In Macbeth, how would the director get the witches to vanish off stage in the scene after the battle in the Elizabethan era?
Good question! In Act I, Scene iii, both Banquo and Macbeth mention that the witches "vanish'd" "into the air." How did Shakespeare's company of players achieve this special effect?
Well, there was a trapdoor on the stage. Of course, they had no means for a blackout of lights in which to achieve the escape of the actors magically through the trapdoor -- the sun was the source of light for each performance. So we can't be sure how they achieved this magical effect, but most certainly the trapdoor was involved.
Two things to keep in mind about theatre during Shakespeare's day. First, there were no directors. At least not as we think of them today. The playwright or a stage manager might have overseen rehearsals, but, as far as we know, the actors decided amongst themselves how the staging would unfold. Second, the audience would have had no experience with the fancy special effects we are used to in film (and even onstage) in our modern time. They may have been very satisfied and even awed by a much more clunky sort of vanishing than we might expect today.
Another possibility could be through the use of rudimentary smoke effects. This would be appropriate with the mist that could be drifting along the moor on so ‘foul [and fair]’ a day’. A puff of smoke from below stage could be used to create a cloud on the stage behind which te actors could make their exit.
As was said previously, this effect would not be so convincing to a modern audience. Another possibility would be a fabric ‘screen’ initially laid upon the stage which could be raised to ‘appear’ as mist and obscure the actors from view.