Roles of the Witches in Macbeth

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The Roles of the Witches in the Play Macbeth

In this essay I will look at the role of the three witches and the influence they have on many of the central characters within Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. I will begin by outlining how the audience would have viewed the appearance of the witches on stage, and move on to show how Shakespeare used language to make them into a mystical yet strong presence.

In Jacobean England, when Macbeth was first staged, the audience would have had a very strong opinion about supernatural creatures and anything magical. People believed in the existence of witches and felt that they could have a frightening, and very real influence on their lives. The fact that there were three witches, and people were very superstitious about the number three, made their appearance all the scarier.

The witches are the first characters on stage in the play. The opening lines suggest that there is a battle ahead, these lines fill you with anticipation for what may happen. They talk in riddles, which makes them seem mysterious and dark. They finish the scene with the alliterative couplet “fair is foul, and foul is fair hover though the fog and filthy air.” This repetition of the ‘f’ sound somehow evokes the image of the witches as being dirty and untrustworthy. These words also link directly to Macbeth’s first words, “so fair and foul a day I have not seen.” This immediately sets up an unnatural connection between Macbeth and the witches, and points to them having an element of control over him. We then see the witches making a prediction that they will next meet “upon the heath/ there to meet with Macbeth.” This is just the first of several increasingly sinister and uncanny predictions made by the witches...

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... because of her behaviour lady Macbeth could be considered to be a fourth witch. This is shown in the scene in which she attempts to persuade Macbeth that killing Duncan would be the right thing to do, if he wants to be the next king, she also questions his ability to be a man. Lady Macbeth is trying to use her feminine guile to manipulate Macbeth into doing whatever she wants. She also follows what the witches have said and almost forces the predictions to come true. She influences Macbeth to kill Duncan by using her persuasive techniques. Lady Macbeth does all this because of her yearning aspiration to be queen and to be in power, but she is not expected to gain power because she is a woman.

In conclusion the overall role of the witches is to introduce ideas into people’s heads, they bring an element of morbid desire to the play which captivates the audience.

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