The Witches' Evil Influence In Shakespeare's Macbeth

1326 words - 5 pages

Audiences today enjoy both horror movies and books, content that such
experiences belong to the realm of entertainment. Macbeth’s
contemporary audience, however, watched the play against a context of
Renaissance beliefs about the paranormal and the divine. No wonder
then that these audiences’ reactions to the witches are so
contrasting.

Shakespeare portrays the witches in what seems to a 21st century
audience a stereotypical way. There are many things that come to mind
when we hear the word witches: Halloween, the Devil, magic, potions,
death, broomsticks and the clothes they wear which includes cloaks and
pointed hats. However, witches originate from long before Renaissance
times. At that time there were very few old people as life expectancy
was low. Country women tended to live longer and know more about
herbal medicines than townsfolk. This information was passed through
to their daughters. The women were old and therefore had wrinkled skin
and warts on their faces. Their men died before them through accidents
or fights. As a result of this, most of these women were widows
wearing black and having cats for company. It was a highly
superstitious time and the women used this to their advantage, making
a living by using white magic to cure and black magic to curse. People
even believed these women could see into the future. In the 14th
century a campaign began to destroy witches and by the time of
Elizabeth I, thousands of woman had been executed. When James I came
to the throne, believing himself to be God’s representative on earth
he considered himself the main target of the witches. He published his
own book on witches called ‘Demonology’ in which he listed their
powers such as the ability to curse, and therefore made a law that
practising witches should be executed. It is clear, therefore, that
Shakespeare’s witches are rooted firmly in English popular tradition.

Act 1 scene 1 opens with the entrance of the witches; accompanied by
thunder and lightning. The setting is an open place. It is clear that
the witches control the elements and must therefore be very powerful ‘
When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning or in rain’ the
witches speak in rhyming lines with four stressed beats. The rhyme of
‘again’ and ‘rain’ and ‘done’, ‘won’ and ‘sun’ as well as the half
rhyme in ‘heath’ and ‘Macbeth’ and the alliteration in the words
‘foul’, ‘fog’ and ‘filthy’ emphasises the unnaturalness of these
beings ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’ this line tells us the anarchy
the witches bring to our world. Their purpose in this scene is to
create an evil and eerie mood and suggest that they will be the cause
of evil doings later on. We also are shown the witches’ physic powers
as they know when the battle will end and where they will meet Macbeth.
The scene prepares us for real evil at the hands of the witches and
also introduces us to one of the themes of this play: appearance
versus reality....

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