To What Extent Are the Witches Significant in Macbeth?

Topics: Macbeth, William Shakespeare, Shakespeare's plays Pages: 4 (1210 words) Published: October 21, 2011
To what extent are the witches
significant in Shakespeare’s Macbeth?

‘Macbeth’ is a play written by William Shakespeare. Macbeth is among the most famous of William Shakespeare's plays, as well as his shortest tragedy. It is set in Scotland and is commonly known as the ‘Scottish play’ as it is a superstition amongst actors.

In my essay I will be exploring the significance of the witches in ‘Macbeth’ and will be answering the following questions: Why Shakespeare chooses to use them as he does? What their significance is in the play? How might the audience (at the time it was written) respond to them?

Act 1, scene 1, opens with the appearance of the witches. This emphasises the significance of them in ‘Macbeth’. Pathetic fallacy is deployed by Shakespeare in the stage directions within the first scene which opens with thunder and lightening; at that time people also believed that witches could control the weather. This creates a sombre mood which permeates the rest of the play. The oxymoron “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”, is used for dramatic effect, confusing Macbeth’s perception of right and wrong (good and bad, beauty and ugliness). It also sets the scene of appearance vs. reality. This is perhaps symbolic of Macbeth, who at first is introduced to the audience as a brave, noble and is loyal towards King Duncan. This quote is linked with the line in Act 1, scene 3 when Macbeth remarks, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen”. This echoes the words of the witches and therefore the audience sees immediately the tragic inseparability of Macbeth and the forces of darkness. It can also mean that the day is foul due to the witches raising a storm, and fair because of Macbeth's victories on the battlefield.

In Act 1, scene 3 the witches also make their prophecies. They tell Macbeth three prophecies: that he will be Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glamis and then eventually King, this is encapsulated in the lines: “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of...
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