The witches.I've been reading Macbeth for fun, and I'd like to see others' personal answer to these questions to see if I understand the basic ideas of the witches. What is the nature of their...

The witches.

I've been reading Macbeth for fun, and I'd like to see others' personal answer to these questions to see if I understand the basic ideas of the witches.

What is the nature of their powers in regards to Macbeth's fate? The ways  in which the prophecies come to be fulfilled? What do the witches symbolize?

Expert Answers
susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In your reading Macbeth for fun, you have noticed some important aspects of the play.  The witches are indeed important in the play.  Their powers, as you might have guessed, are limited concerning Macbeth's fate.  Even though they have the ability to predict the future, they are incapable of changing it.  Proof of this statement lies in the fact that the witches are incapable of changing the fate of the sailor whose wife offended one of the witches.  They can make his bark be "tempest tossed," but they cannot make it sink.  In much the same way, they are unable to change Macbeth's fate. 

Notice that their prophecy does not mention how it will come about.  Most likely, Macbeth's prophecy would have been fulfilled had he not acted.  He himself seems to know that this statement is true when he says, "If chance will have me king, then chance will crown me king, without my stir."  Banquo also hears the witches' prophecy about his descendants becoming king,  but Banquo does nothing to make it come about.  Fleance escapes, and it is assumed that he fathers a long line of Scottish kings (King James 1 was a descendant of the historic Banquo.).

In the first part of the play, Macbeth acts in an attempt to fulfill the witches' prophecy.  Impatient, ruthless, goaded by Lady Macbeth, he is tempted to "catch the nearest way" to the throne and murder Duncan.  In the latter part of the play, Macbeth acts to prevent the prophecies.  It seems that regardless of Macbeth's actions, the prophecies will come true. 

It seems, then, the witches represent Macbeth's darkest desires.  Their prophecies tempt him to commit evil, and the weird sisters delight in bringing this buried evil to the surface. 

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's great to here you're reading Macbeth just for fun.  Part of the fun is figuring out answers to the kinds of questions you ask, as well as just reading it. 

Your first question raises one of the main issues in the play.  There may not be an absolute, concrete answer for you, though.  Opinions and interpretations differ.

  • the witches are supernatural and control the future.
  • the witches are supernatural and know the future, but don't control it
  • the witches aren't supernatural but very clever

Another question arises:  how responsible is Macbeth for his own actions? 

All of the above relates to the issue of free will vs. predestination.  This was the new way of thinking of the old issue of fate.

Second, I hate to tell you how the prophecies turn out if you haven't finished reading the play yet.  You say you've "been reading Macbeth."  If you haven't finished reading Macbeth, stop reading here and come back later after you've read the entire play.

The trees move, or appear to move, because Malcolm's army camouflages themselves with branches, etc.  When they march toward Macbeth's castle, from a distance the appearance is that the wood is moving.

Macduff's mother died in childbirth, before Macduff was taken out of her womb.  Therefore, technically, he was not born of woman, but born from a body.

Finally, the witches are witches.  I don't think they symbolize anything. 

Keep reading and I hope I helped.

littbee | Student

The three witches in Macbeth represent the innermost wishes of Macbeth,which he tries to hide from himself.But once he encounters them,all those repressed ambitious thoughts are brought out.Their hideousness reprsents the darkness of the mind.They,along with Lady Macbeth,serve to instigate him to write his own destiny.