. The audience are more aware of the witches than Macbeth and Banquo, we know that Macbeth became Thane of Cawdor by his own actions. The witches are successful in challenging Macbeth's morals. ...read more.


The three apparitions forewarn Macbeth's fate: a head foretelling his decapitation of Macduff, a bloody child, representing Macduff being "untimely cut from the womb", and a child crowned with a tree in his hand, representing Malcolm coming to Dunsinane carrying a bough. These apparitions suck Macbeth deeper into the witches' confidence. Macbeth takes the witches' advice too seriously, he does not realise that they are only showing him his fate. He takes what he wants from the apparitions and nothing else, which is an unwise mistake that makes death unavoidable. Macbeth even thanks the witches, "Whate'er thou art, for thy good caution thanks." Macbeth is continually giving into evil, and letting the witches entice him into more and more danger. In Macbeth, I think that the witches play a big role in Macbeth's eventual downfall. Although they do not directly instruct him on what to do, in my opinion I think that they persuade Macbeth to kill Duncan in order to be King. In every Shakespearean tragedy, the hero always has a tragic flaw, which leads to his or her own downfall. Macbeth's tragic flaw in my opinion is that he is too weak, easily led and does not think of the consequences of his actions. 1 Amanda Meek 12L ...read more.

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