How were the witches responsible for King Duncan's death in Macbeth?

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The role of the three witches is open to interpretation.  Do they actually control the future, do they predict the future, or do they merely make suggestions that Macbeth uses as an excuse to do his own evil?  Shakespeare leaves each of these possibilities open. 

If a reader were to...

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The role of the three witches is open to interpretation.  Do they actually control the future, do they predict the future, or do they merely make suggestions that Macbeth uses as an excuse to do his own evil?  Shakespeare leaves each of these possibilities open. 

If a reader were to believe that the witches actually control what happens, then the witches are responsible for the death of Duncan since the 3rd witch says, "All hail, Macbeth, that shall be king hereafter!"  This witch proclaims that Macbeth will be king.  The interpretation that allows for the witches to control the future would be supported by the previous line from the play. 

If a reader were to decide that the witches are merely predictors of the future, the same quote as above applies, but predicting does not mean being responsible--unless one were to suggest that the witches have a responsibility to the country to warn people that Duncan's job would soon be open.  In this interpretation, the witches are not directly responsible, but they could be viewed as guilty of complicity.

If a reader believes that Macbeth is encouraged by the witches' statements but not controlled by them, then the witches are only responsible in the sense that they have goaded a power-hungry Macbeth into seeking the throne.  With this interpretation, there is no focus on the supernatural--and since the Elizabethans were fascinated by the supernatural, this interpretation is somewhat problematic from a historical perspective but still valid for a modern audience.

Ultimately, the words of the witches do plant an idea in Macbeth's mind that he should be king.  Whether those words have any actual supernatural power is left open to the readers' interpretation, but there is no disputing that their words open the door for the death of Duncan as well as the rest of the bloodshed in Macbeth.

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