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What is the Significance of the Witches in Macbeth?

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Introduction

What is the Significance of the Witches in 'Macbeth'? 'Macbeth' is set in 11th century Scotland - a time of political unrest with lots of violence, murders and rivalry to do with politics and kings. In these times competent and noble leaders were often killed for ambition and greed. Shakespeare explores these issues in the play. Although 'Macbeth' is set in a period a long time ago, its themes are still relevant to any society and age - even today. Shakespeare writes about issues that have been in any time. An example is whether leaders are good or bad and what qualities they have that shows this. 'Macbeth' also demonstrates the role of ambition in society and how it affects everyone both short term and long term. The play shows how power is gained and kept be that by legitimate reasons or by wrong methods such as usurpation. Shakespeare was a patron of King James I, who supported Macbeth and his plays. Therefore James I had some influence on the play, and several elements of the play appear; such as the divine nature of kings which James strongly believed him. This Divine Order is a theory about how the whole universe is decided and dictated by God and kings were God's agents. This meant actions against kings were crimes against God and anyone who did so would go to hell. This explains why James I hated regicide and why Shakespeare portrays it as bad in 'Macbeth'. We are shown two noble, good, strong kings - Duncan and Malcolm. We also see a ruthless evil tyrant named Macbeth who becomes a poor and weak king. Shakespeare deliberately changes Holinshed's Chronicles of which he gets his 'data' from. An example is how Macbeth and Duncan are 'switched around' as such where in real life Macbeth was strong king who reigned for many years and Duncan was a weak king, however in 'Macbeth' it is Duncan who is the strong well-liked king and Macbeth is the weak ruler. ...read more.

Middle

Soon after, Macbeth also lies to Banquo - to cover up his black thoughts of murder. By the end of this scene, we fully realise what the witches have done. They have changed a loyal, courageous, noble, honourable man into a man whose ambitions have overpowered him, turning him into a liar and evil. This is the witches' role in Macbeth. Just from these first three scenes, we have been a great deal of the witches and we have learnt a lot about their roles in 'Macbeth'. They excite and thrill James I, who had a deep interest in witchcraft; by the way they speak in rhythm and rhyme. They also create the play's atmosphere, with the weather - thunder, lightning, rain and how menacing and evil they are, creating excitement for the audience. They also create suspense and tension for the audience and the play's characters because of how they have begun to manipulate and twist Macbeth - creating a tragedy because they have unleashed Macbeth's fatal character flaw ambition which we suspect will eventually take over and destroy him. They also show and create some of the themes in 'Macbeth' like the supernatural element, the evil of the play, equivocation, violence and tyranny. Therefore the witches play a big part in the story and their effect is so powerful, that whenever they appear the audience anticipate evil and treachery. In Shakespearian times, this would have been because the audience would have had strong Christian beliefs. Next in Act 1, Scene 4, King Duncan names his successor to the throne - Malcolm, not Macbeth. The witches haven't told him the whole truth, fate is not just going to make him king - Macbeth notices this and makes up his mind to do something about it. Malcolm, the Prince of Cumberland is an obstacle to Macbeth that he "must fall down, or else o'erleap". ...read more.

Conclusion

As Messenger reports that Birnam wood is moving towards the castle, Macbeth partially realises what the witches have done. "I pull in resolution, and begin to doubt th' equivocation of the fiend, that lies like truth". Act 5, Scene 8, and Macbeth fully realises that the witches have tricked him. He is totally disheartened and is finally killed by Macduff, a fate that had been awaiting him since his second meeting with the witches. The witches have a huge amount of significance in 'Macbeth' for a number of ways. Shakespeare gives them a number of roles to play, many which have huge effects on the plays' characters and the audience. An example is their equivocation, lies and mistruths. They trick Macbeth, and set off his seed of ambition - his fatal character flaw. This eventually leads to Macbeth's downfall. This also gives the audience excitement, tension and suspense - another of the witches roles - to entertain the audience, particularly James I who was deeply interested in witches. The witches also portray a number of 'Macbeth's' themes, which makes the play as deep and popular as it is. Examples of the witches themes are; order and disorder; equivocation; evil; ambition; treachery; appearance and reality; sin; guilt; violence and tyranny and fare. They also create imagery in Macbeth - such as the atmosphere associated with every time they appear on stage. This is pathetic fallacy and an example is the thunder, lightning and rain they have in their scenes. They also conjure up images of darkness and evil. They also act as a catalyst by the way they spark off things in people. The main example is ambition in Macbeth, but also they spark off Banquo's loyalty by the way he is not affected by them. The witches also create a lot of rhythm for the play, and this is done by their rhyme and spells - "double, double toil and trouble". This means the play is exciting to watch, ultimately accounting for 'Macbeth's' popularity. The witches therefore are very significant in 'Macbeth'. ...read more.

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