«The Role of Witches in "Macbeth"» - Free Essay Paper
In the play Macbeth written by William Shakespeare, the witches are presented as three young ladies who walk and do all things together. Though they have an appearance of women, one cannot exactly identify their gender because they have beards. It is even difficult to maintain that they are humans because they do not resemble other inhabitants of the Earth. The behavior of the witches in Macbeth departs from the conduct of conventional witches since the former control human destiny. Their prophetic statements prove to be true but plunge the believers in false security and deception. The fulfillment of their first prophecies entices Macbeth to peg his future actions on the words of these heroines. The unusual appearance of the latter sparks misery and serves as a bridge between human involvement and supernatural powers. They feature the hybrid cast between the natural environment and the supernatural force. The witches are present from the first scene of the play in order to initiate and catalyze most of the events happening in the tragedy. The women with magic powers help to build such themes as fate, personal responsibility, and ambition among the ruling class. The five prophesies about Macbeth initiate most of the tragic events of the play. Therefore, the witches create the central theme in Macbeth, which is the struggle between the natural world and the supernatural one. They also determine the plot because the actions of the main character Macbeth are influenced by their directives. Thus, the main role of the witches in the given tragedy of Shakespeare is to represent the supernatural and destructive force that invades the natural order.
Primarily, the witches create the tone of uncertainty in the play. The reader encounters these characters right at the beginning of the tragedy. The audience cannot be sure where the witches have come from. Nobody even knows who they are or what their intentions are. The women with magic powers claim that they want to meet Macbeth. The environment surrounding their appearance bolsters the tone of uncertainty. They gather amidst lightning and thunder as well as navigate in the filthy air and fog. Hence, the environment associated with the witches becomes mysterious and murky as the latter emerge. Macbeth is himself not certain about the identity of the three sisters when they meet. The conversation of Macbeth and Banquo establishes the tone of uncertainty. The two characters ask themselves who the three women are. They observe that the latter are withered and wild in their dressing. They even have noticed that the sisters are not like other inhabitants of the Earth and yet they are here (Shakespeare, 1998). The response of the witches further exhibits the tone of uncertainty. The fact that all aspects of the sisters, including identity are uncertain sets the tone of the play.
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Additionally, the witches present the mood of the apocalypse. At the beginning of the tragedy, the three sisters appear in an open place amidst thunder and lightning. The open place where they encounter is concealed from prying eyes. The choice of the venue indicates that they do not wish to disclose the content of their communication to any other individual. The frightening environment of thunder and lightning, the isolated nature of the site and their undesirable identity demonstrate that something disastrous is in the offing. The three sisters even decide on the weather that would be prevailing at the time they would meet again. The options they present include rainy weather conditions, as well as thunder and lightning (Shakespeare, 1998). The conversation proves that they have the power of controlling the weather. The audience should be amazed at how comfortable the witches feel in this kind of harsh weather. They also agree to meet when they win or lose the battle. Hence, the tone displays that a disaster will happen in future. Due to the atmosphere created in the play, the society experiences a series of wars and murders aimed at ascension to power.
Moreover, the witches are used as agents of confusion and destruction. The dependence of Macbeth on these women with magic powers is initially predicted by Hecate. She foresees that Macbeth would seek to learn his future from the witches. Hecate also asserts that magic would be applied through the creation of apparitions to push Macbeth to his destruction. According to her prediction, artificial sprites would be raised and would be strong enough to create an illusion. The sprites shall lead Macbeth to confusion. Thus, they would lead Macbeth to spurn fate and scorn death by placing his hopes above wisdom (Shakespeare, 1998). The witches cause the conflict between humanity and supernatural powers. Since the time when Macbeth encounters the witches, they influence his desires and actions eventually sealing his death.
