Why are the three witches important in Macbeth?

The three witches are important in Macbeth because their interference in his life catalyzes his own inner conflict between his loyal and “worthy” side and his ambitious and disloyal side. Had the witches never prophesied that he would become king, it's possible Macbeth would never have thought of harming King Duncan.

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The three Weird Sisters are important in Macbeth in primarily because they provide the inciting incident: the moment when Macbeth, the protagonist , is thrust into the action, and his inner conflict begins. Prior to Macbeth meeting the three witches, his loyalties are undivided, and his character seems settled....

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The three Weird Sisters are important in Macbeth in primarily because they provide the inciting incident: the moment when Macbeth, the protagonist, is thrust into the action, and his inner conflict begins. Prior to Macbeth meeting the three witches, his loyalties are undivided, and his character seems settled. He has fought valiantly against the enemies of the Scots crown, defeating the rebel Macdonwald and putting down the Norwegian invasion. He is praised and promised a new title by the king as a reward for his faithful service, though Macbeth does not yet know this when he encounters the witches.

However, once Macbeth hears the witches' prophecy that he will be Thane of Cawdor and also king, he immediately begins to consider what would have to happen for them to come true. When he learns that he has been made the Thane of Cawdor, as the witches said he would, he begins to yearn to be king, the other title they promised him.

When he hears King Duncan name his son, Malcolm, the heir to the throne, Macbeth realizes that he will either have to give up the dream of becoming king or commit to taking the throne through violence. He addresses the stars, saying,

Stars, hide your fires
Let not light see my black and deep desires;
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears when it is done to see (1.4.50–53).

He asks, then, that the stars go dark so that there will be no light for anyone else to see what Macbeth now plans: to kill Duncan and take his crown. Macbeth also does not want his eyes to see what his hand will do when he uses that hand to kill the king, likely because he knows how terrible a crime it would be. Without the witches' interference, it seems unlikely that Macbeth’s ambition would ever have driven him to such an action.

The witches ultimately play a significant role in Macbeth's downfall. Not only do they plant the idea of being king in his mind, but they also offer him other prophecies that he incorrectly interprets as proof he cannot be defeated. He only realizes his mistake just before he is slain by Macduff. Of course, the extent to which the witches are to blame for Macbeth's downfall is a matter of great debate that cuts to the heart of Macbeth's character and agency. Some believe Macbeth to be a victim of the witches, who deliberately manipulate him into committing evil acts and ultimately lead him to his doom. It's also possible to interpret the witches as neutral actors who simply communicate what will come to pass, meaning that Macbeth bears full responsibility how he interprets and acts upon their predictions.

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