What is the role of the witches in Macbeth?

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Billy sagoo                       English coursework

11 SYH                       Mr.Gollop

What is the role of the witches in Macbeth?

                         Macbeth was written in 1606, by William Shakespeare. The play was written when James the 1st of England and 6th of Scotland was on the throne as king. King James was also the first King to unite England and Scotland together as one. Additionally King James was also a very religious catholic Christian and did write a rather fascinating book regarding witches and witchcraft.

                          The play Macbeth is set in Scotland, in a desolate place during the medieval period. Scotland at the time is ruled by the king, King Duncan. In the play he is presented as a true and gracious monarch. King Duncan also has a son named Malcolm who’s the eldest of his sons. Early in the play Malcolm is named as King Duncan’s heir (next king of Scotland). Then there is Macbeth who is a mighty and ambitious warrior and is one of the leaders of King Duncan’s army. At the beginning of the play Macbeth is Thane of glamis, but later due to the witches prophecies becomes Thane of Cawdor and The King of Scotland. Macbeth has a wife named Lady Macbeth who in the latter parts of the play urges Macbeth to kill King Duncan and ends up with horrific visions of blood and consequently dies. There is Banquo a co-commander of King Duncan’s army. He and Macbeth are the best of comrades. There is also Macduff a Scottish thane who comes to prominence after the Murder of King Duncan and leads the opposition against Macbeth. Finally, there is the main character the witches. There are three witches in the play that are referred to as supernatural phenomena. There called ‘weird sisters’ in Shakespeare’s historical source book. They predict prophecies for Macbeth and Banquo, but they predict much for Macbeth. The witches play a vital, crucial and major role in the play.

                           I will start by looking at Act 1 Scene 1. This is the first scene of the play and it’s the first time as an audience we see the witches. They appear in a barren, isolated and deserted battlefield in thunder and lightening. The first thing that is said in the play is by the first witch who says “when shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightening or in rain”. This is basically implying that the first witch is trying to justify a meeting place and where to meet next. Then the second witch replies that basically when the battle is taking place and when one side wins and the other loses the battle. They will meet before the sunset upon a heath and will there meet with Macbeth. As an audience we know nothing about Macbeth, but we do know that the witches can see the future and have supernatural powers. Then the first and second witch go to there assistances, a cat and a toad. Then together they say “fair is foul, foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air”. This basically means there overturning their words and their going through the polluted and diseased air. The audience here senses that the mention of Macbeth means that they have dark plans for him.

                         I will now look at the next scene with the witches in which is Act 1 Scene 3. In this scene many things occur including prophecies for Macbeth and Banquo. Firstly, like the witches promised in the first scene, are upon a heath and waiting for Macbeth’s arrival. Yet again the witches meet in thunder, so as audience we know when there is thunder we can feel the witches presence. The first witch begins by saying were have you been sister and the second witch replies killing pigs. Then the third witch says where have you been sister (to first witch) and the first witch replies that fundamentally she has seen a sailor’s wife eating chestnuts and she argues with her. The first witch continues to say that the sailor’s wife’s husband has gone to a port on his ship as the captain and that she’ll make that sailor’s life hell. Then the second witch says I will help you by giving wind and then the first witch replies you are very kind. The first witch basically continues to say that she’ll curse this sailor. This suggests Macbeth will also face a similar type of treatment. The mystery then increases even more of the witches because the y know Macbeth is coming. This is said by the third witch where she says” Macbeth doth come”. This raises the immediate question to the audience of how the witches know that Macbeth is coming and reinforces the connection between Macbeth and the witches. This suggests to the audience that Macbeth is evil from the beginning of the play. This connection is then even more reinforced when Macbeth’s first line is using the same language as the witches, “so foul and fair a day I have not seen”.

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                          Banquo clearly shows his wariness towards the witches and does not really want to believe that they really exist because he goes on to say, “That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth”, which basically means that the witches look unnatural and there not of this world. Nevertheless, the suggestion that Macbeth is  somehow acquainted with the witches is again shown when he talks to them directly without fear and asks, “speak if you can;-what are you?” this shows to an extent that Macbeth also saw ...

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