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Macbeth The Witches Role Essay, Research Paper

Akanksha Shah

English Coursework- Macbeth

Explore the part played by the witches in the play ‘Macbeth’. What influence do they have on the events of the play and do they contribute to the atmosphere and dramatic impact of the play? I believe, that even though the witches only appear in the play a few times, they play a very important role in ‘Macbeth’ they have a great deal of influence on not just the major characters, but many of the others, and I feel that the witches contribute to the overall atmosphere of the play dramatically. It is at the beginning of the play that we are introduced to the evil sisters, when they meet in an “open place” in “thunder and lightning”. Right from the start, the witches create a mysterious atmosphere. The fact that they meet in conditions and in an open area which is away from the prying eyes of society, suggests that they are up to something secret, and as we know they are witches, we assume, whatever they are up to, will be evil and something they do not wish to disclose to anybody else. It is also a fact, that in Shakespearean times, turbulent and dramatic weather such as this, meant that the earth’s elements were uneasy, and foretold that something disastrous was to happen. The evil witches seem to be at ease in weather conditions such as these, and it appears that they also have control over the weather. We see the witches deciding which type of weather they should meet up again in, “when shall we three meet again, In thunder lightning or in rain?” These lines suggest that hey do in fact have control over the weather, and they also show that the witches appear to be comfortable in this type of weather. The three sisters decided to meet after the commotion is over, “When the hurlyburly’s done When the battle is lost and won” The witches add, that they will meet “Upon the heath” and let us know that they will “meet with Macbeth” this first mention of Macbeth intrigues us as we know the story is somewhat about this man named ‘Macbeth’ and as the first we hear of him, comes from an evil witches’ mouth, we wonder what Macbeth could possibly have to do with these evil creatures. The witches, we learn, speak in paradoxes and they do this throughout the play, as we can see when they mention that they will meet “when the battle is lost and won”. So, cleverly, they have devised a contradictive statement, which somehow makes sense, as there are always two parties to a battle, and one must lose for the other to win. A paradox which has more significance is when they chant “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” These paradoxes suggest that they are ambiguous and cannot be trusted. Moreover, it seems, from each contradiction, that the witches have values that are opposite to those of human values. They have opposite views on values, morals and ethics, and it is obvious that what we would class as beautiful, they would, as ugly, and vice versa. In addition, we are shown, that whenever the witches speak, they speak in rhyming couplets, similar to that of chanting a spell. The fact that they speak this particular way, leaves us feeling that the evil sisters are more evil than we expected. They exit the scene by hovering “through the fog and filthy air.” We are given a first description of Macbeth, as the captain reveals to the audience that Macbeth is a brave and loyal soldier. Once the captain returns from battle, he tells King Duncan that Macbeth was “Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel.” Other descriptions of Macbeth include “brave Macbeth” and “Valour’s minion”, Valour being the favourite God of courage. All this reveals that Macbeth was brave, loyal and valient.On the other hand, whenever we see the witches, they are practising their evil, and as a result, we view them as vengeful creatures. When Macbeth and Banquo are returning from the battle, having won it, Macbeth’s first words are “So fair and foul a day I have not seen”. By this he was describing the weather as “foul” and the fact that they won the battle as “fair”. The irony of the particular sentence, however, is that it is almost echoed in what the witches say in Act 1 Scene 1 “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” This immediately draws the reader’s attention, as we had first heard the evil sisters simply mention his name. Now they were mirroring each other’s words. The audience at this point, is able to establish that there must be a link without recognising exactly what he connection is. This adds an air of mystery to the play as we as the reader wonder what is going to happen next? Banquo first notices the witches and describes them as being “withered and wild in their attire” which lets the reader know that the sisters’ appearance must be visually dramatic. Banquo describes that the witches “look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth” and we are informed that like their language, their appearance is ambiguous too, as we are Banquo makes it clear to the witches “you should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so” This emphasises the witches’ ability to be neither one nor the other, and so exaggerates