What role do the witches play in Macbeth?

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rrteacher's profile pic

rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The witches, or "weird sisters," as they are often called, play a pivotal role in Macbeth. Macbeth himself is obsessed with their prophecies, and repeatedly consults with them. The witches also represent a struggle between the supernatural and the natural world that is at the heart of Macbeth. On the one hand, it is Macbeth's actions that create the bloody chaos of the play. On the other, it is the witches' prophecy that first motivates him to consider murder as a way to the throne, and there is little doubt that they are using their dark powers to influence the proceedings. Hecate herself predicts correctly that Macbeth will come to the witches to learn his future, and says that she will use her magic to create apparitions that will push him toward his destruction:

[I]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. 

The "artificial sprites" are the apparitions that the witches conjure for Macbeth that inform him that he cannot die except by a man not woman born and when Birnam Wood (a forest) marches on his castle. These predictions make Macbeth overconfident and eager to seek battle with his opponents. In this way, Hecate and the witches directly influence the actions of Macbeth. To be sure, he did not have to act on their prophecies, but when he did, his death was sealed. This conflict between man and the supernatural runs throughout the play, and is one of its most important themes. The witches are also instrumental in creating the overall tone and mood to the play, notably in the first act, when they inform the audience amid the crash of thunder that "fair is foul/foul is fair." 

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kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 2) Educator

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In Macbeth, the witches play a number of important roles. Firstly, they add a supernatural element to the play, which also introduces the reader to the theme of deception. The famous line "Fair is foul and foul is fair," for example, encourages the reader to not accept people and events at face value, and this sets the tone of the play. 

Secondly, the witches play an important role in bringing Macbeth's ambition to the fore. Their prophecies, for example, open Macbeth's eyes to the possibility that he can be more than just a thane, that he can take the throne for himself. This idea exerts a powerful influence on Macbeth and his wife.

While Banquo is skeptical about the witches and their prophecies, Macbeth is clearly drawn in by them, as shown by the fact that he visits with them for a second time in Act IV to seek their guidance. They, therefore, also play a role in driving the course of the plot, because they inform Macbeth's actions as king.

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felixe's profile pic

felixe | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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The witches are the spirits that dominate the play and herald th emisfortunes that befall the hapless Macbeth. THye are the harbringers of desire , for it is after listening to their prophesies that Macbeth decides to kill and make his way to the throne of Scotland. it is agian their declaration of the goodness that will come which makes the equally cunning Lady Macbeth urge her husband to kill the unfortunate , trusing king.

later , these creatures are the ones who also turn him around and turn him into a half crazed man , murdering all who dare to oppose him. In fact , it is the blind belief that he places in them that ultimately leads to his destruction.

arjun's profile pic

arjun | College Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The witches make the play dominant by their evil spirit and movte the main character to its tragedy. Apart from it,it must be added that they were devoted to their profession,whereas the hero,Othelo was not devoted to his profession because he follows weak cree.