Show, through close reference
to the text, the role of the
witches in ‘Macbeth’
King James I succeeded Queen Elizabeth I on the throne of England in 1603. He was a member of the Stuart dynasty and was already the King of Scotland. This meant he united the two kingdoms, ending incessant warring between the two nations. James hoped to end the period of religious turmoil that had engulfed England for the previous century.
The people in 17th Century England were very superstitious and witchcraft was the object of fevered fascination. In 1604 a law was passed that said anyone convicted of witchcraft should be executed. King James I was as fascinated by witches as his subjects, and in 1590 he personally interrogated a group of witches who had plotted to kill him. Misogyny and a strong belief that morality was being upheld fuelled society’s hatred of witches.
World Order was an important factor of seventeenth century life. World Order was a system in which God was at the top of the chain, followed by the King or Queen, then humans, birds, animals and fish. They believed that the King had been directly chosen by God and therefore did not have to answer to parliament. The human section of the Order was split into subdivisions of classes. It was believed that each person was born into their social status and ambition to rise above their position was considered unacceptable and was punishable by political means or by fate. The audience would immediately realise that once Macbeth had murdered the King, he would have to die, as he had disturbed God’s natural order.
The first scene of Macbeth prepares the audience for the entrance of the witches with the use of pathetic fallacy. This is used to dramatic effect, with thunder, lightning and rain applied to create a feeling of chaos. The scene being set in a desolate place reinforces this idea, with the setting making it seem like the events that will unfold will be of an ominous nature.
The words the witches use support the idea of chaos and disturbance. The word ‘hurly-burly’ is used to show the turmoil at the time, with the area being ravaged by battle. Another phrase used to show disturbance is ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’. This phrase makes the audience wonder how anything fair can possibly be foul, thus creating confusion.
There are many indicators that the ‘three weird sisters’ are witches. These include the use of the number three, the familiars and the language of the sisters. The number three is a number often believed to be magical, and throughout the play Shakespeare frequently uses this number throughout the play. All three of the sisters have familiars, demons who take the form of creatures to aid witches with their evil craft. This is shown when the witches say ‘I come Graymalkin’, ‘Paddock calls’ and ‘Anon’. Some of the sisters say things that can be interpreted as being related to witchcraft, including ‘that will be ere the set of sun’. This relates to witchcraft, as traditionally it was believed that witches performed magic at sunset.
In Act I Scene 1, the Captain tells the story of Macbeth being a brave and noble man who is valiant and trustworthy. He gives an account of a battle that has just taken place and tells the king of Macbeth’s role in it. As the man telling the story holds the rank of Captain, trust is established between him and the audience. The use of words such as ‘carved’, ‘unseamed’ and ‘steel’ have connotations of murder and butchery, showing Macbeth’s bloodthirstiness in battle. The Captain also uses the phrase ‘or memorise another Golgotha’. This compares Macbeth’s fighting as being as bloody and savage as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This is a huge comparison, as Christ is a holy figure. I think that this shows Macbeth fights with such passion it could be almost a religion. A semantic field of ‘warfare and battle’ supports this scene, with lexis including ‘choke’; ‘rebel’; ‘galloglasses’; ‘smoked’; ‘over-charged’; ‘bloody’; ‘execution’; ‘carved’; ‘battlements’; ‘cannons’ and ‘wounds’. I think the words ‘choke’ and ‘over-charged’ are strong words, as they both show the zeal and ferocity Macbeth fought with.
There is a large contrast between the way the witches and the Captain portray Macbeth. This creates an ambivalent presentation of Macbeth, allowing the audience to interpret Macbeth’s character in different ways. As a result of this, Macbeth’s entrance to the play is delayed until the third scene to allow the witches and the Captain to speak. The contradictory ideas about Macbeth that are spoken create tension, as the audience waits to see the true nature of Macbeth. A witch speaks before Macbeth’s arrival in Act I Scene 3, the line ‘A drum, a drum, Macbeth doth come’. This line has a strong aural quality, and the rhyming of ‘drum’ and ‘come’ creates a sound like a heartbeat, or a drum signifying war. This creates uncertainty in the audience’s mind, and prepares them for an ominous scene.
Throughout the first scene of the play the witches are presented to the audience as puzzling creatures, possibly closer akin to Satan than humans. Their characters seem uncertain and their strange speech patterns are an enigma. They speak many contradictions including ‘when the battle’s lost and won’ and ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’. These contradictions could possibly be affiliated to world order, and the 17th Century audience may interpret the witches’ speech as a disturbance of that.
