Supernatural in Shakespeare's Macbeth - Witches and Macbeth

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The Witches and Macbeth

The belief in the existence and power of witches was widely believed in Shakespeare's day, as demonstrated by the European witch craze, during which an estimated nine million women were put to death for being perceived as witches (The Burning Times). The practice of witchcraft was seen to subvert the established order of religion and society, and hence was not tolerated. Witch hunting was a respectable, moral, and highly intellectual pursuit through much of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries (Best ). The belief of the majority during the seventeenth century suggests that the witches are powerful figures who can exercise great power over Macbeth; however, strong arguments to the contrary were in existence at the same time. The intensity of the tragedy is dependent on whether the witches are perceived to be able to control the otherwise innocent Macbeth's actions, or if he is entirely responsible for his own demise.

Although not a "secret, black, and midnight hag" (4.1.48), as an evil female, Lady Macbeth could be considered a witch according to the standards of Shakespeare's day. In the same way that witches subvert the natural order of religion and society, Lady Macbeth subverts the order of the sexes and the family by trying to have more power than the head of the family, her husband. Not only does she act out of order, but several of her actions imply that she is actually witch-like. Firstly, it was widely believed in Europe for centuries that sorcery could cause impotence (Cotton 320). In the preface of Daemonologie, King James I asserts the power of witches to weaken "the nature of some men, to make them unavailable for women" (qtd. in Best). A major textbook for ...

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...e successful if the popular seventeenth century mentality is adopted and thereby the witches and Lady Macbeth are made partly to blame for his downfall.

Works Cited

Best, Michael. Shakespeare's Life and Times. CD ROM. Santa Barbara, CA: Intellimation, 1994. Version 3.0.

The Burning Times. Direct Cinema, 1990.

Cooper, T. The Mysterie of Witchcraft. London: Nicholas Okes, 1617.

Cotton, N. "Castrating (W)itches: Impotence and Magic in The Merry Wives of Windsor." Shakespeare Quarterly. 38, 1987: 320-326.

Estes, L. "Reginald Scot and his Discoverie of Witchcraft: Religion and Science in the Opposition to the European Witch Craze." Church History. 52, 1983: 444-56.

Shakespeare, W. Macbeth. Ed. W. Wright. New York: Pocket Books, 1957.

Truax, E. "Macbeth and Hercules: The Hero Bewitched." Comparative Drama 23. 1990:359-76.
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