Shakespeare's Presentation of the Witches in Macbeth

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Shakespeare's Presentation of the Witches in Macbeth

The witches are a physical embodiment of evil in the play Macbeth.

Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, they represent temptation. The

world of the witches is terrifying and their language full of

spitefulness, violent and grisly references to mutilation. Banquo

senses that they are evil and he is very mistrustful of them. Macbeth

is tempted by their predictions, because they perhaps echo his own

thoughts. The witches never tell lies but, because they speak in

puzzling riddles, it is possible for Macbeth to hear only what he

wants to hear. By the time Macbeth realises that he has made the

mistake in trusting them it is too late.

In Shakespeare’s day there was a widespread belief in the supernatural

world and the existence of witches, but people were starting to

question many of the older ideas about believing in supernatural

things. This uncertainty is reflected in the play; we are never quite

sure whether the witches have any real power or whether they can only

persuade others or suggest things to them. The nature of the witches

and their powers is ambiguous.

Hecate and the three other witches were certainly added to the play

after Shakespeare’s time, with their songs and dances. Hecate was the

queen of the witches. Their appearances add nothing and three extra

witches are invariably cut in production, as Hecate often is.

A sense of chaos and disorder runs through the play. In the first

scene the witches chant that ‘Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair’ and this

paradox sets the tone. Macbeth cannot tell whether the witches are on

his side or not and his murder of the King pl...

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...is like themselves-”something wicked this way

comes”. Are the witches right? Notice how Macbeth talks to them. He

does not seem afraid as he was at first. Macbeth doesn’t care how much

damage or chaos he cause, he just wants to know the future. Remember

Banquo’s warning which Macbeth seems to have forgotten. The witches

will use Macbeth’s readiness to believe their predictions as a way of

destroying him.

The nature and effects of evil dominate the action of the play. The

potential for evil is present in nature, in man and in animals and the

plays imagery evokes this.

Evil is a supernatural force, manifested in the shape of the three

witches whose successful temptation of Macbeth threatens to plunge the

world back into chaos from which Elizabethans supposed, God released

it, when he created order and morality.
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