Most people in Shakespeare time believed in the powers of witches, and witchcraft became the object of morbid and fevered fascination. Between 1560 and 1605 hundreds of people (mainly women) were convicted as witches and executed. Witches were credited with diabolical powers. They could predict the future, bring on night in daytime, cause fogs and tempests and kill animals. They cursed animals with fatal wasting disease and could raise evil spirits by concocting a horrible brew with nauseating ingredients. It was believed witches allowed the devil to suck their blood in return for a familiar (an animal used as an evil servant). Accused witches were examined for the 'devils mark', a red mark on their body from where Satan had sucked their blood. In 1604 an act of parliament decreed anyone found guilty of practicing witchcraft should be executed. If they were convicted they endured torture and death by hanging or burning at the stake.
The first scene of 'Macbeth' is very short, but full of impact. The thunder and lightning alone give it a dramatic opening, which grabs the interest of the audience, as it is representative of evil. These dramatic sound effects help to set the eerie and supernatural atmosphere that Shakespeare wanted to create along with the witches. Instead of seeing Macbeth, Shakespeare's audience is faced with three weird-looking women. The witches introduce us to a dark, dangerous play, in where the theme of evil is central. The witches say little but we learn a lot about them. From the beginning we can tell that the witches can foretell the future, and are creating some unpleasant magic, which is to involve Macbeth. This creates suspense for the audience, wondering what is going to happen next. The fact that the witches want to meet Macbeth should raise some suspicion in the audience. The witches first mention Macbeth in the eighth line, when they explain that they will meet him upon the heath. This shows the audience that the witches must know of Macbeth and leaves them assuming that Macbeth will be greatly influenced and affected by these three witches throughout the play.
The mood of the play is set here, although the action doesn't start until the next scene. The presence of supernatural forces in the opening of 'Macbeth´ provides for much of the play's dramatic tension and the mounting suspense. "When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or rain?" This is the opening line. It immediately draws the audience and captures their imagination, as the supernatural world fascinated people in Elizabethan England. The witches fit in with the stereotypical perception of witches of that time, including use of familiars like Graymalkin and Paddock.
Perhaps the most chilling part of the opening, is when the witches overturn the values in which we believe: ' Fair is foul, and foul is fair´, this basically seems like a warning that things are not what they appear to be, as if they are referring to people, explaining that not everybody should be trusted. This adds to our fear about what will happen to Macbeth.
In 'Macbeth' the witche's lines are extremely short and cryptic, this adds and indicates tension and excitement. The whole section is written in rhyme, with short seven or eight syllable lines, which are suggestive of a chant. The fact that Shakespeare uses very short lines and varies the rhythm in a number of ways helps to interest the audience. It is obvious to them that the witches are chanting a magical spell throughout their brief encounter. This creates a bleak and mystical atmosphere, together with suspicion as to why they are using their magical powers. The language reflects on the fact that 'Macbeth' is a dark play about evil, death, murder and ambition. The witches' language manages to reveal their personalities as sinister, mysterious and untrustworthy.
The story of Macbeth is an example of power at the expense of everything else. He begins the play as a strong character...
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