Witchcraft in the 17th centaury was frowned upon by the church as a result witches were feared and loathed in the community. Many people thought that they were directly connected to Lucifer (the devil). Their evidence of this was that the devils familiars came up from hell and drank the witches blood from devil spots (moles or birthmarks), in return for this blood he would grant them special powers such as the ability to fly, foul crops or kill at a glance.
As a result of this propaganda created by the church thousands of innocent people were tried as witches and burnt at the stake. To be in a 17th centaury audience and have witches appear on stage would be terrifying and cause a genial reaction of shock and disgust. Also the king of the time James the first had an interest in witchcraft specifically the torture of witches. He even wrote a book demonology which listed all the horrible means in which to torture a confession out of them.
So adding this to the play may have been Shakespeare’s way to please the king. Act 1 scene 1 gives a dramatic start to the play arousing our curiosity over the mysterious identities of the three witches and creating a puzzling spectacle. This is because when you enter the scene the witches have almost finished there current meeting and appear to be planning the next one as they say “when shall we thee meet again”. This creates a feeling of mystery because you do not why there are an the moor or who they are.
The witches themselves heighten this confusion with there riddling and perplexing language which seems to flow from one witch to the other as if they were all one being, such as when they say “When the hurly burleys done : When the battles lost and won : That will be ere the set of sun”. Each witch responds almost instantly as if continuing the sentence like one being. This crates the atmosphere of a spell or a chant. This enables them to see past the present in to the future such as when they say ” when the battles lost and won”, this suggests that they already know the outcome they know more than you.
The witches also speak of some very unusual things that suggests that they are not normal. One of the oddest things they say is “Hover through the fog and filthy air” giving you the impression that they can fly. They also chant “fair is foul and foul is fair”, which would make it appear that they have a warped perception of reality what you would perceive as foul they would perceive as fair meaning that they can bend the rules a little. This draws you in because you want to know what mischief they can create.
In the production that I saw I thought that they carried out this very well with fantastic lighting and sound affects. The witches were dressed in simple black robes and rags, but while reciting there lines there was a battle going on behind them with men falling in all directions which provides a feeling of confusion and that they have more power then the men fighting. I thought that this was brilliant because it gave the beginning of the production a real dramatic exciting start to the play.
Then very abruptly they vanished this effect in the production was created by freezing and changing the lighting, this was quite effective as all one stage were oblivious to them. The scene then shifted quickly this then provided a sudden shock at the confusion of what had just happened. When you next see the witches in Act 1 Scene 3 you get to see the true nature of the witches and the malice and brutality of there character. One of them says that see has been killing swine and there is a distinct air of pleasure in her voice. This gives a reaction of disgust and horror to any audience.
Another of the witches has been denied chestnuts by a sailors wife and so was going to as a form of revenge forever tempest toss her husband so he will be forever kept awake by an eternal storm and never able to return home. In the production I saw them use a rope as a visual aid to represent in my opinion the sea as they tossed the rope the sea tosses as the rope does, or the rope could have signified a union of there powers all coming together in hatred. This whole scene demonstrates there glut for revenge and there incredible power giving them a hold over nature itself.
After this a witch cries that Macbeth is coming they then meet with him and tell him that one day he will be king they then tell Banquo him he will be lesser than Macbeth and greater. After confusing us some more they vanish into thin air Macbeth reacts in fear almost, to which Banquo replies “look how are partners rapt”. The next time you see the witches the plot has advanced considerably by Act 4 Scene 1 Macbeth has committed treason by murdering the king and become as predicted king himself. Macbeth has lost almost all of his allies and goes to the witches in desperation and seeking information.
When he arrives the witches are huddled over a cauldron adding strange ingredients to the cauldron as if expecting Macbeth again demonstrating strange powers of deviation. All of these ingredients are very gory and show how vile and loathsome the witches really are, the witches have also it would appear have put a degree of planning in to this meeting. Another thing that demonstrates there planning is the complexity of many of the ingredients such as ” finger of birth-strangled babe ditch delivered by a drab” this also shows the lengths to which they will go to cause mischief.
Macbeth orders the witches to reveal there secrets to him showing how he has changed since the beginning of the play where he was honourable and meek. In the production that I watched the witches came in after the banquet scene and climbed over the table and took a goblet from the table and used it as a cauldron, this I thought was an effective addition to the play as it displayed them to be so powerful they undermine the very monarchy.
When the witches agree to show Macbeth they give him the potion they had already prepared as if they want to show him, they show him in a series of apparitions. The first apparition is an armed head that tells Macbeth to beware the thane of Fife, to this Macbeth reacts without surprise as he already suspected Macduff. The second apparition is a blooded child (who we later learn to be a child born through suasions ) this apparition tells him “to be bloody, bold and resolute; Laugh to scorn the power of man for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”.
This true to form with the witches is confusing because he has been told to beware Macduff and then that no man woman born can harm Macbeth. The third apparition is a crowned child holding a tree this apparition tells Macbeth to be lion mettled, proud, and take no care who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are; Macbeth shall never be vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him”.
This is a very good example of Shakespeare’s visualisation with mind boggling seemingly impossible tasks like the very woods moving. This apparition makes Macbeth even more sure of himself as he does not believe that this could ever happen. But as Macbeth demands to know more the witches give in very quickly, they then show him with some relish the final apparition this is a vision of Banquo and his airs on the throne the first of the Stuarts. Again more confusion as this means that at some point Macbeth is going to be defeated.
The witches then dance and say that they must cheer his spirits almost mockingly they then vanish. In the production the apparitions appeared in the air as giant flouting holograms I thought that this was very effective as it provided visual stimulus to the sound. At the end of the production that I saw they added an extra scene where after Macbeths death the witches stand and point at Fleance, as if to say that he will be next in there makings of mischief.
This raises the question of how much the witches are to blame for the whole proceedings , I believe that the witches are not completely to blame and are infant just a catalyst as they never actually told Macbeth to kill the king they just gave him a prophecy of what might happen but his ambition was to great and his impenitency to have what was promised, as Banquo said “The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s In deepest consequence.
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