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Role Of Witches in Macbeth

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‘It is the witches fault that Macbeth goes the way he does and commits the crimes that he does’. Discuss

In Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth”, the protagonist, Macbeth, commits various crimes and atrocities throughout the play to become the king of Scotland and secure his place as king, slaying anyone that has even a minuscule possibility of overthrowing his kingship. Macbeth gets more heinous and powerful with every act of wickedness, from being “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness” (1.5.15) to a man whose “slaughterous thoughts, cannot once start [him].” (5.5.14-15) This radical change, from the king’s kinsman to an infamous, vile traitor, can be partly blamed on the mischievous three witches, who are under Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft – “the contriver of all harms” (3.5.7). They give Macbeth a glimpse of the future everything from him becoming king to his inexorable downfall at Dunsinane Hill. They cleverly manipulate their words to “win [him] with honest trifles, to betray ‘s in deepest consequence.” (1.4.127-128). The witches’ prophecy fuels Macbeth’s ambitions and greed that ultimately results in his death. The witches’ prophecy also profusely influence Lady Macbeth, who manipulates Macbeth and maneuvers him to commit the crimes that he does. However, although the witches were the ones to plant the seed of deadly ambition and greed in Macbeth, Macbeth is ultimately the one that allows it to grow, nurturing the slaughterous thoughts inside him.

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The witches’ prophecy at the beginning of the play is what planted the abominable ideas in Macbeth and made it grow. Without it, Macbeth would never even have thought about taking the throne, stating that “to be king stands not within the prospect of belief” (1.3.74-75), and therefore the various crimes he had committed may not have taken place. The witches first gain Macbeth’s trust by telling him that he will become Thane of Cawdor, which proves to be true. The witches’ prophecy instils ambition and greed, which progressively becomes larger until Macbeth starts taking matters into his own hands. He senses an opportunity to do so during the night of Duncan’s staying at Dunsinane Hill and takes it with the help of Lady Macbeth’s authoritative and persuasive influence.

Lady Macbeth uses her thirst for power and ambition at the beginning of the play to influence Macbeth to take this wide-open opportunity to benefit both of them. The plan of killing the king wouldn’t have been concocted if Macbeth didn’t send her the letter at the end of Act 1, summarising the witches’ prophecy. The witches consequently influence Lady Macbeth to devise a plan to kill the king and to “pour [her] spirits in [Macbeth’s] ear and chastise with the valour of [her] tongue all that impedes [him] from the golden round” (1.5.25-27). She breaks through Macbeth’s conscience by questioning his manliness and his thirst for power, which had been exacerbated since his hearing of the witches’ prophecy.

However, it’s not all the witches’ fault – Macbeth himself chooses to commit treacherous acts even though he knows that it’s wrong to do so. This moral conflict could be seen before he kills Duncan, the king of Scotland, where he sees “a dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain” (2.1.38-39). His brain is fevered and in doubt, but Macbeth still chooses to continue, an act that causes “[Macbeth’s] hair stand on end and [his] heart pound inside [his] chest” (1.3.137-138). Moreover, the witches weren’t responsible for many of the crimes that he commits, including the deaths of Banquo and Macduff’s wife and son. The witches only tell Macbeth to fear Macduff alone and that “nobody born from a woman will ever harm [him].” (4.1.80) Therefore, this was purely Macbeth’s selfish and unreasonable act.

Macbeth’s crimes cannot be blamed on a single individual or entity – including the witches. Although the witches are the one that sparked the ambition in Macbeth and the desire for power in Lady Macbeth, ending in the regicide of Duncan, Macbeth knew that his actions were cruel and unjustified.

25 October 2019

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