Discuss the importance of the witches and the ideas of evil in Shakespeare's

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Discuss the importance of the witches and the ideas of evil in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”.

During the 17th century when Shakespeare wrote “Macbeth”, witches were believed to be responsible for anything that was wrong or could not be explained.  There was an endless amount of misdemeanours and wrong doing that the witches would have been blamed for.  They were thought to be in control of the weather; people believed that storms were conjured by witches in response to their anger or for revenge.  The public were fearful, but at the same time inquisitive as to how witches behaved.  It was thought by a nation of God fearing, Christians that witches had sold their soul to the devil, therefore personifying evil.   Shakespeare used his audience’s interest in witches to intensify the theme of evil throughout “Macbeth”.

Shakespeare introduces the witches huddled together.  They are away from everyone, “a desolate place”.  On viewing this, the audience would have had a sense of foreboding with regard to the witches’ presence.  Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy to reinforce the evil witchery.  Thunder and lightening symbolise chaos and turmoil.  We meet them predicting the future:

        “When the battle’s lost, and won.”

This is a true account as Scotland nearly loses the battle against Normandy.

From the offset their interest is solely in Macbeth.  They talk as if they have a pre-arranged meeting “upon the heath” with him:

        “There to meet with Macbeth.”

This is to cause trouble for Macbeth.  The witches begin to chant:

        “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,”  

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This chant serves to strengthen the feeling of turmoil and unrest.

We next meet the witches on the “heath”.  Their evilness is intensified as they regale to each other a spell the first witch has cast upon a woman who would not give her a chestnut:  

        “He shall live a man forbid”

She has cast a spell; whereby the woman’s husband, who is captain of a ship, will not sleep or drink and will live through his return journey home suffering:

        “Here I have a pilots thumb,”

The witch is directing the boat, so that it will ...

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