Macbeth: a Victim of Manipulation?

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In the play “Macbeth”, William Shakespeare uses belief in the existence and power of witches to create and influence the audience’s understanding of the play. Our initial impression of Macbeth is one of a brave and capable warrior, however once we see his interaction with the three “evil sisters” (Shakespeare, 1996) we realises that his physical audacity is coupled by an intense amount of ambition and self doubt. It is believed that the witches are the motive behind this ambition which eventually leads to his tragedy, however strong diverging arguments are in existence. The intensity of Macbeth’s tragedy is dependent on whether or not the witches are “professed to be able to control the naïve, innocent Macbeth” or whether he is to blame for his own “wrongful doings and demise”. Through analyses of Macbeth’s actions, explanation will be made regarding the role of witches in society during the seventeenth century, as well as the views of past audiences and their understanding of these witches. In today’s society witchcraft is very diminished; we do not believe that witches have authority over us, but in Shakespearean point in time they played a significant function. Members of society regarded witches in a fearful manner yet at the same time with a great amount of respect. “The belief in the existence and power of witches was widely believed in Shakespeare’s day, as demonstrated by the European witch craze, during which an estimated nine million women were put to death for being perceived as witches” (Traux, 1990: 54). The custom of witchcraft was seen to “interfere with the order of society and religion” (Penczak, 2002: 44), hence it was not endured. Majority of society in the seventeenth century therefore believed in the power of witches. Shakespeare’s creation of the witches or who could otherwise be referred to as the “weird sisters” could have been due to several reasons, one of these being the anti- witchcraft law passed by King James prior to this period (Penczak, 2002: 65). In Shakespearean days witches were perceived as creatures associated with the devil, they were hell on earth and were seen in a completely different manner than that of today. Therefore the audience immediately perceive Macbeths association with the witches as on with the devil. The characters of the witches have such a daunting and magnificent role in the play that they are attractive to audiences. They are found to be fascinating and back in the past audience wanted to gain a certain degree of understanding from them regarding their way of life and behaviour. This made the play more exciting to watch and to a certain degree created a sense of a mysterious ambience (Penczak, 2002: 65) Therefore a large influential factor that caused society to watch the performance of the play and to an extent be interested in Macbeth was the inclusion of this enigmatic factor of the witches. Audiences are initially introduced to the “secret, back and midnight” (Shakespeare, 1996) prophets in the beginning of the play while recounting to Macbeths three prophecies; that he will be made the Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glams, and thereafter the King of Scotland (Shakespeare, 1996). The witches are seen as part of the landscape, but are not full human inhabitants of it. They are simply a manifestation of evil and merely exist to coax and torment society and in this case Macbeth. Thereafter, the Witches speak of their intention to meet Macbeth and tell him of their prophecies and destiny for him. Macbeth and Banquo first encounter the witches in scene two of act one. Banquo is thrown by the appearance of the witches and asks: “what are these so withered and so wild in there attire. That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ Earth.”(Shakespeare, 1996). The Witches then address Macbeth in the following way: “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Glamis! All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor! All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter”...
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