Are the witches in Macbeth Real or a a hallucination?More needed is quotes from the play that insist that the witches are real?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Interestingly, there is a superstition that actors will not say the name Macbeth inside a theater. According to one theory, this is because Shakespeare supposedly used the spells of real witches in his text. This usage of spells is said to have angered the witches, who then put curses on the play. Indeed, many Elizabethans, who believed in the Great Chain of Being, held that there is a realm of spiritual beings. Because of these beliefs, people at the time sometimes explained unusual happenings and things by attributing them to witches. For instance, illness and tragedies were sometimes thought to have been caused by a witch. After the Witchcraft Law of 1562, there were 270 witch trials in England over the course of the next fifty or so years.

In the play Macbeth, Banquo and Macbeth encounter three witches. Rather than images, they appear as physical beings who respond to Banquo's and Macbeth's questions. In act 4, scene 1, for instance, Macbeth finds the witches and asks them questions, and they reply. Later, all that they have predicted comes true. For example, they predict that "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth" (4.1.80). They also predict that Birnam Wood . . . / Shall come against him [Macbeth]" (4.1.93-94). That Macbeth and Banquo have both seen and talked to these witches lends credibility to their existence.

fezziwig eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no doubt that they are real, for they manifest themselves in front of Macbeth and Banquo, but Banquo has doubts, for he asks Macbeth in Act I, scene iii,

Were such things here as we do speak about?

Or have we eaten on the insane root

That takes the reason prisoner?

It appears that Banquo is not sure that these witches are real for they vanish "Into the air" (I. iii. 81) like "bubbles" (I. iii. 78).

But make not mistake about it; they are real, for earlier in the scene when Macbeth and Banquo first meet them, Banquo gives us some interesting evidence to suggest that they are corporal; first, he makes mention of their  "choppy finger[s]... / upon [their] skinny lips, and then he says that they seem like women, but because they have beards, he thinks otherwise. These images clearly suggest that the witches are real.

However, if Macbeth was the only one to see them, then we could argue that they are hallucinations; we know that Macbeth has visions, perhaps he suffers from sschizophrenia, but the fact that Banquo sees them makes them more corporal than hallucinations.

kc4u | Student

No, the witches in Macbeth are no hallucination. Banquo first notices the figures on the heath, and then Macbeth sees them too. We also see the three witches as Banquo and Macbeth see them and talk to them. Banquo categorically refers to some of their physical features like 'choppy fingers' and skinny lips', and wonders if they are women at all, for they grow beards. We also hear the conversation between the witches and Macbeth & Banquo.

Furthermore, the witches re-appear on subsequent occasions to enhance the plot. We see them along with their queen, Hecate; we see them as performing their rites in the cavern where Macbeth goes to meet them; they conjure up three apparitions to answer Macbeth's queries about future. The air-drawn dagger that shows Macbeth the way to Duncan's chamber is hallucinatory; so is Banquo's ghost at the Banquet, seen by Macbeth alone. But the elaborately presented witches are very much physical and objective.