During Shakespeare’s time, people were frightened of witches as they were associated with evil. Many people were accused of being witches and automatically burnt at the stake. Some of these people were old, deformed in some or people who were living alone, therefore considered as abnormal and a threat to society. Witchcraft was taken very seriously which probably made this play extremely interesting for people in Shakespeare’s times as it also settled people’s views of witches at the time. Shakespeare has chosen to open the play with the witches on a moor in thunder and lightning. He has done this to grip his audience from the beginning and use the witches to play on their fears and emotions. People at the time believed that witches had the ability to predict the future, fly, create storms, fog and mist, shorten the hours of the day, appear and disappear, possess people or cause them to be possessed by the devil and put curses on people which could make them ill and kill them. Almost all of these powers were used by the witches in the play.
For example in the opening scene when the witches were in thunder and lightning also the storms they caused the night of Duncan’s death and how they shortened the hours of the day. When thinking about the influence of the supernatural in Macbeth, I think it is also important to consider the concept known as the “Divine Right of Kings,” which states that the king has been chosen to reign by God. Any attempt to remove him from power is therefore an act against the natural order of life and therefore against God. This shows the importance of Duncan’s murder being started by a supernatural, unholy source – the witches – as this would make sense to a Shakespearean audience. This would also explain why Shakespeare chose to begin the play with the witches as without them regicide would not have been justified by the Shakespearean audience.
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Shakespeare might have chosen to begin the play with the witches also to show the importance of them throughout the play on almost all the characters. In this opened scene the witches chant “fair is foul and foul is fair:” This immediately gives the audience an idea of the confusion and chaos that will occur in the play. Macbeth is the only other character mentioned in the opening scene, telling the audience he will be the main target of the witches and associating him with evil from the start. The fact that the witches knew they would meet him also shows that they had the power of knowing the future.
The first words Macbeth says in the play area, “so foul and fair a day I have not to scene.” This again associates him with the witches and evil. It also suggests that they have influenced him already. Macbeth automatically shows interest in the witches and asks them to speak. They repeat the words “all hail Macbeth,” three times followed by his past, present and future instantly gripping him and the audience. Banquo on the other hand does not seem to be as influenced but instinctively realizes that the witches have completely enthralled Macbeth with what they have said. I think they have also used these words to give him a taster of what it would be like to be greeted in this way to build up his ambition of wanting to be king.
Once Macbeth has been given the title Thane of Cawdor, he continues believing in the witches prophecies and forgets that they are evil, whereas Banquo questions them “can the devil speak the truth?,” and attempts to remind Macbeth of the witches main aims – that they are evil and only told him the truth about becoming Thane of Cawdor in order to trick him – showing that witches were unable to influence both characters proving that Macbeth already contains evil within him. Macbeth then makes a very important speech to the audience (soliloquy) which is vital in order to keep the audience informed about what Macbeth’s thoughts are. “This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill; cannot be good:” the opening lines of Macbeth’s soliloquy suggest that he is already confused about evil and good.
“And make my seated heart knock at my ribs against the use of nature.” This shows that he already considering doing evil (something unnatural) i.e. the murder of Duncan. This line also shows that Macbeth is aware of the fact evil is greatly involved in his plans which is why they have disturbed his body so greatly. As, evil is considered to be unnatural and Macbeth decides to take the throne unnaturally, shows us that Macbeth has repressed his own nature (peace of mind, a healthy appetite and deep refreshing sleep), rejected goodness and gone ahead with the murder. Showing us the extent of influence that the supernatural has had on him. In act 1 scene 4 Duncan is representing natural things in the correct order with Macbeth falsely representing the same thing showing the audience the reason that Duncan has wrongly trusted Macbeth like the previous Thane of Cawdor. Showing how evil Macbeth had to become in order to betray everyone’s natural perception of him.
Another key character that has been greatly influenced by the supernatural, is Lady Macbeth. Her evil thoughts, however, have come from the letter Macbeth wrote to her, not directly from the witches, which might explain why she is quick to realize her mistake and does not continue being evil throughout the play, unlike Macbeth. However, she also quickly decides that they will murder the king without the confusion that Macbeth encountered. In her soliloquy, she calls the spirits to “fill,” her, “from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty!” I think she has done this in order for her to have the courage to commit the deed, as she does not think Macbeth would be able to do it. Lady Macbeth, like Macbeth, has been driven by her ambition of wanting to be queen and her husband to be king, however, this is still linked to the influence of the witches as they were the ones who provoked these ambitions in both characters. Some people would argue that without the influence of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth would have never pursued the murder.
However, I think it was inevitable because, if the witches had not known that their influence on Macbeth would have caused all the chaos it caused they would have not specifically picked to meet with him at the start. The language used by both these characters also shows the influence of the witches. They both begin to rhyme like the witches, for example, Lady Macbeth, “Only look up clear; To alter favour ever is to fear.” Another important soliloquy in the play is in act 2 scene 1. Here, Macbeth talks about nature being dead and witchcraft celebrating. Showing that to the last moment he knew what he was doing was wrong and that it would mean that evil has won over good. However, his ambition of wanting to become king was more important to him and is what caused him to murder Duncan. This could suggest that his ambition was what caused him to murder Duncan and not just the supernatural.
Also, due to the imagery used in this soliloquy which shows that he has consciously chosen to reject goodness and embrace evil, for example, “come, let me clutch thee,” when talking about the dagger and, “Thou sure and firm-set earth,” when talking about the act of murder itself. Throughout the play, the witches only appear three times, yet they are the basis of the entire play and their presence is always there. Whether it is shown through the characters (for example Lady Macbeth going mad and eventually committing suicide) or the settings/scenery (for example storms). However, I think towards the end of the play – the continuous murders that Macbeth commits are not directly linked to the supernatural (or the witches) as he seems to have become “naturally” evil and no longer need the help of the witches. For example, he says, “be it thought and done,” instead of being confused and thinking about the consequences of his evil thoughts. However, finally, in Act 5 Scene 6 Macbeth begins to question the witches. Unfortunately, it is too late. This shows the strength of the influence the witches had on Macbeth as they kept him under their spell till the last moment.