The Role Of The Witches Essay, Research Paper
When Shakespeare wrote this play in 1606 a large majority of people were interested in witchcraft. King James was so fascinated by witches that he wrote an article about them in 1957 called ‘Demonologie´. So this is why Shakespeare has made the witches and the witches´ prophecies play a major part in the storyline and overall feeling of the play Macbeth. In the time of Macbeth witches were not thought to be supernatural beings themselves, but supposedly gained their powers by selling their souls to Satan, and were then instructed and controlled by ‘familiar spirits´. The existence of witchcraft was recognised by English law – an act of 1604 made the practice of it punishable by death – but it was by no means unquestioned. There can be little doubt that most of Shakespeare´s audience would have believed in witches, and for the purpose of the play, at least, Shakespeare also accepted their reality. The three witches in the tragedy Macbeth are introduced right at the beginning of the play and the brief opening few scenes give an immediate impression of mystery, horror and uncertainty. This is a sign of things to come as witchcraft is used as one of the main themes of the play. The witches create an atmosphere of evil and disorder. In the opening scene the weather is thunder and lightning which is a mirror image of the way the witches are perceived. When you think of thunder and lightning you think of evil and destruction, this is exactly the way witches are represented in this play. They are evil and cause destruction in Macbeth´s life.
Banquo says in act 1 scene 3 line 124: “The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s In deepest consequence.” He thinks and says bad things of the witches. He calls them instruments of darkness and the devil. He believes that these prophecies will only bring harm even before anything begins to happen. He sees beyond the witches and can see that they are evil where as Macbeth is taken in by the witches and this ‘blindness´ is what causes his downhill spiral of problems. So his best friend warns Macbeth before he makes any decisions that the witches are evil, and what they suggest is evil. If Macbeth had listened to his friend Banquo then perhaps the tragic events to follow could have been stopped. But the witches who could supposedly foretell the future, add temptation, and influence Macbeth. They had told Macbeth that he would be King he became impatient and tried to hurry it as quickly as he could. But they cannot control his destiny. Macbeth creates his own misery when he is driven by his own sense of guilt. This causes him to become insecure as to the reasons for his actions, which in turn causes him to commit more murders. The witches offer great enticement, but it is in the end, each individual´s decision to fall for the temptation, or to be strong enough to resist their captivation. The three Witches are only responsible for the introduction of these ideas and for further forming ideas in Macbeth head, but they are not responsible for his actions throughout the play. Everything that the witches say sounds they are chanting a magic spell. In act 4 scene 1 lines 4-9 : ‘Round about the cauldron go……….charmed pot.´
Here the poet uses rhyming couplets and a different rhythm to the rest of the play. There is a repeated chorus in which they all join in. ´Double, double, toil and trouble: Fire, burn; and cauldron, bubble.´ The alliteration with the repeated ‘d´ and ‘b´ sounds make the chant sound very powerful and is very catchy.
Lady Macbeth is shown early in the play as an ambitious woman with a single purpose. She can manipulate Macbeth easily. This is shown in act 1 scene 5: “That I may pour my spirits in thine ear” She is selfless, and wants what is best for her husband. Before the speech that Lady Macbeth gives in act one scene five, Macbeth is resolved not to go through with the killing of the king. However, Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth’s self-esteem by playing on his manliness and his bravery. This then convinces Macbeth to commit the murder. It is like a child who is easily guided. Lady Macbeth knows this and uses this to her advantage.
Although Macbeth has the final say in whether or not to go through with the initial killing, he loves Lady Macbeth and wants to make her happy. Lady Macbeth is the dominating individual in the relationship, it seems that she can convince him to do anything as long as she pushes the right buttons in act 1 scene 7 line 39 she says: ” Art thou afeard To be the same in thine own act and valour, As thou art in desire?” This is her asking Macbeth whether he has the courage of his convictions to achieve what he desires, again she is playing on his courage and bravery to try and manipulate him into killing Duncan. On the other hand, as the play progresses, and Duncan is killed, there is a reversal of natural order, and Macbeth becomes the dominating partner again. Lady Macbeth becomes subservient. She becomes pathetic and only a shadow of her former self. Ambition plays a large role in this tragedy. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have high ambitions that drive them. Lady Macbeth’s ambition drives her to manipulate Macbeth into committing the crimes. Macbeth’s fierce ambition is present before the witches’ prophesies, but, He would never have thought seriously about killing Duncan without the witches or Lady Macbeth. Yet the combination of his ambitious nature, the initial prophesies and his wife´s influence leads him to kill the king. It is Lady Macbeth who states, “Thou wouldst be great Art not without ambition.” Macbeth states that it is “his besetting sin: I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition.” Macbeth’s continued ambition is present in his wanting to have a succession of kings after him. Macbeth’s ambition is deep within him and because of this, both the witches and Lady Macbeth are able to sway him to evil. It is this ambition that gets him into so much trouble initially. Once Macbeth kills for the first time, he has no choice but to continue to cover up his wrong doings, or risk losing everything he has worked so hard for. In the end, it all becomes too much for Macbeth. He starts to go crazy and on the night of the Duncan murder many strange things happen. Macbeth has a vision of a dagger, which then leads him to Duncan´s room, Lenox heard screaming, the weather turns into a raging storm, the horses eat each other and a bird of prey (falcon) is killed by an owl. These strange and unnatural events, especially the imaginary dagger, show that Macbeth is not fully in control of his own actions and is being influenced by evil. But everyone is responsible for his own destiny. This is an essential theme in this tragedy. Macbeth chooses to gamble with his soul and when he does this it is only him who chooses to lose it. He is responsible for anything he does and must take total accountability for his actions. Macbeth is the one who made the final decision to carry out his actions. He made these final decisions and continued with the killings to cover that of King Duncan. However where as some facts show that the results were all of his own doing, in act 4 he returns to the witches voluntarily to find out his fate in order to see what actions he should take. This suggests that the witches did have a great influence on his actions.
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