How does the inclusion of the witches in Macbeth heighten the dramatic impact of the play?

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  Macbeth Coursework


How does the inclusion of the witches in Macbeth heighten the dramatic impact of the play?

Macbeth is a play written by the renowned playwright William Shakespeare in the early 17th century. Originally produced for the King of Denmark, the play explores themes such as ambition and betrayal through the actions of the main protagonist Macbeth. The play’s other significant figures include three witches whose practice of sorcery attracted a lot of controversy towards the play. At the time, their inclusion heightened the dramatic impact on the audience; primarily because of the public’s view of witches. Also referred to as the ‘’weird sisters’’, they form a fundamental element of the play because it is their input that shapes the play into action.

During this period of time, the mainstream population of Europe was Christian and superstitious, therefore belief in witchcraft was at its peak and so-called ‘’witches’’ were persecuted. Supposedly, witches (along with Satan) were part of a collective of evil and were blamed for a lot of wrongdoing in society.  For instance, political dissidents who opposed the King were thought to be under the influence of black magic. This was because there was commonly held believe that the King had the divine right to rule; thus anyone challenging the King was basically challenging God (which was considered blasphemy and punishable by death). The inclusion of the witches and amount of media coverage they received along with the public’s superstition helped to heighten the dramatic impact of Macbeth on a Shakespearean audience. Today, however, due to the secularisation of society, religious morals are diminishing and witchcraft is seen as nothing more than simple entertainment; this is certainly not how Shakespeare intended it to be.  Furthermore, television programmes such as W.I.T.C.H. and books such as the Harry Potter series are depicting witches in a much more positive light. On the other hand, a small number of possible offshoots of witchcraft such as Wicca and Freemasonry are still being practiced despite it being punishable by death in some extremely religious cultures. In this day and age, the general view about witches lessens the dramatic impact significantly because it is seen as a comedy routine therefore Macbeth doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of the audience like its original purpose.

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In Act 1 Scene 1, as shown in the stage directions; the witches are the first performers when they enter an ‘’open place’’ with ‘’thunder and lightning’’. By being the first performers on stage, they intensify the dramatic impact because the audience focuses their attention towards them. Also, Shakespeare specifically chose the weather in this scene to be threatening, to reflect the negative view of witches at the time and to elevate the dramatic impact by making them see more powerful (witches were associated with the ability to manipulate the weather). The technique of using elements of nature to express mood ...

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