their ambiguity, which is yet another example of why they cannot be trusted. At this moment in the play, the sisters proclaim three prophecies to Macbeth. The first of the three being “All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee Thane of Glamis!” This though, was not so much a prophecy as it simply confirmed Macbeth’s actual status. The second prophecy is “All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee Thane of Cawdor!” To us, the reader, this seems a great possibility, as we are aware that the current Thane of Cawdor was to be executed for being a traitor. The third prophecy declared “All hail Macbeth! that shalt be King hereafter!” this third prophecy seems a little too wishful, as we already know that the King of Scotland is Duncan. Macbeth is quite stunned by what has been said to him, and seems to be taking it in as slowly as he can. Just so as he is able to fathom what these weird sisters are proclaiming to him. However Banquo is not bothered whether the witches speak to him or not. Banquo believes that these witches can predict the future, so although he isn’t particularly bothered whether he gets an answer or not, he still asks of them to “Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear your favours nor your hate.” This is important because the difference between Macbeth’s reaction, and Banquo’s is great. Banquo, we see, is not afraid of the witches, and doesn’t beg of them to predict his future, however Macbeth is desperate for them to tell him more. Despite Banquo’s nonchalant reaction, the witches make three prophecies to him too. The first of the three is “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.” Making it clear to us that Banquo will earn much respect, however his title will never be as grand as Macbeth’s. The second prophecy is “Not so happy, yet much happier.” This prognosis informs both the reader, and Banquo that he will be content with what he has. Finally, the third prophecy, and in a sense, the most important, is “Thou shalt get Kings, though thou be none: So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!” This means that although he will never be King himself, Banquo’s children and descendants will be Kings. All three prophecies were told in a paradox form, again, making the witches seem vague. Once they have declared these three prophecies, Macbeth commands them to stay and “tell him more however “as breath into the wind” they vanish, which shows us that they cannot be controlled b y humans. The fact that Macbeth orders them to stay makes it clear to us that he is keen and eager to hear more, which in turn shows that he believes them, and trusts them. With the witches gone, and Macbeth and Banquo left trying to fathom what they have been told by the evil sisters, Angus and Ross appear. They come as messengers for King Duncan, and lets Macbeth know that the King has heard of his win at battle, and declares him “Thane of Cawdor” leaving no doubt, that the second prophecy has come true. Banquo’s reaction to the news is shocked and stunned as he asks “What! Can the devil speak true?” By using the word ‘devil’ we can see that Banquo thinks the witches are evil, as he associates them with the Satan. Though Banquo is shocked, Macbeth is confused, because as far as he’s aware someone else already has the title, the Thane of Cawdor still lives. Macbeth asks “Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?” Angus continues by explaining to Macbeth that the previous Thane of Cawdor was killed for committing treason, which was a capital offence. Macbeth obviously attributes his gain of title to the witches, however, logically, he received the title as a result of the previous Thane’s traitorous behaviour, for which he lost his life. However, the witches, at this point gain more trust from Macbeth, as he thinks he would not have received the title, had it not been for them. Banquo, nevertheless, is still wary of the creatures, as he explains to Macbeth that sometimes “to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths; Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s In deepest consequence.” By this Banquo was declaring that the evil forces would tell one things they wanted to hear, or in this case, prophecies, and once one believes them, it would lead to one’s own destruction. Meaning that if Macbeth were to completely trust what was happening, he may become King, however, it would not end under happy circumstances. When Macbeth and Banquo finally return home, they greet the King, and he tells them that he has crowned his son Malcolm, the Prince of Cumberland, which in turn means that Malcolm, is the heir to the throne. Macbeth thinks to himself and realises that Malcolm could greatly interfere with Macbeth’s chances of becoming King of Scotland. He says Malcolm being the heir is “a step On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, For in my way it lies.” Making it clear that Macbeth feels he’ll have to somehow overcome this huge problem. We also now, see a major turning point in the plot of the play, as we see Macbeth is now contemplating killing the King. He says, “Let not light see my black and deep desires.” Macbeth so convinced that his promotion is due to the work of the