The second appearance of the witches gives an insight into the power of the witches. The first witch tells the others about a woman who insulted her and how she would take her revenge upon the woman’s husband. The woman’s husband was the captain of a ship and the witch says ‘in a sieve I’ll thither sail’ and ‘I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do’. One of the skills witches were credited with was the ability to sail in sieves and the use of this and the way in which ‘I’ll do’ is repeated three times, suggests some form of incantation will be used upon the sailor. The other witches offer to ‘give a wind’, allowing her to create a storm at the ship’s location. This shows that while the witches cannot directly control people, they do have control over the environment and they can use this to change the circumstances of people. What the witches plan to do with the captain is very alike what happens to Macbeth in the future. “Sleep shall neither night nor day” is similar to Macbeth after murdering Duncan, where he is plagued by nightmares and cannot sleep. This links Macbeth to the witches and shows his evil nature.
This is a preview of the whole essay
When Macbeth meets the witches he is greeted with the witches saying ‘hail to thee, Thane of Glamis’, ‘hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor’ and ‘All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter’. The three lines indicate the three states of being: past, present and future. ‘Glamis’ shows the past tense, as Macbeth has been Thane of Glamis for a significant amount of time and he is aware of his position. ‘Cawdor’ represents the present, as unbeknown to him, Duncan has just stripped the previous Thane of Cawdor of his title, and will issue it to Macbeth. The final greeting is a prophecy, and it tells Macbeth that he will become King of England. The greetings are presented in syntactic parallelism in the following way:
The close repetition of the phrase gives the parallelism a strong rhythmic value, creating a sound that is similar to a spell or incantation. This reminds the audience that the prophecy has come from the mouths of evil, and so cannot be pure.
After hearing these prophecies Macbeth responds by physically jolting. Banquo saying ‘why do you start and seem to fear’ shows this. There are three possible explanations for him jumping. Either Macbeth jumps in fear of the witches, jumps because he knows Duncan must die, or because the idea of murdering the king was already in his mind. In my opinion the reason Shakespeare put Banquo’s line into the play was to make the audience wonder if Macbeth had already thought about killing Duncan and claiming the throne. After the prophecies are given, Macbeth also orders the witches to tell him more. Imperative verbs are used to show his commands. These include ‘stay’ and ‘speak’. These show Macbeth wants to know more and show his military commanding background. It appears that he is used to having his orders carried out.
Ross - a herald of King Duncan - then gives the news that Macbeth is Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth responds by saying ‘The Thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?’ This is part of a set of ‘clothes’ images throughout the play. This series of images supports the theme of the play, assuming a false identity and assuming someone else place. Clothing is used because Macbeth appears to be hiding his true nature behind the valiant robes of kingship. The set of images is effective because clothing can suggest concealment and disguise.
After being assured of his position as Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth edges into a soliloquy. This is a dramatic technique and shows a character’s innermost thoughts. The phrase ‘if ill, why hath it given me earnest of success?’ is spoken by Macbeth, and shows how he cannot understand how the prophecies can possibly be evil when they have given him success. This shows he fully believes the witches and so means he will be likely to commit the murder of the king. A series of images from the stage is in this soliloquy with words such as ‘prologues’; ‘act’ and ‘imperial theme’. Another one of William Shakespeare’s plays, ‘As You Like It’ has a similar theme and a character in it says ‘All the world’s a stage and the characters merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.’ This displays world order, and it can be seen that each person has a part to play and must not step out of his or her role. By killing Duncan, Macbeth will step out of his role and cause chaos. I also think this can be related to Macbeth, as the witches have carefully orchestrated his life and have great control over his destiny. This is very much alike to the lines or acts in a play, while his exit will be his fate. At the end of the soliloquy there is also another clothes image, when Banquo says ‘look how our partner’s rapt’. This is a pun, as Macbeth is ‘spellbound’ but also metaphorically ‘wrapped’ in the clothes of another man – the king.
The language of Macbeth’s letter to his wife shows that he has chosen to believe the witches prophesies. The letter opens with the phrase ‘They met me in the day of success’. This shows that all the experiences he had that day were successful, the battle and the encounter with the witches. The phrase ‘they have more in them than mortal knowledge’ shows that he fully believes they have magical powers, and that he trusts they will be beneficial to his cause. He says he ‘burned in desire to question them further’, showing the audience his desperate need to know more information.
