What Was The Witches


What Was The Witches’ Role In Macbeth? Essay, Research Paper

What Was the Witches’ Role in Macbeth?

In Shakespeare’s time, many people were superstitious; they believed

that that their lives were strongly influenced, if not dictated by fate. They

also thought that the world was full of supernatural creatures, such as witches,

ghosts, and many other such beings. Shakespeare incorporated these aspects of

belief in his play Mac Beth. The witches, although accurately predicting what

would occur, i.e., Mac Beth would be king, they did not specify how their

prophecies would be realized.

The witches did possess some sort of power (unless they were privy to

some political information which MacBeth was not aware of), otherwise, how could

they have known that MacBeth had been appointed Thane of Cawdor? Of course,

once MacBeth, who, living in such a society, was superstitious, is presented

with Cawdor’s title, he believes that the other prediction, namely his kingship,

must come true. Banquo notes the danger inherent in believing (and subsequently

acting on) the witches’ predictions; he says, “Were such things here as we do

speak about?/Or have we eaten on the insane root/That takes the reason

prisoner?” Act I, scene 3, ll.83-85.

MacBeth is quite overwhelmed when he hears that he is now the Thane of

Cawdor. However, almost immediately, he starts thinking about how to bring

about his rule as king.

“{Aside} Two truths are told,

As happy prologues to the swelling act

Of the imperial theme.?I thank you, gentlemen.

{Aside} This supernatural soliciting

Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,

Why hath it given me earnest of success,

Commencing in a truth? I am the thane of Cawdor.

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

Against the use of nature? Present fears

Are less than horrible imaginings;

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man that function

Is smothered in surmise; and nothing is

But what is not.” (1.3.127-141)

MacBeth seems to be fantasizing about having a direct role in Duncan’s

downfall. He apparently believes that the only way to make the witches’

predictions come about, is to act on his urges (although he attained the title

of Cawdor without any extraneous effort).

A wife has a large influence on her husband’s thinking. Lady MacBeth

tries to persuade MacBeth to murder Duncan. Throughout Act I, scene 5, there

are many speeches in which she tries to convince him. However, the monologue

most relevant to my theme is Lady MacBeth’s first speech:

“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be

What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;

It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great;

Art not without ambition, but without

The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly

That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,

And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou ?ldst have, great Glamis,

That which cries, “Thus thou must do, if thou have it”‘

And that which rather thou dost fear to do

Than wishest should be undone. Hie thee hither,

That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,

And chastise with the valor of my tongue

All that impedes thee from the golden round,

Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem

To have crowned the withal.” (1.5.10-24)

Lady MacBeth believes that although the titles were promised to MacBeth,

he needs to possess ambition in order to bring about his fortune. This belief

is what drives MacBeth and his wife during the first two acts of the play.

Although they feel that they need to make some effort, they do not seriously

consider the possibility that the predictions would be realized without any

effort- MacBeth might still be king without having to murder Duncan.

Towards the middle of the play, in act three, the witches meet with a

goddess of evil, Hecate, who demands that they lead Mac Beth astray, so he will

become arrogant, thinking that he is invincible. She says:

“How did you dare

To trade and traffic with Macbeth

In riddles and affairs of death;

And I, the mistress of your charms

The close contriver of all harms,

Was never call’d to bear my part,

Or show the glory of our art?

And, which is worse, all you have done

Hath been but for a wayward son,

Spiteful and wrathful; who, as others do,

Loves for his own ends, not for you.

But make amends now: get you gone,

And at the pit of Acheron

Meet me I’ the morning: thither he

Will come to know his destiny:

Your vessels and your spells provide,

Your charms and every thing beside.

I am for the air; this night I’ll spend

Unto a dismal and a fatal end:

Great business must be wrought ere noon:

Upon the corner of the moon

There hangs a vaporous drop profound;

I’ll catch it ere it come to ground:

And that distill’d by magic sleights

Shall raise such artificial sprites

As by the strength of their illusion

Shall draw him on to his confusion:

He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear

His hopes ?bove wisdom, grace and fear:

And you all know security

Is mortals’ chiefest enemy” (3.4.143-180).

Hecate is rebuking the witches for not consulting her about revealing

MacBeth’s destiny. She seems to reveal that the witches do have the power to

see the future, but their riddles (with Hecate’s help) serve only to confuse

MacBeth into making his fatal mistakes. Although MacBeth needs to be wary, the

witches’ objective is to trick MacBeth into making the fatal mistake of feeling

secure and even invincible. Again, once he hears the prediction, MacBeth feels

compelled to become bold, killing MacDuff and his family. He forgets the

warning to “Beware MacDuff,” and instead, focuses on the aspects that make him

feel over-confident.

In conclusion, although the witches did have the power to accurately

predict significant events in MacBeth’s life, the actual ?carrying out’ of those

prophecies was undertaken by MacBeth (and his wife). They may have attained

their status without their illegal actions, but, by acting on their own

prerogative, both MacBeth and his wife carry full blame

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