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The role of the witches in MacbethWere the witches pure evil by giving the hope of...

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jediknight13 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 11, 2009 at 6:35 AM via web

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The role of the witches in Macbeth

Were the witches pure evil by giving the hope of being king when he should have never been king? Or were they simply pawns in the downfall of Macbeth? The witches could foretell the future, add temptation and influence Macbeth to do certain things but they could not change his destiny, so what was their role in this entire thing?

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 11, 2009 at 12:12 PM (Answer #2)

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Although the witches themselves tell us how they enjoy playing with mortals (remember the sailor's wife with the nuts, and the swine, etc?), I don't believe they are pure evil.  They present things to Macbeth, planting the seed of ambition which is watered by his wife.  He still has free will.  He is able to decide which path he will take, and it is his decision to keep going back to the witches for their otherworldly advice which misleads him.  He brings about his own demise, the witches were only the tools who acted as a catalyst.

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:39 PM (Answer #3)

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One critic has said that the witches supply Macbeth with the nouns and Lady Macbeth supplies him with the verb.  That is, the witches plant the seeds of "Thane of Cawdor," "Thane of Glamis," and "King Hereafter."  This sparks Macbeth to write his wife of the news.  By the time he gets home, she supplies him with the plan of "murder."

I like Amy's analogy of the witches "planting the seeds."  But, the seed of blind ambition was always there.  After all, it is his tragic flaw.  The witches and Lady Macbeth give Macbeth the rationale to water the seeds, to cultivate this blind ambition.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 11, 2009 at 4:09 PM (Answer #4)

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The previous posts and done a nice job, and the notion of the witches' helping to bring into clearer focus what it is the Macbeth wanted to do and what he felt the need to do.  The idea of the witches seemed to bring the idea into focus that human action has some level of it attributable to other circumstances.  Few would argue that Macbeth should not shoulder responsibility for his actions, but the presence of the witches help to bring out the idea that some of his responsibility was furthered by other forces, such as Lady Macbeth and the witches and their prophecies.  While the witches give much in the way of helping Macbeth the "nouns," as nicely stated in the previous post, to help him articlulate his own sense of self, I am not certain that the witches, themselves, represent evil.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 12, 2009 at 2:07 PM (Answer #5)

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The witches represent evil in the sense that they act as physical agents of temptation. We are surrounded by temptation; we choose whether to resist it or give in to it, based on our characters and values. Macbeth's flawed character and his ambition led him into temptation, and he was destroyed. The witches serve another role in the play, as well. Shakespeare didn't write for English teachers! He was a popular playwright who knew his audience and gave them what they enjoyed--lots of scary supernatural events.

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted September 14, 2009 at 8:23 PM (Answer #6)

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The witches were neither pure evil nor simple pawns; they fulfilled the role of supernatural prophets, providing a plot device that set all the events of the play into motion. Nevertheless, it is certainly possible to speculate that Macbeth would have developed ambition to become king without the witches’ prophecy, particularly in light of Lady Macbeth’s overweening desire for her husband to rise higher on the social and political ladder. I also agree with mshurn that Shakespeare employed the witches in order to appeal to an Elizabethan audience that enjoyed supernatural elements in their entertainment.

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bilnomo | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted October 7, 2009 at 4:49 AM (Answer #7)

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The witches served an important role for the downfall of Macbeth. Most crucially, they are "equivocating fiends", they "win us with honest trifles". The witches seem to have some control over the destinies of the characters in the play, however, they also seem to desire to manipulate Macbeth into committing immoral and evil acts by convincing him of that the prophecies were true. It can be seen in Act One Scene 3, in which almost immediately after the witches hailed Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor and King, and then disappeared, Ross and Angus met with Macbeth and Banquo and hailed Macbeth as "the Thane of Cawdor". This certainly convinced Macbeth of the truth of the prophecies as it gave Macbeth "earnests of success, commencing in a truth", refuting the doubts that Macbeth had about the prophecy, though Macbeth can be seen as inclining to believe it ("went it not so?"). However, whilst it is possible to point out that Macbeth's own ambitious nature, in contrast with Banquo's, led him to believe deeply in the prophecies and act on it, the fact that the first part of the prophecy was fulfilled by the prophecy of the witches, or rather the witches somehow allowed it to happen was a significant influence on Macbeth's belief in the prophecy and hence influencing his decision to murder Duncan (moral and mental downfall?).x

 

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bilnomo | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted October 7, 2009 at 4:49 AM (Answer #8)

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In addition, the witches appearances in Act 4 Scene 1 and their spells that made apparitions appear, apparitions that spoke "half-truths", can be seen as attempts by the witches to persuade Macbeth not to give up and to resist the attacks by Malcolm's forces as "no man born of woman" will harm him and "until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane" will he be vanquished.

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kc4u | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted October 7, 2009 at 10:37 AM (Answer #9)

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It is Macbeth whose 'vaulting ambition' galvanised by the chastisement of Lady Macbeth leads him to his original sin of killing Duncan. The witches only catalyses Macbeth's project of self-destruction by means of their equivocations. The tragedy of the Shakespeare protagonist is the outcome of his own self-dividedness, of the contrary pulls between the 'fair' and the 'foul' in him.

What exactly did the witches do? First of their three proclamations in act1 sc.3 was a simple fact: Macbeth being hailed as Glamis. The second was also no prophecy, for in act1 sc.2 Duncan had already declared that Macbeth would be the new thane of Cawdor. The third prophecy about Macbeth's prospective kingship was also quite possible in the then Scotland where there was an elective kingship. Macbeth had had 'horrible imaginings' even before he met the witches.

Again, it was Macbeth who chose to visit the witches in act 4 sc.1. He wanted to know more about his future from the 'apparitions' conjured up by the witches. Those 'masters' equivocated to expedite Macbeth's downfall. But why was Macbeth so foolishly blind to what the so-called 'masters' said by way of verbal twists?

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deedle13 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 13, 2009 at 10:11 AM (Answer #10)

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What do the witches tell us (indirectly) about Macbeth in Act 1, Scene 1?

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kc4u | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted October 14, 2009 at 2:19 AM (Answer #11)

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In act 1 scene 1, the witches only express their intention to meet Macbeth on a heath before the sunset once the 'hurly burly' of war in Duncan's Scotland is over. However, the concluding couplet chanted by the three witches in chorus does seem to relate to the story of Macbeth: ' Fair is foul and foul is fair/Hover through the fog and filthy air'. Macbeth, Duncan's trusted general, shows his exemplary courage in the battle to annihilate the rebel, Macdonwald, and to defeat the invading Norwegian king assisted by the traitor, Cawdor. Macbeth is thus so fair as a saviour of Scotland, and again, he is ambitious and carries the seed of evil deep within him.

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avril-o | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 1, 2009 at 6:39 PM (Answer #12)

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The role of the witches in Macbeth

Were the witches pure evil by giving the hope of being king when he should have never been king? Or were they simply pawns in the downfall of Macbeth? The witches could foretell the future, add temptation and influence Macbeth to do certain things but they could not change his destiny, so what was their role in this entire thing?

the purpose of the witches was to create a twist in the story, they were simply there to fortell/forshadow Macbeth's and Banquo's future. They did not tell Macbeth how he was to be "Thane of Cowder"/ king. He, Macbeth decided on his own what actions he could take to get that title. It is simply his own evil ambition. Not the witches' words to kill Duncan and perform all the evil deeds he commited. Although, there would be no story line if the witches were not involved and the prophecy were not told.

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lchery | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 23, 2010 at 4:18 PM (Answer #13)

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what takes place amongst the three witches in scene I

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