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What do the three scenes featuring the Witches contribute to Macbeth?

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What do the three scenes featuring the Witches contribute to Macbeth? During the Jacobean era the public were increasingly preoccupied with witchcraft. In 1564 a law came into force making murder by witchcraft punishable by death. It is estimated that in Scotland alone 8,000 witches were burned at the stake between 1564 and 1603. In 1604 an additional law was passed in Scotland, which declared that anyone found guilty of practising witchcraft should be executed. James I became personally involved with witchcraft when he and his wife were almost shipwrecked on returning from Denmark. Due to so little scientific advancement at the time, the general population were extremely superstitious. They believed their lives were very strongly influenced, if not commanded, by fate. Shakespeare incorporated many of the beliefs and superstitions of the era into this play. Although this essay refers to them as the witches, throughout Shakespeare's play they are referred to as the weird sisters. The word weird in this case is a derivation of the old English word wyrd, which means fate. This use of the word wyrd elevates the sisters above the merely human witch of Jacobean folklore and portrays them as semi-divine figures. There are three weird sisters, which is a reference to the magic number 3, which can be linked both to the Holy Trinity and the Evil 3. ...read more.


The lone fact that the witches mention Macbeth before he even knows they exist symbolises that an invisible bond links him to them already, that they have decided to toy with his fate. The penultimate line; "Fair is foul, and foul is fair", further perplexes the audience and provides the leitmotif of disturbance, confusion and anarchy throughout the play. In this scene we first get introduced to the witches' special rhythm: unlike any other character in Shakespeare's Macbeth they speak with a distinct drumbeat that is almost their "theme tune". The thing that distinguishes it from the verse of the other characters is that it not Shakespeare's usual blank verse, but written in trochaic tetrameter, which mean that the stress follows the pattern of strong stress, light stress, whereas every other character's blank verse follows the opposite pattern of light stress, strong stress. The following examples demonstrate this rhythm: "When the hurlyburly's done, When the battle's lost and won." The effect of this rhythm is that it is specific to the witches' language, setting them apart from other characters with their incantatory verse. The trochaic style of verse has an insistent rhythm, similar to a drumbeat or hammer-stroke. These features of the language make it very suitable for chants and spells. ...read more.


This signifies that Macbeth has travelled so far down the path of evil that he can now easily find other evil beings with ease. This is further proved by the 2nd witch that says "something wicked this way comes" meaning Macbeth is now so "wicked" that he has outdone the witches in evil. This scene is frequently parodied and taken out of context, however when it is read in milieu with the text, there is no sense that this a comic affair, but that it is meant to chill the audience with its vivid imagery. When Macbeth finds them, the witches are casting a spell. This is yet another link to the superstitions of the age, the ingredients go up in calibre and rarity as the scene progresses. The pattern of progression starts with fairly common animals one would find in this country, such "eye of newt, and toe of frog" and these fairly domestic creatures are followed by rare, exotic and in some cases mythical beings: "Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, Witches' mummy, maw and gulf Of the ravined salt-sea shark" The array of animal ingredients give way to human ones, such as the "liver of blaspheming Jew", "nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips". Shakespeare used these particular nationalities as during this time anyone who was not a Christian was considered a barbarian. ...read more.

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