The phrase ‘fate and metaphysical aid doth seem’ is used by Lady Macbeth in her response to Macbeth’s letter. This phrase is significant as it shows her readiness to ally herself with evil and the magic of the witches. It also shows that she believes fate has placed the supernatural witches in their paths and they would be wrong to side against them.
Lady Macbeth has a large soliloquy in Act I Scene 5. A soliloquy is where an actor turns to the audience and speaks directly to them, as if the character were daydreaming. The actor speaks the truth – as their character perceives it to be – to the audience. This technique is used to great dramatic effect by Shakespeare. In her soliloquy her deadly intent is revealed.
The words ‘I feel now the future in the instant’ spoken by Lady Macbeth are very significant. They show that she believes their future will be decided by their actions regarding the king. I think that at this point she knows what must be done for her husband to become King.
Lady Macbeth graphically indicates her decision to bring about the death of King Duncan by saying ‘O never shall sun that morrow see’. This shows that when the king goes to sleep, he shall never see daylight again: his fate is inevitable. ‘Sun’ is used as an image because the sun is a symbolic representation of monarchy. Also, in world order, kings where the highest placed creature, just as the sun is the most important thing in the sky.
When Macbeth rejoins his wife, they speak of their plans to kill Duncan. She advises Macbeth to ‘look like th’innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t’. This means she wants Macbeth to look honest and friendly on the outside, yet on the inside, be as venomous as a vicious serpent and murder the king. The audience at the time would make a link between this and the Gunpowder Plot. The medals awarded during the plot to commemorate James’ escape featured a flower intertwined with a snake. As this had only recently happened in Shakespeare’s time, the audience would immediately recognise the connection. In Act I Scene 6, Duncan visits Macbeth’s castle. At the scene’s start, Duncan remarks upon how agreeable the castle is, with phrases such as ‘hath a pleasant seat’ and ‘recommends itself’ displaying his thoughts. This is ironic, as the castle looks like ‘th’innocent flower’ but is really ‘the serpent under’t’, as the king finds out.
Lady Macbeth uses many euphemisms for murder in her soliloquy. Examples of these are ‘provided for’, ‘great business’ and ‘dispatch’. The use of euphemism shows that she does not want to explicitly state her murderous intentions clearly. A reason for this could be that she is afraid of being overheard and accused of treason. However, I think the main reason is that if she clearly said ‘murder’ the situation would seem more ‘real’ and she would see the extent of the crime. I believe she is still unsure herself about the gravity of the situation. The euphemisms all have double meanings, and these could be seen as a type of test for Macbeth to see how he would react to the suggestions. ‘Provided for’ could mean to be fed or to be killed. The ‘great business’ could be seen to be the feasting or the murder that would mean greatness for the Macbeths. The word ‘dispatch’ could mean welcoming the guest, or the murder.
In Act I Scene 7 Macbeth has a soliloquy that shows his indecisive state of mind. There are many words which show doubt, including ‘if’ and ‘but’, displaying how he is considering his actions and is not fully committed to the cause. This is supported by the language of thought, including ‘but how’, ‘if’ and ‘could’. Macbeth shows he is aware of just how immoral the murder would be, with the lines ‘he’s here in double trust: first, as I am his kinsman and his subject… then as his host’. Here Macbeth lists his reasons why he should not kill Duncan, as he is his subject, his host and is even related to him. Through the soliloquy Macbeth shows that he understands there will be consequences for murder. ‘Might be the be-all and the end-all – here’ is a line spoken that shows the murder will not be the end of his troubled time; it will be the beginning of an even more distressing state. He recognises that consequences will occur to whoever carries out the action and shows it through the phrase ‘bloody instructions which being taught, return to plague th’inventor’. Macbeth also says to himself that Duncan has been a good king and that ‘his virtues will plead like angels’. At the end of the soliloquy an extended metaphor of horsemanship develops. This includes words such as ‘spur’; ‘prick’; ‘vaulting’; ‘o’erleaps’ and ‘falls’. This is prefigures Macbeth’s life, as his ‘vaulting ambition’ is all he has to ‘spur him on’, and it will eventually reach too high (the position of king) and ‘o’erleap’. He will then ‘fall’ and will receive the consequences of his actions. The image of horsemanship was used to remind the audience of Macbeth’s strict militaristic background.
Macbeth’s soliloquy shows a huge difference in character between himself and his wife. While his wife immediately resolves that they must kill the king, Macbeth thinks about the consequences. This shows Macbeth does have a conscience and I think this causes the audience to feel sympathetic to his plight.