witches, writes to his wife, telling her about all that has happened. In the letter Macbeth tells his wife, Lady Macbeth that he believes the witches to “have more in them than mortal knowledge.” He tells her of the three prophecies and how the second has come true, so the third of Macbeth becoming King, and he lets her know that he though it best to tell her everything so as she isn’t “ignorant of what greatness is promised thee.” Meaning that she will be queen. This shows that he wants his wife to be aware of what now, it seems, is owed to her, and we can tell, that by writing her this letter, and by reading it’s content, that Macbeth completely trust the witches. Also, in the letter Macbeth calls his wife his “dearest partner of greatness.” This and the fact that he is writing the letter so as she can be part of the glory of everything that’s happening to him, gives across an element of affection. We are now introduced for the first time to Lady Macbeth, and in her soliloquy, It comes across that as well as influencing Macbeth so early on, they have also influenced Lady Macbeth. It is made evident that Lady Macbeth believes what the witches have forecasted when she declares “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be What thou art promised.” By this Lady Macbeth means that he shall be King. She already seems adamant that he will get what he has been foretold by the evil sisters. We learn though, that her only fear is that Macbeth will not be brutal enough. She mentions Macbeth’s “nature: Is too full o’ the milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way.” By this she means that he is too kind to kill, which would be the easiest way of getting his hands on the throne. She lets us know that he is full of ambitions but never wants to do anything in order to fulfil them. She explains that her husband wants to achieve everything by going about it the right way, which she feels will be a problem. When Macbeth returns to his castle in Inverness, he informs his wife that “Duncan comes here tonight.” Macbeth tells her that the King is to leave the next morning. Lady Macbeth responds with “O never Shall sun that morrow see!” Here, we can see that the dominant Lady Macbeth has already decided that the King will be murdered and when it will happen. Judging by her comment, it is obvious to see that Lady Macbeth has determined that the King will not live to see another day. She becomes very bossy as we see when she tells Macbeth how to keep his facial expression. She explains that by looking at his face, she can tell what he’s thinking, so he should try to look innocent otherwise, their plans will become obvious. She seems controlling, as she instructs Macbeth to “Leave all the rest to me.” Once Lady Macbeth has taken charge of all the plans to slay the honourable King Duncan, Macbeth begins to think about the murder he s about to commit and he realises that King Duncan doesn t actually deserve t die as he s a good King. He makes up many reasons against slaying the innocent King, the fact that he is honourable and decent, that the King would actually be a guest at Macbeth s house, because of Macbeth s worries of the afterlife, and that he is one of Duncan s kinsman. He feels that if the actual murder could get rid of the consequences of the murder and bring him success, he d be happy. Macbeth feels that Duncan s been such a good King, that even his virtues would plead and beg. This shows us that Macbeth isn t completely convinced about his reasons behind killing Duncan, as there seem to be more cons than pro s, the only good thing to come out of it would be Macbeth s kingship. Macbeth comes to the conclusion that it is best not to kill the King, as his conscience gets the better of him. He tells Lady Macbeth that they “will proceed no further in this business.” Saying that it is over, and they will not kill the King because he has a good reputation and doesn t want his name to be dragged through the mud. Lady Macbeth does not take this kindly, and becomes aggressive and challenging. She tells him that from now on “such I account thy love.” Harshly telling him, that she will judge whether or not he loves her, by whether he commits the murder. She tells him to put his money where his mouth is and becomes so determined that the prophecies will come true that she resorts to emotional blackmail and she challenges his masculinity. She says to him “When you durst do it, then you were a man; And to be more than what you were, you would Be so much more the man.” By this I feel she meant, that if he were a man, he would keep his word and go through with it, no matter what the consequences were. She horrifically describes that if she were breastfeeding, while the baby was “smiling in my face Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out,” making it clear that “had I so sworn as you Have done this.” By this description, we can see that she is determined to convince him to carry it through at all costs, and seems sturdier than Macbeth himself, saying that if she had promised something, no matter how horrid, she would have continued to finish it, because she had promised she would. This explosion on Lady Macbeth s part shows how much of an effect the witches prophecies