The Effect of the Witches on the Atmosphere in Macbeth

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The Effect of the Witches on the Atmosphere in Macbeth

The play is based loosely on fact but more importantly it is set in a

violent time when the succession to the throne was not guaranteed.

Shakespeare wrote ‘Macbeth’ very soon after the Gunpowder Plot was

discovered. In 1605, of a group Catholic gentlemen tried to kill the

king James 1st by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. The play was

first performed in front of James I between 1605 or 1606 and the

audience would have been aware of the recent events. Consequently both

eras were times of fear and turmoil. The witches reflect this; they

create a threatening, and unsettling atmosphere and go onto exert a

profound influence of the events of the play.

Shakespeare also wrote ‘Macbeth’ at a time when belief in witchcraft

was much stronger; their appearance on the stage would have had a

powerful impact on the audience. That time people believed that the

witches could fly and cast evil spells. King James I was also

personally terrified of witches because he believed a group of them

had raised a storm to drown to try and drown him then had made a wax

image to make him sicken and die. James even published a book about

witches and got Parliament to pass a law against the witches, which he


The play opens with a storm (thunder and lightning) and witches. This

creates an instant dramatic impact, to frighten and unsettle the

audience. They meet in foul weather and speak of lightning, fog and

filthy air. This introduces ‘Macbeth’ as a dark, dangerous play in

which evil (created by witches) is central to the plot. “Fair is foul

and foul is fair” these words contradict each other...

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near. Macbeth appears to have immediate proof to believe that the

witches know the future. Macbeth seems to be under the witches spell.

The witches only appear once but there words stay in his thoughts.

Where as Banquo knows that the witches are evil and often seduce us

with small rewards in order to cause our destruction, “to win us to

our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths; Win us with

honest trifles.”

To conclude, Shakespeare opens the play with the witches to frighten,

confuse and unsettle the audience, he also wanted to make a dramatic

impact in the theatre. Furthermore, he wants to introduce the main

themes of the play: Fate, Destiny, Illusion and Reality. Although the

witches are only on stage for a short time they exert a powerful

influence throughout the rest of the play.
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