Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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In Macbeth, why are the three witches important?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Three Witches in Shakespeare's play Macbeth serve at least two important functions. First, the witches establish a supernatural element to the play, which contributes to the theme "fair is foul, and foul is fair." Throughout the play, Shakespeare introduces various supernatural elements to set an ominous mood, reveal certain internal qualities of characters, and heighten the suspense of the drama. The Three Witches themselves introduce the idea that "fair is foul, and foul is fair," which runs throughout the entire play. As the play progresses, characters continually misinterpret behaviors, signs, and prophecies.

In addition to establishing a supernatural element and introducing a primary theme of the play, the Three Witches also serve as instruments of fate by delivering their prophecies to Macbeth and Banquo . When the Three Witches initially meet Macbeth and Banquo on the heath, they call Macbeth the Thane of Glamis, the Thane of Cawdor, and the future king of Scotland. Once...

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simonwang1337 | Student

They are the important because they intiated the events that will determine Macbeths future. (tragdey) 

Without the witches, Macbeth will be simply seen as a brave and couragous Thane of Cawdor, which we all thought he was until he met the witches. This shows Macbeth's other side, which is doubtful and just not as brave as we thought in general. 

aliguy | Student

The witches are the catalyst that ignite the fire of ambition in Macbeth and ultimately spark the action that occurs. Therefore making them a vital element to the action.

cutiechandrika | Student

  On a heath, with thunder still rumbling, the three witches are awaiting Macbeth on his way from victory. when Macbeth, accompanied by Banquo arrives,the witches greet him as "thane of Glamis", "thane of Cawdor", and "king hereafter". They disappear before the arrival of Ross and Angus who bring the news that the king has bestowed on Macbeth the title of "thane of cawdor". Fascinated by this speedy proof of the witches' foreknowledge, Macbeth is 'rapt' and he begins to speculate to himself upon the prospect of becoming the king in future.He accepts the prophecy as an invitation to hellish deed of evil.

Here the world of supernatural and the world of men, which remained separated till now, are brought together. The vindictiveness of the witches apparent in their curses on the sea captain, casts a gloom on Macbeth's carrer also.

The prophecies of the witches are clearly an influence, dangerous circumstance with which Macbeth has to deal.But Macbeth was not an innocent man-therefore he is startled and agitated. He was free to accept or reject the soliciting but the temptation was already within him. He speaks of "supernatural soliciting" but in reality they just announce events, they do not tempt. The idea of fulfilling the prophecy by murder was entirely of his own.

For example- In Act 4 sc1 Macbeth seeks out the witches, as he had commited himself to his course of evil. it is now that they do 'solicit'. They prophesy, but they also give advice: they bid him to be 'bloody', 'bold' and 'secure'. Even then he is free to act on his own initiative. His first act after the meeting- the slaughter of Macduff's family was not hinted by them.

So the weird sisters may be anything except fates. They have no direct share in the action and yet form an integral part of the play. They and their prophecies represent not only the evil tendencies in the hero's soul but also the unknown vague influences of evil around him in the world which help the incitements of his wife and his own ambitions.