Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare in about 1600 but Shakespeare has set this play even earlier – about 1050. This play was written just after the gunpowder plot by Guy Fawkes which had the scheme revealed in 1605. This was a group of Catholics, who tried to blow up the houses of Parliament and not only this, they were going to kill the king at that time James the 1st.
In Shakespeare’s time most people alleged that witches could do all sorts of things. King James the 1st had his boat nearly drowned which he thought a storm was raised to drown him. He instantly knew that this dreadful work was held by witches so he decided to pass a law through the parliament about anyone being a witch should be executed. In this case when Macbeth was performed on stage at that time it would have grabbed everyone’s interest with the use of the witches in the opening scene.
Shakespeare opens the play with ‘thunder and lightning’ and in the superstitious times it was believed that fierce storms released forces of evil. Shakespeare has chosen to do this because to frighten and to unsettle the audience. The three witches meet in foul weather – they speak of thunder, lightning, “fog and filthy air”. Shakespeare wants to construct an atmosphere of fear and confusion and this is done by the following line “fair is foul, and foul is fair” this is the witches attitude to life, but this also could be a warning to the audience that the things to follow are not what they seem and this line introduces the theme appearance and reality. The witches decide to meet Macbeth on the heath “where the place, upon the heath”. As they meant to scare the audience the witches have decided to meet up in a wild, desolate location and this kind of place links with their characters.
At that time people believed that the witches used animals as cats to disguise the evil spirits. This evidence is given inline 6-7 “I come, Grey malkin, Paddock calls” this demonstrates that the witches ‘familiars’ spirits in animal form. In the last line “Hover through the fog and filthy air” is this ‘atmosphere’ associated with the witches? On the opening of this scene Shakespeare shows fear and confusion and the use of thunder and lightning introduces ‘Macbeth’ as a dark, dangerous play in which evil is central.
The physical appearance of the witches is grotesque and contributes to the atmosphere fear and evil. This is shown just when Macbeth and Banquo enter and it is Banquo that talks about their appearance in lines 37-41.In this line Banquo questions himself by asking that what are these weird looking things? And he believes that they can’t be from the earth. “that look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth” this is because their appearance are weird and the clothes they are wearing should be normal so that’s why they have an unnatural unearthly appearance. In line 44-45 “And yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so” these lines show that this is weird in a kind of a way because although they are women the fact is that they have beards.
The witches cast violent spells and there is a spell that they are about to cast just before they meet Macbeth and Banquo. In line 30-34 there is a little spell that they are casting the words “Thus do go, about, about” shows that they are dancing while they are doing this spell. Odd numbers like 3 and 9 are used which the number 9 is the magic number and these two add numbers were supposed to be related to witchcraft. Shakespeare uses the idea of the witches to chant together and also they are expressed as riddles. The word “munched” is used three times and this is like a chant “And munched and munched and munched”. The witches can apparently control the weather and they are going to do something evil to a captain on a boat. The reason for this act is that because a sailor’s wife did not give a chestnut to the witch so they are going to wound her husband.
“Arount thee, witch! the rump fed ronyon cries” this line expresses the sailor wife’s reaction to the witch by saying to her to go away. The next line “the rump fed ronyon cries” is showing the witch being offensive by calling the woman spoilt and this shows that the witch has no respect towards this woman. Just for this judgment the witch is going to cause the women’s husband harm and take profit against her “I’ll do, I’ll do and I’ll do”. The witches treat each other like sisters and it looks like they share one mind and they decide to act as a team and they support each other. “I’ll give thee a wind, Thou’rt kind, and another” so the other witches will give her some wind to use against the captain’s ship. The witches are going to cast a spell so the sailor won’t be able to go to sleep and so he will get all weak “sleep shall neither night nor day”.
“Though his bark cannot be lost yet it shall be tempest – tossed” these lines shows that his ship won’t sink, but it’ll be thrown about in storms so this explains what the witches are capable of doing. These references above are given to show how the witches use their spells to control the weather and what they could do with it to cause harm.
The witches establish the theme of reality and illusion. At the start of the play all the witches say “Fair is foul and foul is fair” but this unusual thing is that we hear Macbeth echo the same words as the witches. “So foul and a fair a day I have not seen” Macbeth uses this line because the weather is bad but it is a fair day because he has just won the battle and survive. As Macbeth has used the witches’ words does this mean that they are controlling his density? And by repeating the words the idea of prophecy is introduced.
Why are the witches words in Macbeth’s mouth so could this be that the spell is working?
Just when Macbeth asks the witches to speak they greet Macbeth differently “hail to thee, Thane of Glamis” which he know he is “hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor” the second prediction but the thing is that he is just he doesn’t know it yet and the last prophecy “hail Macbeth, that shalt be king here after.” When Macbeth hears this he is stunned and we witness him begging the witches to stay and he tries to question them “stay, you imperfect spellers, tell me more.” Does this show that Macbeth has already thought about being king?
The witches seem to speak Macbeth’s innermost thoughts. When Ross and Angus arrive with the news that King Duncan has made Macbeth the thane of Cowdor “He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor” just a few minutes later the 1st prediction comes true. Just after hearing this Banquo realises the 1st prediction comes true “What, can the devil speak true”.
Therefore this means that the witches make Macbeth believe that his greatest prize is here. The predictions are in his mind and he is keen that the witches know the future so the spell is working on him. Macbeth talks to himself “Glamis, and thane of Cawdor! The greatest is behind” this shows that Macbeth is starting to believe the witches prophecies.
Macbeth also jumps to conclusion by thinking already to kill Duncan “My thoughts, whose murder yet is but fantastical” this expresses that he has already thought of carrying the murder of the king.
Shakespeare has started the play by the idea of witches. I think that the idea of this really got the audience anxious at that time. I like the idea of Shakespeare using at that time the recent events that took place and how uses them in this play i.e. – the witches, and how people did anything to slay kings. The witches make a huge impact and I can’t judge that Macbeth gets brainwashed but he deserves what he gets towards the end because of all the blameless murders he carries out.