How Does Shakespeare Present The Witches in ‘Macbeth’ and to what Extent do they influence events? Essay
How Does Shakespeare Present The Witches in ‘Macbeth’ and to what Extent do they influence events?
‘Macbeth’ is a tragic play that focuses on how one man is driven mad with ambition, the play was written in a time of society when witches were greatly feared and believed to exist, so the fact that the witches in the play influence Macbeth’s downfall was scary to them. Did the witches in Macbeth cause him to kill the king?
The witches are without doubt evil, they do no good deeds and only perform acts of evil, ‘enter three witches’ there are three of them, which suggests something to do with the unholy trinity, there are a lot of other implications of the trinity in the play, three types of weather and Banquo being murdered by three people. They make potions with disgusting things in, some which are body parts that earlier belonged to human which shows they do not care about the human race which suggests they are not human. They kill a woman’s husband just because she would not share her food and says ‘here I have a pilots thumb’ which shows they are proud ant take it as a prize. They can control the weather but only use it for bad ‘in thunder lightening or in rain?’ Also, they kill livestock as if it was a hobby and they do not really care. They do nothing good for Macbeth’s life and know what they are doing from the start.
Without the witches in the play, there would not be a story as they are behind all of the trouble. They influence Macbeth to be exceedingly power hungry and arrogant but one thing they cannot do it control people, they never actually control or give orders to Macbeth, they just ‘guide’ him. They say to him ‘all hail Macbeth that shalt be king’ which then later influences him to kill Duncan so that he himself can become king. They tell him ‘for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’ which makes him believe that he is invincible which influences him to be very big headed and feel that he can get away with anything which then eventually leads to his death.
Calling the witches ugly would be a huge understatement, they are worse than that as they cannot even be described as human, they are referred to as the ‘weird sisters’ by Banquo and Macbeth throughout the play but whether they are even girls is questionable, as Banquo even says at one point ‘you should be women and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.’
Banquo also says ‘so withered and wild in their attire’ They are never described as anything but repulsive, Macbeth describes them as an infection ‘infected by the air whereon they ride’ Macbeth calls them ‘filthy hags’ In Polanski’s film of Macbeth one of the witches is deformed and does not have a face, which shows how he interprets how ugly Shakespeare was trying to explain they were. It is clear that they are not your every day women, as Banquo says ‘look not like the inhabitants of the earth’ They are very sinister and mysterious ‘how now you secret, black and midnight hags’ Macbeth says, and with the use of the words black and midnight you can tell that they are associated with night. This brings me on to how the witches in Macbeth fit a stereotype.
The fact that the witches are ugly is a stereotype in itself because witches are rarely stereotyped as being beautiful women. ‘Where hast thou been sister?’ ‘Killing swine.’ In the middle ages if a lot of farm animals were getting ill it would be blamed on witchcraft so it is therefore stereotypical that they kill pigs. They can predict the future, which shows they have supernatural powers and are psychic which is what you would expect a witch to be. They often speak in chant, which seems like a spell ‘when the hurlyburly’s done, when the battles lost and won’ and they can fly ‘hover through the fog’ they use cauldrons and make disgusting potions.
The witches have a lot of power over many things although they cannot actually kill directly, yet they have other ways to kill. They manage to kill a woman’s husband by creating a storm and doing other awful things ‘sleep shall neither night nor day’ they have the power to stop him from sleeping. The witches have power over the weather and they can conjure up spirits. ‘Show his eyes and grieve his heart; come like shadows, so depart’ and they can predict the future, which shows power. ‘A drum, a drum! Macbeth doth come’ and ‘by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.’ They hold a lot of power over Macbeth and he believes most things that they say because they come across as spiritual and all knowing to him.
The witches influence Macbeth all throughout the play, they influence him to kill Macduff’s family ‘Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth, beware Macduff’ they tell him that he will never be killed until the wood moves to the top of the hill which obviously sounds un-likely to happen at all to him. ‘Macbeth shall never be vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill’ which is another thing that makes him believe that he is invincible. They influence the weather a lot as well. Everything they influence is for evil but the reason for why they do all of this is unclear.
In conclusion Shakespeare presents the witches as evil, ugly old hags and they influence events completely and without them there would not be a story.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 11 November 2017
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