Can a case be made that the witches did not use Macbeth as a pawn in their game in Shakespeare's Macbeth?

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's a tougher case to make, but I think the case can be made.

First, it's clear the witches have some kinds of supernatural powers, but they could not have forced Macbeth to take any action.  Even when one of the witches is horribly irate that a sailor's wife would not share her chestnuts, the worst the witch can do is torment her poor husband at sea.  She may be able to control, to some extent, the elements (and she does sail in a sieve to wreak her havoc); however, she does not have the power to control human behavior.

Second, Macbeth is a well known figure, and they could have known all kinds of things about him without having any particular supernatural powers. Several times, they seemed to know where he would be; Macbeth was a general and his exploits and whereabouts would not have been unknown to many people--especially people who lived a rather nomadic life.

Third, the witches get no apparent gain or benefit from the actions which follow their "prophesies."  Perhaps they wanted Duncan dead or Macbeth to somehow fall due to his pride, but we have no evidence that is the case.

A case might be made that the witches were simply troublemakers, meddlers in the affairs of men.  Whatever your position, this is the primary debate of the play--and has been for centuries.