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Discuss the role and influence of the witches in the play Macbeth.

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ann-ang100 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 20, 2008 at 5:35 PM via web

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Discuss the role and influence of the witches in the play Macbeth.

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luannw | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted March 20, 2008 at 11:13 PM (Answer #1)

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The witches open the play by setting the scene for what is to come in Act 1, sc. 1.   They tell the audience they are going to create havoc for Macbeth, that appearances will be deceiving in the play and there will be much antithesis.  Then, in sc. 3 of that act, they tell Macbeth and Banquo their prophecies.  By telling Macbeth he will become king, they have fed a seedling of thought that Macbeth has never given voice to ("...the swelling act of the imperial theme.") In Act 3, sc. 5, Hecate chastises the witches for not including her in their plans for Macbeth. She reminds them that "...security is mortals' chiefest enemy." She's telling them to make Macbeth feel invincible which is what they do in Act 4, sc. 1 when they show Macbeth the visions.  The role of the witches seems to be their influence.  They don't make events occur, but they take advantage of Macbeth's weaknesses, namely his ambition and his over-confidence.  They have some powers, as shown in Act 1, sc. 3 when the first witch describes how she'll get even with the woman who would not share her chestnuts with the witch.  The witches send winds to blow off course the ship the woman's husband sails and to make him suffer from insomnia.  Macbeth, too, suffers from insomnia in the play.  It's not clear if the witches cause this or not, but Macbeth did hear, when he killed Duncan, "Macbeth shall sleep no more."  Their power is limited, but they know character.

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pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 21, 2008 at 9:40 AM (Answer #2)

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In Macbeth, the witches or wierd sisters are given the power to influence the behavior of others.  They never act directly in the committing of acts, but rather by the power given to them by those who believe in them.  Often debated is the role of the witches in Macbeth’s life, whether they controlled him, or merely provided him with insight. The witches are introduced at the beginning of the play and give Macbeth three prophecies. First, that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor, second that he will become Thane of Glams, and finally he will become King. There is the possibility that once Macbeth met with the witches, they controlled every move he made. It is more realistic, however, to believe that Macbeth was responsible for his own actions throughout the play, rather than being controlled by the witches.

The witches could foretell the future, therefore adding temptation, but they could not control his destiny. Macbeth's misery is driven by his own sense of guilt. This causes him to become insecure and paranoid about his actions, which in turn drives him to commit more murders. The three Witches are only responsible for the introduction of these ideas into Macbeth's head, not for his actions throughout the play.

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leagye | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted March 24, 2008 at 9:28 AM (Answer #3)

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It is fairly straightforward that the weird sisters (as they are referred to in the play - it is only in the stage directions that they are called witches) plant seeds in the mind of Macbeth that exploit his tragic flaw of unchecked ambition. There is reason to believe that these weird sisters represent fate. Macbeth was ambitious and his eventual downfall was going to happen one way or another. Elizabethan audiences enjoyed the tragic elements of both fate and tragic flaw having a hand in a tragic hero's demise. As well, Elizabethan audiences loved supernatural elements, especially King Edward, who critics have argued that the play may have been written for, or at least with him in mind (never hurts to please the King! After all, he was a huge supporter of the arts and of Shakespeare's Globe Theater).

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ardie | Student, Grade 11 | eNoter

Posted June 3, 2008 at 11:04 AM (Answer #4)

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The Witches are the most evil in the entire play. They are what spark Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into doing the most unspeakable , to kill a King. The fact that Macbeth kills the King for his own gain is evident enough that he is highly ambitious and so is Lady Macbeth, she plots this plan for her husbands sake, to become royalty. But what do the witches gain? They are merely there to stir and evoke evil and they do not gain anything but perhaps pleasure and praise for their dark deeds. Their leader Hecate commends them, praises their work.

"O well done!.." it is clear that the witches one goal in life is to bring evil among the once innocent, to test the temptations of humanity. They are pure evil. In some plays of Macbeth the witches are seen in the end, the last scene and they begin to conjure new predictions of someone else, as if to show that they will start an entire new catastrophe of betrayal and slaughter.

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