What is the Significance of the Witches in Macbeth?

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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. This is done to add a twist to the story and make Macbeth by all including James I who would have been appalled at his poor leadership qualities. James was a man who cared strongly that kings should all be great and have good ‘kingly’ characteristics. He would therefore be pleased by how Shakespeare presents Duncan and Malcolm in a good light in ‘Macbeth’ and would also welcome Macbeth’s death – the weak king who he was appalled at.

Throughout Shakespeare’s life, people believed in witches and witchcraft. An of Parliament declared that anyone found of being a witch or practising witchcraft would immediately be executed. People were terrified of witchcraft and witches were often horribly tortured.

In ‘Macbeth’ Shakespeare uses three “weird sisters” to trick and scare both the play’s characters and the audience watching the play. To so this Shakespeare uses a crude, traditional stereotype of a witch – doing this meant the audience can immediately recognise and see that it is a witch on stage.

James I was fascinated by witchcraft and using the three witches would please him, which Shakespeare wanted, as discussed in the earlier paragraph.

Throughout ‘Macbeth’ the witches play a huge role in twisting the story and its characters – however how significant is this? This is what I am going to find out in my essay.

The play begins with a scene featuring the witches – unusual because a lot of plays begin with the protagonist – Macbeth. However Shakespeare does this to set the whole plays themes and atmosphere and also to show what is to come in the play. Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy by using thunder, lightning and a murky, strange atmosphere to present the witches. This reveals that Shakespearian theatre uses different techniques to show and present things – creating intrigue and excitement for the audience. We find out about how the witches seem to predict the future and how they plan to meet with Macbeth – creating suspense and excitement for the audience – ‘when will we meet this character? This is a technique known as delayed revelation because the audience is forced to wait to see something or find something out. The way the witches talk shows the evil they have “in thunder, lightning or in rain”. These are all nasty, unpleasant types of weather and because they like these types of weather, it shows how horrible and strange they are. They speak in rhyming couplets featuring lines of only 7-9 syllables – so their lines are quick and sound like a spell. They speak in antithesis – opposites to confuse and intrigue the audience. An example is “fair is foul, and foul is fair” meaning they see evil as good and good as evil, which is their attitude to life, showing how different they are to everyone else. This also creates a link to Macbeth, about which we will find out later.

The delayed revelation is continued in the next scene – where suspense is increased further by the Captain saying “for brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name”. Who is this Macbeth and if he’s this noble and brave – why do the witches want to meet him.

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Even the king approves of Macbeth – “O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman!” We see how strong both Banquo and Macbeth are – “Dismayed not this, our captains, Macbeth and Banquo?” Duncan asks whether they are scared about the attacking Norwegians. The Captain replies “as dismayed as a lion is by a hare/as dismayed as an eagle is by a sparrow. This is ironic and shows that Macbeth isn’t scared at all. He sees the Norwegians as weak and vulnerable – like prey.

Duncan then praises Macbeth further “Thy smack of honour” showing that everyone including the king himself, ...

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