What role do the witches play in Macbeth?

The witches serve two main functions within the play. Because they are witches, they immediately bring a supernatural element to the play, which furthers the theme of "fair is foul, and foul is fair." Additionally, they serve as the instruments of fate by delivering their prophecies to Macbeth, who is then motivated to pursue his ambition.

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When the witches first appear in William Shakespeare's Macbeth, the role they play is to set the scene for the play, introduce some suspense—"When shall we three meet again?" (1.1.1)—draw attention to Macbeth, and lend a supernatural tone to everything that follows.

Some scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, and included the witches in particular, to solicit the favor of King James I, who ascended to the throne of England in 1603 after the death of Queen Elizabeth I. While he was King James VI of Scotland, before becoming King James I of England, James displayed a notable interest in demons and witchcraft. He organized notorious "witch hunts, " personally conducted interrogations of suspected witches, and attended witch burnings—some of which were no doubt the result of his own "witch hunts" and interrogations.

In 1597, James I wrote a treatise about demons and witches entitled Daemonologie , first published in 1597 in Scotland. James had the treatise republished in England in...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 1762 words.)

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