What Was the Witches' Role in Macbeth?

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What Was the Witches' Role in Macbeth?

In Shakespeare's time, many people were superstitious; they believed that that their lives were strongly influenced, if not dictated by fate. They also thought that the world was full of supernatural creatures, such as witches, ghosts, and many other such beings. Shakespeare incorporated these aspects of belief in his play Mac Beth. The witches, although accurately predicting what would occur, i.e., Mac Beth would be king, they did not specify how their prophecies would be realized.

The witches did possess some sort of power (unless they were privy to some political information which MacBeth was not aware of), otherwise, how could they have known that MacBeth had been appointed Thane of Cawdor? Of course, once MacBeth, who, living in such a society, was superstitious, is presented with Cawdor's title, he believes that the other prediction, namely his kingship, must come true. Banquo notes the danger inherent in believing (and subsequently acting on) the witches' predictions; he says, "Were such things here as we do speak about?/Or have we eaten on the insane root/That takes the reason prisoner?" Act I, scene 3, ll.83-85.

MacBeth is quite overwhelmed when he hears that he is now the Thane of Cawdor. However, almost immediately, he starts thinking about how to bring about his rule as king.

"{Aside} Two truths are told,
As happy prologues to the swelling act
Of the imperial theme.—I thank you, gentlemen.
{Aside} This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am the thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings;
My thought, whose...
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