Macbeth has a second soliloquy in Act II Scene 1. Here his intensified fragile state of mind is shown to the audience. Macbeth sees an apparition of a floating dagger, shown through the phrase ‘is this a dagger which I see before me’. This shows that his mind is so focused upon the murder of Duncan, it is seeing weapons everywhere he turns. Phrases such as ‘a dagger of the mind… proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain’, show the mental strain Macbeth is under. A semantic field of the ‘supernatural’ underpins this soliloquy, with words including: ‘witchcraft’; ‘Hecate’; ‘murder’; ‘sentinel’; ‘wolf’; ‘stealthy’; ‘ghost’ and ‘fear’. I think that ‘Hecate’ is a particularly powerful word to use as Hecate was traditionally thought to be the goddess of witchcraft. At the beginning of the soliloquy Macbeth is using euphemisms for murder, like ‘the bloody business’. However, towards the end of the soliloquy, the language has developed and now includes words like ‘murder’ and ‘horror’. This shows that Macbeth has now fully made his decision and accepts what he must do. The soliloquy ends with a rhyming couplet, reminiscent of the witches. By using the language of the witches on Macbeth, Shakespeare has identified Macbeth closely with them. This creates the impression that the soliloquy ends with him making his own spell that will mean the death of Duncan.
The two soliloquies depict the way in which the witches have effected Macbeth. They have given him advice and he has taken it in the way that he believed was correct. The witches have only influenced him, they have not directly told him what to do. I think Shakespeare has used these soliloquies to give the audience an insight into the mind of a murderer. As this was a 17th Century production, psychology and other studies into the mind had not been begun. This would mean the audience would be enthralled by what would have been revolutionary viewing.
Act II Scene 4 takes place outside of Macbeth’s castle and is a conversation between Ross – a thane – and an old man. Though this scene takes place after the murder of Duncan, the two characters discussing the night do not yet know anything about his death. It is important that the man speaking is old, as this means he has lived for a long time among the feuding Scottish warlords. This creates an impression of knowledge, and that the old man would have seen many unusual things. Pathetic fallacy is used, with the phrase ‘dark night strangles the travelling lamp’ signifying an eclipse. I think an eclipse has been used for the night’s weather, as it is highly unusual and would have been considered to be supernatural. This would have given the night an eerie atmosphere.
The old man begins the scene by saying ‘this sore night hath trifled former knowings’. This shows that while the man is very old, he cannot remember a night as strange as this. A bank of images relating to the stage is found, including ‘act’ and ‘stage’. These relate to the previous stage images, found in Act I Scene 3. The images link to world order and the way in which everybody has a part to play that they cannot change. By murdering Duncan, Macbeth has stepped out of his role and his upset the balance of world order. ‘A falcon tow’ring in her pride of place was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed’. The falcon is top of the food chain, and this is metaphorical for a lesser animal (Macbeth) killing something that belongs at the top of world order (Duncan). The horses have turned cannibalistic and are eating each other: ‘turned wild in nature, broke their stalls… they eat each other’. This shows just how disturbed the order of the world is, yet it is also metaphorical for Macbeth killing his own kind. The use of language such as ‘entomb’, ‘strange’ and ‘unnatural’ show the precarious state the world is now in, with Duncan dead.
Act IV Scene 1 begins with the three witches casting a spell in preparation for their meeting with Macbeth. Pathetic fallacy is once again used, with thunder giving the audience the impression the spell will be destructive. The chant shows many of the prejudices of the time. The witches put many parts of creatures that were considered inferior to the majority into the cauldron. These inferior creatures are: ‘frog’; ‘bat’; ‘dog’; ‘adder’; ‘blind-worm’; ‘lizard’ and ‘howlet’. All of the animals mentioned are creatures of the night, and so were considered very rudimentary forms of life. After more chanting, the witches begin to put in parts of other items associated with death. The mythical ‘dragon’, the predatory ‘wolf’, the evil ‘witches’ mummy’ and the poisonous ‘hemlock’ are all placed into the pot. This adds to the feeling of death and evil. Society’s prejudices come to the forefront of the chant with body parts of non-Christians being added to the pot: ‘liver of blaspheming Jew’, ‘nose of Turk’ and ‘Tartar’s lips’. As Jews, Turks and Tartars were not Christian, the audience would have feared them as they were foreign and their cultures were unknown to them. There is a semantic field of ‘poison’ in the incantation, and the lexis included are: ‘poisoned’; ‘entrails’; ‘toad’; ‘sweltered’; ‘venom’; ‘sleeping’; ‘boil’ and ‘bubble’. These were all added by Shakespeare to make the witches’ concoction appear to be very deadly. Towards the end of the spell, the finger of a ‘birth-strangled babe, ditch delivered by a drab’. A ‘drab’ was a prostitute and the child would have been killed at birth, as an illegitimate child would bring shame upon the family. As it was strangled at birth, the child is unblessed and so would never enter Heaven. This is ‘familiar magic’ and works through association. This could prefigure Macbeth’s murder of Macduff’s children. The magic number three is also used, when the witches say ‘thrice’ towards the start of the spell.
