How does Shakespeare characterize the witches in Macbeth?

Shakespeare characterizes the witches in Macbeth as dark, malevolent beings with the power to harness the forces of the supernatural. To drive the point home he makes them hideously ugly. He even gives them beards. It is clear from their revolting appearance that they are no ordinary women.

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Right from the outset, it's clear that the three witches are extraordinary characters. When we first meet them, they're engaged in casting weird magic spells. Their grotesque appearance is set off by the stormy weather raging overhead, which they almost seem to have conjured up themselves.

In case we're still in any doubt just what kind of individuals we're dealing with here Shakespeare makes it abundantly clear that there's real evil afoot, even if the witches don't really have supernatural powers. Just before Macbeth and Banquo arrive to hear their first prophecy, one of the witches gloats over causing a sailor to drown on his way home.

Shakespeare heightens the sense of wickedness in the air by making the witches look utterly hideous. Not only are these crones ugly, they're devoid of anything that might identify them as women. As Banquo observes when he first lays eyes on them they're wearing beards. He finds it hard, therefore, to believe that these frightful apparitions before him really...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 882 words.)

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