actually had on her. She believes it completely, and has resorted to helping it along by making her unsure husband murder the present King. Although Macbeth has faith in what the witches declared to him, some time ago, he has many doubts, and asks his wife “If we should fail?” to which his frenzied wife replies “We fail!” showing that she doesn t really contemplate failing. Lady Macbeth goes on to recite the murder plan to Macbeth. The plan is that Lady Macbeth will get the guards so drunk, that they won t remember seeing anything. She rhetorically questions “What cannot you and I perform upon The unguarded Duncan?” She goes on to say that the guards will “bear the guilt” of the Macbeth s “great quell.” Basically stating that they will blame the murder on the guards. Interestingly though, Macbeth now begins to join in with the plotting and planning, by making additions. He comments that they could use the guards own daggers, and that they can stain the guards “with blood.” Macbeth commits the crime, and I feel, perhaps this is where the witches significance is the greatest. The fact that he committed the murder and killed the King of Scotland, all because the witches foretold that Macbeth would become King. He trusted the witches to a point where he was willing to kill to get what he wanted. Also, he had little patience, as who s to say if he had waited, somehow the throne would not have been passed to him? It may have been going against the Divine Order of the Kings; however, he was given the title of Thane of Cawdor, which he did not expect to happen in the slightest. The weird sisters affected him in a huge sense as we now see him power mad and impatient, and more importantly, willing to kill anyone for what he wants. After having slaying the King, he feels extremely guilty, as we find out when he tell Lady Macbeth hat he “could not say Amen ” he pitifully describes how he “had most need of blessing, and Amen Stuck in my throat.” Lady Macbeth tells him not to “consider it so deeply” and very ironically mentions that if they think about it too much “it will make us mad” “A little water clears us of this deed” Macbeth s guilt is shown through though, very clearly, when he begs “Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I wish thou couldst.” The next morning, when `Duncan s body is found, dead, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth act as if they are also finding out that he has been murdered, and they pull it off, as no one suspects anyone other than the guards. Both sons of the King, Malcolm and Donalbain flee to separate parts of the country, as now, they fear for their own lives, and as a result of both of them being out of the picture, the throne is free for Macbeth s taking. He is crowned King, as he had hoped, and the witches had predicted. We hear a little more from Banquo and his feelings about all that Macbeth has gained in his soliloquy. In it, he comments on Macbeth s Kingship and says he is concerned as to how Macbeth got it all. He says, “I fear Thou playedst most foully for t.” making it clear that Banquo has his suspicions about Macbeth. Macbeth meanwhile is worried about Banquo s three prophecies coming true, as the third was that his sons shall be kings. He convinces murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance, so that his prophecies have no chance of coming true, and if Banquo did in fact, suspect Macbeth of anything; he wouldn t be able to tell anyone. Macbeth sends the murderers away to kill Banquo and Banquo s son. As the murderers leave, Macbeth concludes “Banquo, thy soul s flight, If it find heaven, must find it out tonight. Letting it be known that Banquo is to be slain that very night. Banquo, whose murder Macbeth has just planned, used to be Macbeth s best friend, and as a result of the witches prophecies, Macbeth has committed another murder. So these prophecies led to the destruction of many people, and though it may not have been a direct result, the witches play a major role in the murders of Banquo and the good King Duncan. What was noticeable about this particular murder, was that Macbeth planned it by himself, without consent or help from Lady Macbeth. this shows us that with this murder he has no reservations and that he s become more brutal with time and power. The murderers return with the news that Banquo has been killed, however they failed to kill Fleance as he “is scaped.” This concerns Macbeth, as Fleance was the main person he wanted killed, to get rid of any chances of him becoming King. However, Macbeth had planned to hold a banquet to celebrate the fact that he became King and they continued with the celebrations. At the banquet, stage directions tell us that THE GHOST OF BANQUO enters and sits in Macbeth s place. Only Macbeth sees the ghost, and so, the other people at the banquet, including his wife, feel that it is simply a figment of Macbeth s imagination. However, Macbeth seems sure that Banquo s ghost is there, and as a result of this frightening experience, Macbeth decides to go and visit the three witches once more. We meet the three hags once more, in thunder, and we are introduced to the leader of the witches Hecate. Hecate speaks entirely in rhyming couplets, which makes it seem as though she is chanting a spell. We see her give the other three witches a telling off for not including her in their fun. She asks them “How did you dare To trade and traffic with Macbeth In riddles and affairs of death,”

