Response to "Sexuality, Witchcraft and Violence in Macbeth" by Dennis Biggins

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EH 304 Late Shakespeare

“Sexuality, Witchcraft, and Violence in Macbeth," by Dennis Biggins


In this article, Biggins focuses on several themes, both obvious and discreet, within the plot of Macbeth. Biggins disputes other critics' opinions that sexuality has little thematic importance in Macbeth, stating that the play is immersed in sexuality through both violent and mystical indications. Other critics refer to the play as "the purest of Shakespeare's tragedies," in which the Porter's remarks about drink and sex might easily seem incongruous (Biggins 255). Biggins, however, identifies not only the more obvious sexual elements, such as can be seen in the exchanges between Macbeth and his wife, but states that the play has several passages in which "the full purport has not been grasped." Biggins expounds on the mystical connotatations, and ties this theme directly to underlying themes and symbols of violence and sexuality that are prominent throughout the play.

Biggins compares Macbeth to other Shakesperian works, highlighting Shakespeare's use of demonic and sexual symbolism. In Biggins' opinion, witchcraft is the most potent theme in Macbeth, for it links violence and sexuality perfectly within the fatal plot. This, in turn, creates a bigger and more sinister role for the weird sisters, who are seldom on stage. Biggins and other critics agree that:

"the Weird Sisters are something other, or at any rate something more than garden-variety witches of the kind described by contemporary witch lore. There is a demonic aspect of the Weird Sisters, but their powers are too limited for them to be seen in terms as full-fledged demons or devils. They occupy a kind of twilight territory between human and supernatural evildoing"

... (Biggins 255)."

Biggins propses that all the violent manifestations that take place on stage are demonstrations of sexual impulse. Furthermore, the sexual impulsivity and violence in the various characters are driven by the "irreistable demonic forces" characterized by the Weird Sisters. In the colloquy between the Sisters in I.iii there is a mingling of the motifs of unnatural evildoing and of lust that are to recur later in the play with reference to Macbeth and his wife (Biggins 258).

Using textual evidence, Biggins shows that these themes, sexual, demonic and violent, are prevalent in many of Shakespeare's works. Barbantio accuses Othello of using witchcraft to sedice his daughter Desdemona in Othello, saying "For nature so preposterously to err, / Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense, / Sans witchcraft could not" (Oth., I.iii.62-64). Likewise, Biggins suggests that the ghost in Hamlet sees Clauduis' wooing of Gertrude as a kind of trickery or witchcraft. He draws similar paralells in King Lear, Henry VI and Antony and Cleopatra. Biggins theory centers around the powers of the divine and demonic, and his suggeststions about the lesser themes, such as sexuality and violence, are seen only as a reaction to witchcraft.


Biggins heavily associates the Weird Sisters and their ties to the supernatural with sexuality. He analyzes many of their lines, adding more sexual connotations than previous critics. For instance, in I.iii the first witch responds to the woman as a "rump-fed Ronnion." Other critics have explained this language to mean well-fed or having a fattened rump. Biggins, however, says that it may be used here to express, among other things, sexual antagonism. He calls the term abusive and compares it closely to other terms used, like witch, hag, baggage, and polecat. In Jacobean-Elizabethan culture the latter two terms purportedly have sexually implicit meaning, while the former two slurs have specific, poignant meaning in Macbeth (Biggins 257). Biggins insists that "the Witch derisively sees her enemy as a sexual object whose role she intends to usurp" also noted in the article are other critics interpretations of these lines....
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