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Macbeth’s Evil Witches
The witches are seen as being evil. This is because at the time, witches were accepted as being real and evil. Shown in the play because the first scene is thunder and lightning, which is associated with terrible happenings and things so suggests witches are terrible things. They speak in rhymes and use many equivocal terms e.g. ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’. This suggests reversal and unbalance, which leads to chaos and disorder in Macbeth’s life. This is suggested because they immediately mention Macbeth so he is already associated with the witches and seen as being evil. The chaos is also shown in the natural world by the weather and natural events.
Act 1 Scene 3, there is thunder when the witches meet again. The idea of them being evil is reinforced because in this scene because they are cursing a sailor. This suggests that Macbeth will also face a similar type of treatment. The mystery of the witches is increased in this scene because they know Macbeth is coming when the third witch tells the other two, ‘Macbeth doth come.’ This raises the question of how they knew he was coming and reinforces the link between Macbeth and the witches, which suggests to the audience that Macbeth is evil from the beginning of the play. This link is further reinforced when Macbeth’s first line using the same equivocal as the witches, ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’.
Banquo is wary of the witches and does not really want to believe that they really because he says ‘That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth’, which adds further to their mystery because they are described as being unnatural. However, the suggestion that Macbeth is somehow acquainted with them is again shown when he talks to them directly without fear and asks 'What are you?’ Nevertheless, this shows to an extent that Macbeth also saw the witches as being unnatural because he enquires about what they are but he does not appear to be afraid.
They then avoid this question and tell Macbeth his prophecies as though this was the purpose all along. Their prophecies give rise to the question whether they knew that he was already Thane of Glamis and the next Thane of Cawdor. This adds to the mystery of the witches and provides some more evidence of the suggestion that they were well acquainted with Macbeth.
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After the witches have told Macbeth his prophecies, Banquo begins to ask about himself and is told with an equivocal that his children will be Kings but he will not. I believe that during this time Macbeth is thinking deeply about what he is told because as soon as the witches have finished telling Banquo, Macbeth becomes even more inquisitive. He says to them, ‘Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more’. This tells us that he has also picked up the fact that they are speaking equivocally because he says that their speech is imperfect. Nevertheless, he asks them to tell him more, which suggests that he understands the speech of the witches, reinforcing the idea that he is well-acquainted with them and understands them. He speaks to the witches without fear and says to them ‘Speak, I charge you’. However at this point they disappear, which reinforces the mysteriousness of them and suggests that even Macbeth cannot control them, giving us the impression that they are the most powerful characters in the play.
However, Macbeth does not seem it unusual that they have disappeared and simply answers to Banquo ‘Melted, as breath in the wind. Would they had stay’d’. This reply tells us that he is more concerned with what the witches had to tell him.
He tells Banquo ‘Your children shall be Kings’, which was the one prophecy the witches told using an equivocal. This further reinforces the suggestion that Macbeth fully understands the language and nature of the witches. This conversation between Macbeth and Banquo, after the witches leave, are the first signs that tell us that Macbeth is deeply interested in the prophecies of the witches and what they had to say.
The point at which Macbeth begins to believe everything the witches tell him is when Ross tells him that he has become the Thane of Cawdor. However, Banquo is prepared to say that the witches are evil, which suggests that he is a good character because the witches were seen as evil and anyone thinking otherwise would be seen as being evil. We know that Banquo sees the witches as being evil because he calls them ‘the Devil’.
Macbeth immediately asks Banquo whether he hopes his children will be Kings, which tells us that he trusts the witches fully. However Banquo is much more wary and knows the evil nature of the witches and so refuses to believe them.