In order to judge why the witches are so important in the play ‘Macbeth’ ,by William Shakespeare, we need to consider many aspects. Aspects such as the witches’ part in the play; the language used both by the witches and others who describe them; the actions of the witches throughout the play ; the setting that Shakespeare chooses and the effect that the witches have on other characters, and not forgetting society at the time, all have to be considered . The way that the directors have chosen to present them also plays an important part in the play as here we have characters who are very different, unique and rather bizarre!
This is a play about Macbeth, initially a good and noble man… and his downfall. It is a play which encompasses tragedy, murder, cunning, guile, betrayal, madness, ambition, revenge, guilt, history, prophecy and the supernatural . We also need to remember that this is also a play set in times (the early 1600s) which were very different to nowadays, set in times which were not technologically advanced and set in times when beliefs were quite different .These were times when people believed in witches!
In Shakespeare’s time, people often blamed disasters and misfortunes on witches and witchcraft. Witchcraft means the use of magical powers and the supernatural to control happenings. Because people could not explain odd happenings in any other way , they would blame witchcraft. When Shakespeare wrote this play, the king of England was King James 1. It is said that he was very afraid of witchcraft, so much so that he made a law in parliament stating :’Death to anyone practising witchcraft’. Many people also believed that witches were the devil’s helpers and thus Witch Hunts became very popular at this time. It is apt, therefore, that the play begins with the introduction of the witches, through which Shakespeare shows evil as a supernatural force.
By beginning the play in this way, the scene is set for a play full of evil. The audience can be in no doubt that this is a play about pure evil fighting the forces of good. The dark mood (‘A desert place’.’Thunder and lightning’.) is set as soon as the play begins and the witches show their powers:
‘When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning or in rain?’
This highlights the fact that the witches are not afraid of the weather, even though society at the time might have been. Storms are quite normal for us nowadays yet for people at that time, thunder and lightning might have been quite terrifying if they didn’t understand it. In addition to this, the witches think that they can control the weather, along with controlling Macbeth, whom they plan to meet in order to lure him to his downfall. Chanting in rhyming couplets, the witches add to the tension when they continue in the same style :
‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’
Hover through the fog and filthy air.’
Emphasising the fact the things are not like they really seem, these witchy women leave us in no doubt that Macbeth is in for a struggle and the use of the word ’filthy’ is a stark reminder of this. Added to this, the witches seem to chant in riddles, another clever ploy by Shakespeare to keep the audience intrigued by what is happening…and to portray them differently from the other characters in the play. Act 1 Scene 1 also introduces us to the main character of the play, Macbeth. Although we know nothing about him at this point, we can guess what will happen to him…as the witches seem to have this all mapped out! Their quest continues.
We next meet the witches in Act 1 Scene 3. Macbeth and Banquo are returning from battle and meet the witches, who predict that Macbeth will become King. It is interesting to note that when Macbeth enters, he reiterates similar words to the witches’ earlier words:
‘..so foul and fair a day I have not seen.’
Could it be that Macbeth might be,...