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Macbeth - The Importance Of The Witches

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The witches in Macbeth are very important in the plot and develop certain aspects of the play. They make greater the theatrical experience with images of darkness, thunder and lightning that make Macbeth the tragedy it is. Their actions also add to the play, dancing round the cauldron and chanting ‘Double, double…’. Their appearance as ‘dark hags’ adds mystery to the play.

The witches also add a sense of evil and of the supernatural. Their chanting, ‘Double, double, toil and trouble: Fire burn and cauldron bubble’ is rhythmic and has an almost hypnotic quality to it. There is a repetition of the magical word ‘thrice’. The fact that there are three witches is emphasised, because in a time where Paganism was feared (three was a magical number in Paganism.), the number three was seen as evil. It was also a magical number because of the holy trinity The ingredients that the witches add to the cauldron are associated with the themes of death: ‘finger of birth-strangled babe.’; crime: ‘grease that’s sweaten from the murderer’s gibbet.’; evil: ‘Tartar’s lips.’; poison ‘adder’s fork’; and damnation: ‘Liver of blaspheming Jew’. These powerful images would have shocked Shakespearean audiences and thus would have thought the witches as overwhelmingly evil. The witches add to this impression of evil by throwing ‘into the flame’ a murderer’s gibbet. This shows that Macbeth will have the same fate as a murderer, being thrown into the flames of hell. There are other images of hell in the play. An example is in Act two, Scene three when the porter imagines himself to be the ‘porter of hell-gate’ when Macduff and Lenox knock on Macbeth’s castle door. Shakespearean audiences would have recognised this as Jesus knocking on the gates of hell. There is also the supernatural element as the witches call up the evil spirits they serve at line 62. This ties in with other supernatural images in the play, such as when Macbeth sees the floating dagger before him before he murders Duncan. This supernatural image adds to the importance of the witches in the play.

The witches also serve to develop our picture of Macbeth. In line 45, the witches, when they hear Macbeth knocking, say ‘Something wicked this way comes’. This is ironic as the witches, who are evil are calling Macbeth evil. This shows that Macbeth is the most evil character in the play. In line fifty and onwards, Macbeth is...

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... he is so insecure. The witches do reassure him with the information that ‘none of woman birth shall harm Macbeth’ but this is not as straightforward as Macbeth thinks because of Macduff’s Caesarean Section. They witches have tricked Macbeth. I don’t think that Macbeth realises this danger: ‘Then live, Macduff: what need I fear of thee?’ The witches trick and tempt Macbeth by advising him to ‘seek no more’ on whether Banquo’s descendants will be kings. This only serves to command the witches to show him. The witches do with relish, to ‘grieve his [Macbeth’s] heart’ This makes Macbeth determined to alter fate. When the witches went, Lenox tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. As the witches have tricked him, Macbeth does not fear from Macduff and so he damns himself further by plots the murder of Macduff’s family. These tricks by the witches move the plot on and show how important the witches are in the play. As the witches said before Macbeth entered, ‘The charm is firm and good.’ and Macbeth’s fate is sealed.

However, we can only say how important the witches are after we assess how responsible they are for the events in the play by merely predicting what will happen.
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