The rhymes and rhythm of the words help to reinforce the idea of a deadly spell. The spell has a heavy aural quality, and this meant the audience could feel a part of the play. Rhyming couplets are used throughout the spell, helping to make it seem like a chant. An example of a rhyming couplet is ‘Ditch delivered by a drab, make the gruel thick and slab’. This phrase also has many labials in it, helping to create a sense of evil and decay. Shakespeare also employs onomatopoeia in Macbeth. This helps to reinforce the tension and make an aural sound of a spell. Examples of onomatopoeia are ‘double’, ‘trouble’ and ‘bubble’. There is a language link between this and Act I Scene 2 where the captain describes Macbeth as having ‘doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe’. This helps to tie Macbeth to the witches.
I think that Macbeth returns to the witches because he wants to know his future. He has been tortured by the spirit of Banquo whom he has had killed and he fears for his sanity. Macbeth goes to the witches to seek assurances that he will not be dethroned in the future. I think he is looking for a future, as his guilt seems to tell him he will not have a pleasant one. The fact that he comes to the witches for reassurance shows that he has chosen to fully believe them and he trusts them. By consulting them, he is trying to change his own fate. This could further upset the order of the world.
Macbeth greets the witches in the following way:
‘How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
What is’t you do?’
‘Black’ and ‘secret’ connote concealment and this links to the clothes images that run throughout the play. The use of the phrase ‘midnight hags’ shows that Macbeth understands the power of the witches and that they have just created a spell. Midnight is the witching hour, and this can be cross referenced to Act I Scene 1 where the witches say ‘that will be ere the set of sun’. A witch responds by saying ‘a deed without a name’. This is in keeping with the earlier euphemisms for murder.
When Macbeth speaks to the witches he instantly commands them by saying ‘I conjure you’. This is a play on words, as the witches have the ability to conjure things and because he is commanding them. Imperative verbs are once again used, showing that he is used to having his orders carried out. Examples of imperatives are ‘answer’ and ‘speak’. Macbeth is prepared to take the world to the edge of destruction to get the answers he seeks. ‘Castles topple’ and ‘pyramids do slope their heads to their foundations’ shows he does not care about the destruction he causes in his quest. He ends by saying ‘even till destruction sicken’. I believe this would be said with finality, showing how deeply he will pursue his aims. A semantic field of ‘chaos’ underpins this whole section, with words like: ‘winds’; ‘yeasty waves’; ‘confound’; ‘swallow’; ‘lodged’; ‘blown down’; ‘topple’; ‘slope’; ‘tumble’ and ‘destruction’. Semantics are used here to show just how much Macbeth has already disturbed world order by murdering Duncan.
The witches create three apparitions that give Macbeth a prophecy each. The first apparition is of an ‘armed head’ and it tells Macbeth:‘Beware Macduff, Beware the Thane of Fife’. Macbeth’s immediate response is ‘thou has harped my fear alright’, meaning he has confirmed what he thought. Towards the end of the scene, he says he will act on his first impulse and do what his first instincts say: ‘The very firstlings of my heart shall be, the firstlings of my hand’. After hearing Macduff has fled Scotland, Macbeth turns into a blind rage and orders his men to ‘give to th’edge o’th’sword his wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls that trace him in his line’.
The second apparition is of a ‘bloody child’ and tells Macbeth: ‘Laugh to scorn the power of men, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’. This greatly pleases Macbeth and gives him more security. Although he is reassured, he still makes an oath that he will kill Macduff. I think he does this for extra reassurance in light of the first apparition. The bloody child prefigures the decision Macbeth will make to kill Macduff’s children. The third apparition is of a ‘child crowned, with a tree in his hand’. The child tells Macbeth: ‘Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him’. Macbeth responds by saying no one can make the trees move at their will. This shows that he dismisses the prophecy and does not take into consideration the possibilities of how this could occur. Macbeth’s confidence has improved greatly after hearing these prophecies and he confidently asks the third apparition ‘shall Banquo’s issue ever reign in this kingdom?’ By asking the question, Macbeth shows he is still intrigued by the original prophecy of the witches which said Banquo’s descendants will be monarchs. The witches then tell him ‘seek to know no more’. This annoys Macbeth and he childishly says ‘deny me this, and an eternal curse fall on you’, showing his arrogance. After he does this, the witches summon another apparition, this time eight kings with Banquo following behind. Macbeth realises the answer to his question about Banquo’s heirs when he says: ‘Now I see ‘tis true, for the blood-boltered Banquo smiles upon me, and points at them for his’.