Therefore, the three sisters make Macbeth look like a coward who is ready to cooperate even with the evil to assume power. However, the witches were responsible for the sudden change of Macbeth's character from a brave man to a weakling. Before meeting the supernatural women, Macbeth successfully fought with the strong Norwegian troops and defeated them in war. The victory led to the conferment of the position of Thane of Cawdor. The noble character undergoes considerable transformations instantly with the advent of the three witches. When Macbeth first meets the latter, he flinches and turns rapt (Shakespeare, 1998). He is mystified when the witches greet him and become speechless. After regaining his composure, he requests the females with magic powers to give him more information. Nevertheless, the supernatural females vanish. When the prophesy of the witches is fulfilled, Macbeth pegs the interpretation of his future on their predictions. He constantly seeks the witches and develops the willingness to submit to the instruction of those whom the society perceives as the agents of darkness. The interaction of Macbeth with the mystical sisters presents the personality of Macbeth as a man who is greedy for power. The change from bravery to cowardice is evident because the main hero loses the war against England. By contrast, Banquo is regarded as a person who is skeptical about supernatural prophecies.
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Furthermore, the witches create a scary atmosphere that characterizes the leadership of that period. When the play was written, the mentioning of witches evoked a frightening mood. They were believed to wield special powers such as changing the weather, the ability to flight and predicting the future. The play is immersed in the perception of the witches at the Shakespeare’s time. The places where the witches meet and the events they engage in may terrify anybody who observes them. They gather around a bubbling cauldron. The latter was a famous tool that the witches used to restore dead warriors to life. Additionally, they were seen casting spells and foretelling the future. Nonetheless, after a while, they would vanish into thin air. Their speech was accompanied by chanting that sounded like a scary nursery rhyme. Hence, the appearance of the witches elicits the stereotypical feeling. They look wild and withered with skinny lips (Shakespeare, 1998). Their fingers are also described as chapped. Consequently, the actions and words embodied the appalling atmosphere of Macbeth’s time.
The witches serve the role of foretelling the future. They are seen predicting the future in two scenes of the tragedy. Macbeth and Banquo encounter them as the play starts. The first title given to Macbeth is “Thane of Glamis” (Shakespeare, 1998). The second and the third ones are ”Thane of Cawdor” and “The King” respectively. Being the Thane of Glamis, Macbeth is influenced to believe in the prophesy about the other two leadership positions (Shakespeare, 1998). In the course of the tragedy, King Duncan names Macbeth the Thane of Cawdor after the immediate former holder of the position betrays the Crown. Since predictions of the witches have been fulfilled, Macbeth is sure that the supernatural sisters foretell the destiny with certainty. The witches claim that Macbeth will be the king; therefore, he is convinced in the truthfulness of this prediction. Henceforth, Macbeth is grossly obsessed with prophecies of the women with magic powers and repeatedly consults them.
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Additionally, the witches expedite and affect the process of power succession. Since Macbeth trusts the predictions that he will be a king someday, he changes the plot and kills King Duncan. Thus, the murder of King Duncan is committed and Macbeth ascends to the throne. He visits the witches to obtain more information about his future who in their turn show Macbeth apparitions. The first one warns Macbeth to be aware of Macduff (Shakespeare, 1998). The pronouncement confirms Macbeth’s constant worry about Macduff. In response, Macbeth masterminds the killing of the Macduff’s family. The second apparition claims that Macbeth cannot be murdered by a man born of a woman (Shakespeare, 1998). The prediction makes Macbeth sit pretty and he does not make an adequate commitment to preparing for the war with England. He is finally deprived of power by this war. Later, Macduff kills Macbeth. Hence, the second prediction is fulfilled because Macduff was not born by a woman but instead he was cut from the body of his mother. The third apparition states that Macbeth would remain the king until the Birnam Wood rises against him at Dunsinane Hill. The prophecies of the third apparition predict that the English army invades the castle of Macbeth on Dunsinane Hill. Thus, this is the troop that overthrows him.
