Witch Craft in the 16th/17th Century as Related to Macbeth

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Witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries

It seems that every hundred years or so a new fear develops. Right now, in the 21st century the fear is terrorism and war. In the 20th century it was world expansion and industrialization. Yet all else aside, in the 16th and 17th century, witches were the ones to fear. In this essay I will discuss the characteristics of an “alleged” witch, methods used to insure a person practiced witchcraft, and the treatment of the ones accused. Our image of a witch now a days is an old hag and believe it or not that is what they thought in the 16th and 17th century as well. The characteristics of witches were simple. “Beauty was equated with virtue and so ugliness was a sign of evil. Because of limited medical knowledge any physical malformation such as, tumors, warts, and moles, skin discoloration, tumours, ulcers or boils were thought of as the Devil’s marks.”(3) Old woman, especially post menopausal and widowed were the targets of most witch hunters. During the 16th and 17th century witch hysteria, people such as Matthew Hopkins, the infamous Witch Finder General, were not afraid to use the ignorance and fear of the public to turn alleged characteristics of witches into their own personal gain. Yet, not everybody believed that finding marks on a person’s body was a sure way of identifying a witch. One sceptic, Thomas Ady stated, “Very few people in the world are without privy marks upon their bodies, as moles or stains, even such as witch mongers call the devil’s privy mark…”(4) So what is a witch anyways? Well according to English rule, the legal definition of a witch was "a person who hath a conference with the Devil to consult with him or to do some act."(2) In the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth consults with the Devil so that he might as she so boldly puts it, “unsex me and fill me, from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty! (IV. 39-41)” so that she might kill Duncan herself. She also goes...
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