The Character of Macbeth in William Shakespeare's Play

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The Character of Macbeth in William Shakespeare's Play

The Witches


The fantastical and grotesque witches are among the most memorable

figures in the play.

* How does Shakespeare characterize the witches?

* What is their thematic significance?

How does Shakespeare characterize the witches?

In the play Macbeth, the witches have been characterised intimately.

Shakespeare has portrayed them as evil hags that are possessed by the


The belief that witches are part of reality was widespread. The book,

Daemonologie (published 1599), written by James I, shows that James

firmly believed in the power of witchcraft and the harm that it could


The witches in Macbeth are the antithesis of GodÂ’s divine commands.

They appear in bad weather, talk in riddles and their appearance is

somewhat inhuman. They have no respect for anyone and, as their

actions imply, they do their foretelling for their own good, not for


The witches could have originated from three possible phenomena: the

Three Fates or Norns, devils, or sorcerers. Historically the Three

Fates have the omnipotent power of controlling all things. The old

English word ‘Wyrd’ was a noun meaning ‘Fate’, forming the connection

between the Three Fates and Macbeth’s ‘Weїrd Sisters’ (act 1, scene

3). However, his ‘Weїrd Sisters’ have the traditional accessories and

attitudes of normal witches, like possessing familiars, and, unlike

Norns who control absolutely the past, present and future, the witches

only influence these factors. ShakespeareÂ’s intention in the play was

to show how Macbeth brings about his own downfa...

... middle of paper ...

...ry, not forced by the witches to do so. So we must

conclude that Macbeth brought on his own fate.

The witchesÂ’ prophecies held MacbethÂ’s fate hidden deep inside. Their

true meanings were not shown until Macbeth and his wife were deceased.

His downfall was caused by his weakness for ambition and his optimism.

So the witchesÂ’ thematic significance in Macbeth is to control the

atmosphere and the story line of the play. Their evilness affects

MacbethÂ’s actions throughout, as does their ability to create fate and

corruption, and to manipulate an individuals mind. Their non-existent

gender, their perverse pleasure in using their knowledge to play with

the future of human beings, and their ability to twist peoples minds,

together with their supernatural appearance and settings create the

evil and darkness of the play.
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