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Moreover, the witches are regarded the reason behind many cases of violence and deaths that occur in the play. Their predictions about the future leadership positions of Macbeth stimulate his murderous instincts. When Macbeth becomes aware of the prophesy that he will become the king, the hero hatches a plan to kill Duncan in order to ascend to the throne. Though Macbeth decides against murdering Duncan and even asserts that he will not realize this intention, Lady Macbeth implores Macbeth smothering him with love, and together they resort to ending the Duncan’s life. The witches also predict that Banquo will not be the king but his sons will rise to kingship. Due to the earlier prophesies that indicated that Macbeth would be the king, a conflict arises to the effect that the children of Banquo would overthrow the kingship of Macbeth. The latter grows increasingly paranoid and plans the murder of Banquo. When the witches warn Macbeth about Macduff, he masterminds the assassination of the family of Macduff (Shakespeare, 1998). The murder of Macbeth can also be traced to the prophesy of the supernatural sisters. They had previously told Macbeth to be cautious about Macduff, who eventually killed him. Macbeth implements exactly what the witches say. If he were not subject to the influence of the women with magic powers, he would not contemplate murdering Duncan and the family of Banquo (Shakespeare, 1998). The actions of Macbeth prove that when an individual makes decisions affected by the supernatural creatures, he/she does not consciously distinguish the wrong from the right. However, the characters eventually regret the heinous acts they have committed due to the coercion of the witches. Lady Macbeth, who initially planned to kill Duncan with Macbeth, finally becomes remorseful about the inhumane nature of her husband. After King Duncan is executed, Lady Macbeth feels penitence. She cleans her hands to remove imaginary bloodstains.
Furthermore, the witches are a source of false hope and confidence to the ruling class. In the second apparition, a child appears and orders Macbeth to mock other men. According to this prophecy, a leader is a superior human. The reason provided for the commandment to laugh at others is that anyone who was born of a woman could not harm Macbeth. The prophecy gives Macbeth a false sense of confidence and makes him believe that he is indomitable and invincible even in the face of war. The witches tell Macbeth to have the pride of a lion because defeat by his enemies would be impossible until Birnam wages the war with him at Dunsinane Hill (Shakespeare, 1998). Unfortunately, Macbeth misinterprets the tales of the supernatural sisters and becomes complacent about power. The overconfidence leads to his defeat in the war with England and his subsequent overthrow.
Finally, the witches address the worries of the people to the extent to which they can control their destiny. Some members of the society believe that their future is already mapped by supernatural powers whereas another part of the community consider that they bear the responsibility for their destiny. According to Macbeth, the witches have a link to the other world as well as an insight into the future. In addition, the witches are portrayed to have the ability beyond human knowledge. They have supernatural powers and are capable of precisely delineating the destiny of Macbeth, the king. As the play unfolds, it is evident that the characters do not leave the future to be completely determined by fate. When the witches foretell what would happen to Macbeth, he takes actions to expedite the achievement of the desired outcome and to refuse from the murderous plan. For example, when the witches predict that Macbeth will be the king, his wife Lady Macbeth immediately begins to persuade him to kill Duncan, the current king. In a similar case when the witches prophesy that the sons of Banquo rather than Banquo himself would be kings, Macbeth attempts to murder the sons of Banquo to maintain the kingship position in his family. The interaction of Macbeth with the witches indicates that people do not entirely leave the destiny to fate but control the future to attain the desired destiny. However, the audience notices that the information provided by the supernatural sisters about the future is misleading. When Macbeth follows the path prophesied by them, he dared to end the life of his friend, Banquo (Shakespeare, 1998). Consequently, one may deduce that the witches cannot offer a true revelation about the coming tomes.
In conclusion, the witches play a central role in Macbeth in creating mood, themes, and characters. Without these heroines endowed with magical powers, the play would not have the supernatural element, which has developed the theme of deception. The witches set the tone of uncertainty, which runs through the tragedy. They bring ambitions to fulfillment and expose the extent, which people can reach to acquire and retain power. After Macbeth has met the three sisters, he begins to operate outside the natural order. His character takes a different trajectory and pays little regard to humanity. Therefore, the encounter with the witches indicates that supernatural powers only cause uncertainty, greed, as well as violence eventually leading to destruction.
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