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Discuss the importance of the witches in the play Macbeth

Categories: Macbeth

In Shakespeare’s life the people were very religious and almost all believed in heaven and hell and lived in fear of damnation. Also there was a very strong belief in good and bad sprits, witches and witchcraft.

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These were extremely feared by the people. Anyone who was accused of being a witch was trailed and if convicted was executed by hanging or burning at the stake. In the reign of Elizabeth I 1500 to 1603 hundreds of people were tried and executed almost all were women.

Witches were believed to have powers, which were able to predict the future, fly, bring on night, time cause storms and fogs, kill animals and sail in sieves. They were able to curse enemies with diseases, cause nightmares and sterility; they could also take possession of any individual they chose.

There were a few ways to tell if they were a witch. One of these was to throw them off a cliff and if they started to fly they were a witch and if they fell to the bottom they weren’t.

Another was if there was a red mark on there bodies, this was said to be the spot where they let the devil suck their blood in exchange for a familiar usually a cat.

In the play Macbeth the first scene contains the act of the witches. The reason Shakespeare put this act in was because he knew it would grip the audience, as anything do with witchcraft would strike fear. Also he knew King James I would be at the play, and he knew that he had an obsessive passion over witches and witchcraft. In 1590 his ship was in a storm and almost sank. He made accusations that a group of witches tried to kill him. He said Agnes Sampson, one of the witches had collected toad venom, christened a cat, tied parts of a dead man’s body to it, sailed out to sea in a sieve and thrown the cat and the body parts over board to raise a storm to sink the king’s ship. King James personally interrogated one of the accused witches and also he started to investigate other witchcraft cases. In 1597 he published a book on witchcraft called Demonology.

With they’re being such a dramatic opening scene to the play, such as when the three witches enter and there are sound effects such as thunder and lightning. This would grab the attention of the audience and calm and settle them. Language, rhyming couplets, paradox

In act 1 scene 1 the witches speak in riddles they speak in paradoxes

“When the battles lost and won”

This means one side will win and one will lose. Also I use the riddle

” Fair is foul, and foul is fair”

These are opposites but at first glance they look the same, there is so many things in the play which are like this such as the witches as Macbeth thinks they are there to help him but actually they do it to trick him. Another one the use is

The witches are important to Macbeth because they act as a catalyst, setting the events in motion. In the play the witches tell Macbeth three prophecies

“All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis.”

This prophecy Macbeth already knew, so so far he knows the witches are telling the truth, the second witch says

“All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor”.

Macbeth does not believe that this prophecy until this happens. The third witch says

“All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.”

Later Ross tells Macbeth that the king has made him with the Thane of Cawdor and now as two of the prophecies have come true he starts to believe that the third will to and so in that started off Macbeth’s actions. Later on when Macbeth knows that Duncan is leaving his thrown to his oldest son because Macbeth is so disappointed that the third prophecy didn’t come true. Macbeth takes it upon him self to make it true and so he murders of King Duncan and the murder of the two guards.

Later on in the play Macbeth goes to see the witches again. The witches give Macbeth three prophecies

“Beware Thane of Fife” This prophecy is true as it is Mac duff who kills Macbeth, but to stop Macduff being any threat Macbeth has Macduff’s family killed, so the witches were indirectly responsible

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