What is the role of the witches in Macbeth? Were the witches pure evil by giving the hope of being king when he should have never been king? Or were they simply pawns in the downfall of Macbeth? The witches could foretell the future, add temptation and influence Macbeth to do certain things but they could not change his destiny, so what was their role in this entire thing?

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The witches were neither pure evil nor simple pawns; they fulfilled the role of supernatural prophets, providing a plot device that set all the events of the play into motion. Nevertheless, it is certainly possible to speculate that Macbeth would have developed ambition to become king without the witches’ prophecy, particularly in light of Lady Macbeth’s overweening desire for her husband to rise higher on the social and political ladder. I also agree with mshurn that Shakespeare employed the witches in order to appeal to an Elizabethan audience that enjoyed supernatural elements in their entertainment.

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The witches represent evil in the sense that they act as physical agents of temptation. We are surrounded by temptation; we choose whether to resist it or give in to it, based on our characters and values. Macbeth's flawed character and his ambition led him into temptation, and he was destroyed. The witches serve another role in the play, as well. Shakespeare didn't write for English teachers! He was a popular playwright who knew his audience and gave them what they enjoyed--lots of scary supernatural events.

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The previous posts and done a nice job, and the notion of the witches' helping to bring into clearer focus what it is the Macbeth wanted to do and what he felt the need to do.  The idea of the witches seemed to bring the idea into focus that human action has some level of it attributable to other circumstances.  Few would argue that Macbeth should not shoulder responsibility for his actions, but the presence of the witches help to bring out the idea that some of his responsibility was furthered by other forces, such as Lady Macbeth and the witches and their prophecies.  While the witches give much in the way of helping Macbeth the "nouns," as nicely stated in the previous post, to help him articlulate his own sense of self, I am not certain that the witches, themselves, represent evil.

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One critic has said that the witches supply Macbeth with the nouns and Lady Macbeth supplies him with the verb.  That is, the witches plant the seeds of "Thane of Cawdor," "Thane of Glamis," and "King Hereafter."  This sparks Macbeth to write his wife of the news.  By the time he gets home, she supplies him with the plan of "murder."

I like Amy's analogy of the witches "planting the seeds."  But, the seed of blind ambition was always there.  After all, it is his tragic flaw.  The witches and Lady Macbeth give Macbeth the rationale to water the seeds, to cultivate this blind ambition.

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Although the witches themselves tell us how they enjoy playing with mortals (remember the sailor's wife with the nuts, and the swine, etc?), I don't believe they are pure evil.  They present things to Macbeth, planting the seed of ambition which is watered by his wife.  He still has free will.  He is able to decide which path he will take, and it is his decision to keep going back to the witches for their otherworldly advice which misleads him.  He brings about his own demise, the witches were only the tools who acted as a catalyst.

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