Macbeth’s reactions to all the prophecies show his precarious state of mind. Throughout Act IV Scene 1 he lapses into bravado, attempting to show he is confident when in actual fact he is very nervous and afraid. Two examples of bravado used are ‘call ‘em, let me see ‘em’ and ‘had I three ears, I’d hear thee’. Although he is nervous and fearful of his future, Macbeth still feels superior to the witches. This is shown through phrases such as ‘tell me’ and ‘filthy hags’. Macbeth misses the significance of the third prophecy, where the obvious interpretation of the trees being camouflage is overlooked. This shows that he is no longer thinking like a soldier, and rather a desperate man.
The apparition showing Banquo’s heirs is believed to have political significance. The eight king bears a glass (mirror) and it is thought that it would have been pointed at King James I, watched the play. As it was facing James, the audience would have seen the kings face while the line, ‘some I see, that two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry’ was spoken. These represent the two orbs James I carried at his two coronations in Scotland and England, as well as the three kingdoms he now ruled: Scotland, England and Ireland. I think this was put into the play to try and support James. When he came to power, he promised better things for both Catholics and Protestants. However, he seemed not to fulfill these promises in the way that the people wanted and the Gunpowder Plot challenged his rule. I think that Shakespeare put this section in Macbeth to try and show James had a legitimate claim to the throne as he was descended from ancient royalty.
In the scene, Macbeth’s assistant is called Seyton. This could possibly be pronounced ‘Satan’, adding to the impression of Macbeth’s growing evil. I think the use of an assistant called Seyton makes it sound as though Macbeth now has his own familiar, the Devil himself. Towards the end of the scene, the doctor tells Macbeth that Lady Macbeth is suffering from a mental ailment. Macbeth’s immediate response is to order the doctor to ‘cure her of that’. The next few lines of the play detail Macbeth asking if the doctor cannot cure ‘a mind diseased’. However, I believe the audience would see the question as Macbeth asking for help himself, as the anxiety and sorrow he describes is what he himself is suffering from. The question is reinforced by a semantic field of ‘cleaning’, with words such as: ‘minister’; ‘pluck’; ‘raze’; ‘antidote’ and ‘cleanse’. I think this shows just how badly Macbeth wants his mental state to be cured. When the doctor says patients must cure themselves, he responds by angrily saying ‘throw physic to the dogs’. This shows his precarious mental state.
Act V Scene 8 details the battle between Macbeth and Macduff outside Dunsinane Castle. The scene begins with Macbeth saying he wants to become the great soldier that he once was, and will not commit suicide. The line ‘why should I play the Roman fool and fie on mine own sword?’ shows this. Macbeth tells Macduff that he has avoided him for the entirety of the battle, but his ‘soul is too much charged with blood’. This means he has seen so much death he no longer cares about who he faces. As he is facing Macduff, Macbeth boasts that no naturally born man can kill him. This makes Macduff reveal his own Caesarean birth. Hearing this, Macbeth almost physically collapses. The mental stress and the fake promise of glory from the witches suddenly leave Macbeth, and he is free to sadly muse about his shortcomings.
‘And be these juggling fiends no more believed
That palter with us in a double sense,
That keep the word of promise to our ear
And break it to our hope.’
This section shows how Macbeth now views the witches and their prophecies. The first line shows how he no longer believes the witches. The use of the phrase ‘juggling fiends’ represents his view that the witches have been ‘juggling’ with fate, emotion and people’s lives. ‘That palter with us in a double sense’ means Macbeth now accepts that the witches’ prophecies could have been interpreted in different ways and he made the wrong choices. ‘That keep the word of promise to our ear’ shows how they misled him by speaking of future greatness, but then ‘break it to our hope’.
Despite realising that Macduff will kill him, Macbeth decides to die fighting, in an attempt to reclaim some of his lost honour. Another reason for his decision to die fighting is the fact that he cannot bear the thought of being subservient to Malcolm after being in a position of power all his life.