Here we are given a clear indication that the evil sisters have simply been toying with Macbeth. It reveals that the witches view Macbeth as someone they can use for fun and it shows us that that is all they have been doing throughout the play. Once Macbeth arrives, he makes demands, and for the first time in the play, we see the witches agree to answer to Macbeth s commands. This could be because they want to play more mind games with him, or because they feel now that he has become so evil and ruthless, they like him. The witches conjure up three apparitions for Macbeth. The first apparition is a head in armour that chants “Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! beware Macduff; Beware the Thane of Fife.” The apparition makes way for another, the second illusion, which is a bloody child, who chants the same as the first to begin with “Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!” then it exclaims “Be bloody, bold and resolute: laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth.” The third and final vision comes in the form of a child, crowned with a tree in his hand. He declares ” Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are:Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill/Shall come against him.” With each apparition, Macbeth seems more and more sure of himself, as when he is told to beware Macduff, he simply decides to have Macduff killed off. When he is told no one of woman born can harm him, he does not think about whether there is any alternative birth, and when he is told the forest must move, he feels there is no forest that can uproot and transport itself. So he isn t worried, and he leaves feeling confident. Considering it was the witches who conjured the apparitions, and Macbeth had begun to be wary of them, for him to believe what the apparitions told him, as easily as he did, seemed silly to say the least. He feels secure and invincible as he leaves the witches. However, just as a precaution, he sends his men to kill Macduff. However, Macduff wasn t in the house, so the murderers kill Macduff s wife and son. When Macduff hears of this, he swears revenge. Meanwhile, we see Lady Macbeth going slowly mad. She begins to sleep walk, and is not able to cope with the guilt of the murders she pressured her husband into committing. She rubs her hands continuously and always has a light by her, as she is afraid of the dark. She rubs her hands to try and clear them of blood that is not there, and here we see the irony, and previously, when Macbeth tried to clear his hands, she easily told him “A little water clears us of this deed.” Whereas now, she walks around asking “What, will these hands ne er be clean?” Lady Macbeth eventually commits suicide, and we know this when Seyton tells Macbeth “The queen, my lord, is dead.” When he hears of this however, he shows no feeling all he says is that “she should have died hereafter.” Which makes the reader believe that Macbeth has lost the ability to feel because of his corrupt ways. The apparition begin to become true, and we first here of this when a lookout messenger comes to Macbeth and tells him “the wood began to move”, Macbeth s first reaction to this news is to call the messenger a “liar and slave!” Which indicates that either Macbeth truly doesn t believe it could happen, or doesn t want to believe it could happen. We see now that the witches hadn t lied in their apparitions, but in fact, Macbeth had misinterpreted what he had seen, and had seen what he wanted to see. A battle commences as Macbeth feels that he still cannot be killed by anyone, unless they aren t born of a woman. In his mind, that is still nobody. However, as he had misinterpreted the apparitions, it was actually Macduff who wasn t of woman born. He was “from his mother s womb Untimely ripped.” Macbeth seemed confident still, until he heard those words, at which point Macbeth and Macduff fight, and Macduff kills Macbeth. Order is restored in Scotland, and Malcolm is crowned King. Before he falls, Macbeth talks about the witches and decides, that the “juggling fiends” should be “no more believed” as they “palter with us in double sense.” So, it is at his last breath that Macbeth realises everything the witches had ever said to him, had had double meaning, and was far too ambiguous to be trusted. However, Macbeth believed every word, so much so, that he based his fight and life on it. It is clear to me that Macbeth should be blamed for his own downfall, as it was his prerogative whether or not to believe or trust what the witches told him. The witches, nevertheless, played an enormous part in the downfall of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. They started the ball rolling, and Macbeth soaked up every word they told him. The first time they met him, they gave him their three prophecies, at which point, he became greedy and power hungry. Lady Macbeth developed a guilty conscience, which in the end took her life.

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