Role Of Witches in Macbeth By William Shakespeare
The tragedy Macbeth written by Shakespeare shows a man fall from the greatest pedestal, kingship. It is one of the greatest tragedies because it demonstrates how a once loyal and courageous man can diminish into an immoral ‘butcher’. Macbeth receives a prophecy from three witches’ stating that he would become King. This prophecy enkindled Macbeth’s ‘vaulting ambition’ and after the prompting of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth commits regicide. Killing the King is the beginning of Macbeth’s tragic fall. After Macbeth rises to kingship he begins to behave like a tyrant because he becomes obsessed with his elevated position. He becomes paranoid about Banquo’s prophecy so he kills Banquo and tries to kill his son. He commits evil after evil, killing anyone who threatens his reign. Macbeth’s monstrous behaviour ends with his death and the restoration of Duncan’s royal line.
In Macbeth there are many tragic events that are caused because of the involvement of the witches, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. These tragic events led to the demise of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.The witches are the first to appear in Macbeth and this signifies their importance in the tragic events of the play. Their first appearance straight away categorises the witches as evil as their riddles show that they want to stir up trouble. ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’. The witches add an element of supernatural and prophecy to the play. Without the witches the prophecy which was the beginning of the tragic events would not have occurred. The evil portrayal of the weird witches in Macbeth was because of King James’s views and interests in witches and the supernatural. James believed that witches were evil and there purpose was to kill the King. This certainly had an influence in Macbeth as the witches are partly responsible for the regicide of Duncan. The witches used Macbeth’s tragic flaw to create something of their own doing. They prophecised that Macbeth would become King and this sparked up his ambition which inevitably led him to committing regicide. They identified that his weakness was ambition and they exploited that weakness so they could use him as a tool of evil.
The witches are central to the theme of equivocation because they deliberately use words in one sense but mean another thing to confuse Macbeth. The witches deliberately try to mislead Macbeth into taking the crown by saying ‘none of women born shall harm Macbeth’. Macbeth takes this tomean that no one will have power over him because no man can be born and not be born of women but he later finds out that his killer Macduff was not born naturally, ‘Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d'(act5, scene8) The witches also made Macbeth wary of Banquo’s threat to his throne. ‘Father a line of Kings’ This prophecy which is saying that Banquo’s sons will become King makes Macbeth become increasingly hostile to Banquo because he fears his kingship. Macbeth orders the murder of Banquo and Fleance but Fleance escapes and Macbeth become paranoid and afraid that the prophecy can still come true. ‘But now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confined, bound in to saucy doubts and fears.’
The witches also have a part to play with the murder of Macduff’s family because they prophesised that Macduff would become a threat. ‘Macbeth! Beware Macduff'(Act4, scene1) Macbeth seizes his chance to eliminate the threat of Macduff by killing his family while Macduff has turned to England. The witches being central characters, link Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to them. Macbeth repeats what the witches say, ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’, those linking him to their evil ways. This establishes the evil nature of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as it coincides with the witch’s nature.
Macbeth being the tragic hero is responsible for his own tragic fall. His tragic flaw, ambition, is the reason for his fall. Without this weakness the witches would not have been able to use Macbeth. His weakness enabled the witches to exploit him and because Macbeth is weak-willed he could not stand up for himself and ignore what they were saying. This is also the reason why the audience feels sympathy for Macbeth because he could do nothing when faced with the witch’s prophecy. Sympathy is also felt because once Macbeth had started on his tragic fall he could not stop it and also because the fall was so great. That is the nature of a tragedy; the tragic hero going through a tragic fall that cannot be stopped. Macbeth after killing Duncan and Banquo justified killing other people be saying that he has committed too many crimes to turn back. The only choice is to continue his violence and his tyranny. ‘I am in blood stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er’.
There are two sides to the character of Macbeth, one is the courageous and loyal soldier at the start and then the monstrous tyrant towards the end. Macbeth is largelyresponsible for all of the tragic events in the Macbeth. Macbeth physical killed Duncan and the two chamberlains. He ordered the deaths of Banquo and Macduff’s family. He helped to cause the mental breakdown of Lady Macbeth by first including her in the murders and then isolating her from him and his plans. He was also responsible for his death because his tragic flaw brought him to the point where people wanted to kill him so peace could be found among his world of evil. We understand Macbeth’s psyche more during his soliloquies. In his first true soliloquy in act 1 scene 7 we find out that Macbeth had doubts about the regicide and only committed to it after Lady Macbeth had persuaded him. Soliloquies and asides were important tool to use because the audience got to get into the head of the characters and got to see the torment and metal suffering that Macbeth went through which aroused feelings of pity towards Macbeth from the audience.Lady Macbeth is portrayed as the evil that leads Macbeth astray. She becomes unfeminine and de humanized when she looses all of her weak qualities and focuses on the evil crime. ‘Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts! Unsex me here.’ This also shows her evil disposition because she is aligning herself with the supernatural. Lady Macbeth had a big role to play in Duncan’s and the chamberlain’s murder. She convinced Macbeth that he should commit regicide and only after her tormenting did he commit to the crime. Lady Macbeth was the one who came up with the plan of framing and killing the two chamberlains. This is a negative portrayal of women because it is suggesting that men are led to evil by women.
Lady Macbeth is also portrayed as ambitious because in wanting Macbeth to become King she will also get a high status. This shows that women were second to men in this era because women could only achieve if the man achieved. In most Shakespearean tragedies if women ever have power they are always cut down and reduced to nothing. When Lady Macbeth becomes Queen she starts to show signs that she can handle her conscience. She is driven mad with guilt and is made even worse when Macbeth isolates her. Lady Macbeth is portrayed as too weak to suppress her conscience and so commits suicide and takes the easy option out. Her suicide is also viewed as a final and desperate act of trying to cleanse her conscience.
The witches, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were all to blame for the tragic occurrences in Macbeth. The witches are mainly responsible for Macbeth’s problems because of their prophesies. Macbeth is at fault in all of the tragic event but mainly for his own demise because without his tragic flaw none of the other tragic events would have occurred. Lady Macbeth is mainly responsible for the deaths of Duncan and the chamberlains and the fact that she was driven mad to the point of suicide because of the weak state of her mind.
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