The storyline develops each time the witches appear, but it’s never for a good cause. Every time the witches arise there is a change in the play, for instance; appearing in bad weather such as, thunder, lightning and rain clearly indicates that they have evil thoughts within them. The audience will know that the witches are dangerous and extremely evil minded. The witches had a huge impact on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth; they simply explained what was going to happen, which was that Macbeth and his wife were to become king and queen. This, as a result awakened their expectations therefore freeing them to make their ambitions reality.
Shakespeare begins this play with the witches in order to create a sense of dramatic tension; to engage and horrify the audience; and to prepare them for what is still yet to come. The atmosphere set here will be extremely wicked because in those days witches were known as highly volatile and devilish. The witches’ appearance therefore, tells the audience that something will go wrong during this play. The witches’ role here is to demonstrate to the audience their evil power.
For example, in Act 1 Scene 3 one of the witches reply to Macbeth, ‘When shall we meet again, thunder, lightning or in rain? Here you can see the immense power that they posses, it stamps a direct point of authority into the audience, it’s as if they can change a sunny day into a rainy one or even day into night which is why the prospect of meeting these wicked creatures is horrifying. This peculiar and most horrifying chanting by the witches in this scene allows the audience to see their authority and cruelty, the combination of which the audience would find more than terrifying. At the time when Shakespeare wrote this play it had to be performed in front of the king to gain his approval.
However, it was passed by the king as he too had some history with witchcraft. The witches predict that Macbeth shall become Thane of Cawdor, and then king of Scotland and that Banquo’s children will rule Scotland thereafter. Shakespeare tells us these predictions so soon to engage the audience fully, and to create dramatic tension within the audience because then the audience will know more than Macbeth himself and that would make the audience more fascinated to know furthermore, because they would want to know what happens to Macbeth.
The audience also know that the witches can tell the future because every time Macbeth is near they can sense it. As soon as Macbeth and Banquo hear the predictions both of them react differently, Macbeth pleads ‘stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more’. This shows that he was startled at what he heard because he couldn’t believe that the witches can voice his dreams which were to be king one day. On the other hand, Banquo laughs at the predictions and Macbeth pretends to join him.
Banquo knows that the witches mean no good; he believes that the predictions have come out of ridiculed strangers that on stage looked very ugly with torn strange clothes. Their reactions to the witches’ predictions show that Banquo is the more cautious and wise one, as he knows witches are nothing but trouble. Whereas, with Macbeth it’s the complete opposite, he only hears what he wants to hear. The witches in this play and like none other of Shakespeare’s plays have a strong character development as they are regarded more important in this play as well as the time it was set in.
Shakespeare knew that the audience would be interested in this since; witchcraft was a major thing at the time. When Ross and Angus declare Macbeth Thane of Cawdor on behalf of King Duncan, again both Banquo and Macbeth react opposite of one another. Macbeth began to think to himself, ‘Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor, the greatest is behind’ This proves that he believes every word of the witches because one of the predictions had come true and now he will believe in their predictions even more. However, bewildered as he is Banquo asks ‘What can the devils speak true? which meant that he didn’t trust the witches despite Macbeth’s new title.
This would clearly make the audience wonder if Banquo was having second thoughts and quite clearly he was. Though the audience believed Macbeth was loyal and a very worthy warrior he wasn’t anymore. As for Banquo, well the audience must think that he is the more careful one; he is more or less Macbeth’s warning voice but when Macbeth kills Banquo he kills his one and only warning. Lady Macbeth’s initial reaction towards the witches’ prophecies is straight forward, ‘Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be what thou art promised’
It can be clearly seen here that she is already determined for this ambition to become reality, however, she also points out her worries, ‘Yet I do fear thy nature; it is too full of the human kindness’ Although she wants this quite desperately, she knows her husband’s weak points and quite clearly points out. Due to this fear she calls upon evil spirits to ‘unsex her’ to take her womanly feelings away thus making her more like a man. No one forced Lady Macbeth to do this, she does this with her own will; it’s as if she knows she has to call upon dark spirits because she can tell without it she wouldn’t be able to convince her husband.
This suggests that their marriage and above all their relationship were not that strong. Macbeth’s mood at the beginning of Act 1 Scene 7 is remorseful, he feels sorry for Duncan, knowing what the consequences are, ‘He is here in double trust; first as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed: then as his host, who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself’. Macbeth’s conscience is obviously making him absurd, but he too desperately wants to become king and has thought of killing Duncan knowing that it’s wrong, ‘Although, whose murder yet is but fantastical’.
Even if Macbeth didn’t meet the witches before this scene, I believe that he still would have behaved in this manner. When he was told that he was to become king, he reacted as if he already thought about being king; he straightaway asks to know more which clearly shows his ambitiousness. Therefore, knowing the predictions he must have considered committing murder, but probably agonised over whether to do something which he knew was wrong.
