What Is the Significance of the Witches in Macbeth?

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There is the argument that Shakespeare has employed the witches merely as plot devices rather than as characters and to enhance the extent of the supernatural within the play. However, apart from the consideration of the eponymous character of Macbeth, it may be viewed that the witches are the most prominent of the characters within the play, and that they have considerable significance over the actions within the plot. Their significance is evident from the very beginning, as the “three witches” introduce the audience to the play, implying that their participation within the plot will be central.
The presence of the witches within the play may be said to be significant due to their enhancement of the element of the supernatural, and therefore the extension of the Gothic genre, within the play. “Thunder and lightning” appear to be used in conjunction with the presence of the witches; this does not only present Shakespeare’s aim to evoke feelings of unease and discomfort amongst the audience, but the storm may also suggest that the witches represent disorder, chaos and conflict. This sense of conflict and confusion is reinforced by their contradictory rhyming of “Fair is foul and foul is fair” and “When the battles’ lost and won”. Their language promotes their portrayal as stereotypical Gothic witches by bringing to mind a sense of incantation and chanting, but it also presents a paradox to both Macbeth and the audience, making it hard for them to understand the witches. The duality evident in their language may be representative of the conflict between morality and immorality within the character of Macbeth, and there may even be the interpretation that their ambiguity and confusion has been the cause Macbeth’s later mental conflict. Therefore, the witches have high significance in terms of the Gothic genre, and also in the development of Macbeth’s character.
The element of the supernatural is also reinforced by the appearance of the witches in Act 1 Scene 3. The

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