However, Macbeth soon comes to terms and decides not to kill the king, and Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s ‘partner of greatness’ begins to use her strengths on him, When u durst do it, then you were a man; and to become more than what you were, you would be so much more the man’. This affects Macbeth a great deal as he was supposed to a soldier and the fact that his wife is saying it is rather intimidating. She emotionally blackmails him in many ways just to get her way. She also proves her love for him by using the example of dashing the brains out of their children, ‘She pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, and dash’d the brains out’ She says this to show Macbeth what she would do for him, and in return she wants him to kill Duncan.
Like he kills many other people in war, In other words, he should be used to it. It wasn’t long until Macbeth changed his mind, ‘If we should fail? ‘ this shows how much he adores his wife, and also points out how quickly he changed his mind. The audience would feel that Lady Macbeth has great power over her husband. He sees her just as equally to himself, most importantly though he respects her immensely. The audience would see that Macbeth’s relationship is unnatural because men at that time had more power over women.
But gathering Lady Macbeth’s past behaviour in the play the audience know how horribly insincere she really could be especially at manipulating and persuading by emotionally blackmailing Macbeth. I would not in any way entirely blame the witches for what Macbeth and his wife did. No one forced them, they wanted to become royalty. This is because when they heard about the predictions they both reacted as if they already thought about being king and queen. Normal people would probably have laughed but they carried on plotting on how to murder Duncan.
The whole idea of killing Duncan was completely their own one; the witches had nothing at all to do with it because all they did is predict what will happen. There are many contrasts between Macbeth and his wife, both before and after committing murder. Macbeth has second thoughts, ‘This is a sorry sight’, he says after killing Duncan. This proves that even at this stage he is bewildered and doesn’t know what to do. However, Lady Macbeth’s mood remained the same, ‘a foolish thought to say a sorry sight’.
This indicates that she is very eager to get the murdering done as quickly as possible. When Macbeth kills Duncan, he is extremely shaken, Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? ‘ Lady Macbeth’s reaction is quite unbelievable, ‘My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white’ Here it is very clear that Macbeth is frightened but his wife isn’t. Soon, Macbeth becomes a killer of infants from a heroic soldier. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have changed like this to emphasize the effects that have taken place on them since murdering Duncan, here the audience would be able to see the differences in both characters. Macbeth visits the witches again to find out what is in store for him in the future.
He is king at this point and Duncan’s sons have been banished. The predictions had become true, Macbeth has become king, and Banquo is dead but his son Fleance is still alive and can become king after Macbeth. This will make the audience believe in the witches predictions, and will make the audience wonder how the predictions will come true knowing that things cannot end well for Macbeth. The witches summon the apparitions to tell Macbeth what is to come. He learns that he should be aware of Macduff – Thane of Fife, ‘Be bloody, bold, and resolute: laugh to scorn the power of man: for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’.
Macbeth, now being king thinks he is invincible and has Macduff’s family killed all because he thinks he is irresistibly powerful. Little did he know that Macduff would want revenge. The witches have set up Macbeth’s death, the reason the witches are responsible is because they are the ones who knowing Macbeth’s character let him unleash the idea of murdering Duncan at the first place. Macbeth knew the predictions, and noticed that the first prediction turned out correct, he thought that the only way he would become king is by killing Duncan.
Lady Macbeth commits suicide because the evil spirits she called upon to ‘unsex her’ had left her. Therefore, she got her womanly feelings back and now she realises what she has done, feeling rather guilty. Shakespeare is trying to show us that you can do anything for ambition, like Lady Macbeth did. But it never results in being worthwhile in the end. She lost her soul and her innocence all because she wanted to be queen. As soon as Macbeth is told that the queen is dead he acts as if he has no emotion, ‘She should have died hereafter’ he believes life is futile because he has no love left for his wife anymore.
He describes his life as a candle, ‘Out brief candle’ because he has become what he wanted to be but lost everything that he loved most such as his wife, best friend and King Duncan (his cousin). The candle symbolises good when alight and evil when blown out, in this case it is the struggle between nature and man. Life and death is now meaningless to Macbeth because in his quest for the throne he abandoned everything that made his life worth living for e. g. ; he had his best friend killed, lost his sense of honour and courage. It’s as if he is implying that he cannot escape hell because he has betrayed god.
In Macbeth’s mind everything is the witches fault, we know this because he says that ‘they have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly’. I absolutely disagree with that because Macbeth had several options, he did not have to turn to murder. The witches just predicted the future; they did not say or even give the idea of killing Duncan. If the witch’s predictions were true he would have become king without killing Duncan and quite clearly he believed the predictions, only he decided with his own free will to murder Duncan. The whole idea was his no one had anything to do with it.
The witches did not tell him to murder Duncan they just predicted what would happen. The witches represent horror, darkness and evil throughout the play. Their importance in terms of plot is to cause havoc and disaster in Scotland and so they did. The witches awakened Macbeth and his wife’s expectations to become royalty that is the most important effect the witches had on them. Shakespeare wants us to learn that sometimes things that appear fortunate can really be a disguise. He wants us to know that ambition can lose you everything, he is pointing out the dangers of unchecked ambition because in the end everything will be worthless.