Macbeth: The Importance of the Witches - Act 4, Scene 1


The witches in Macbeth are very important in the plot and develop certain aspects of the play. They make greater the theatrical experience with images of darkness, thunder and lightning that make Macbeth the tragedy it is. Their actions also add to the play, dancing round the cauldron and chanting ?Double, double??. Their appearance as ?dark hags? adds mystery to the play.

The witches also add a sense of evil and of the supernatural. Their chanting, ?Double, double, toil and trouble: Fire burn and cauldron bubble? is rhythmic and has an almost hypnotic quality to it. There is a repetition of the magical word ?thrice?. The fact that there are three witches is emphasised, because in a time where Paganism was feared (three was a magical number in Paganism.), the number three was seen as evil. It was also a magical number because of the holy trinity The ingredients that the witches add to the cauldron are associated with the themes of death: ?finger of birth-strangled babe.?; crime: ?grease that?s sweaten from the murderer?s gibbet.?; evil: ?Tartar?s lips.?; poison ?adder?s fork?; and damnation: ?Liver of blaspheming Jew?. These powerful images would have shocked Shakespearean audiences and thus would have thought the witches as overwhelmingly evil. The witches add to this impression of evil by throwing ?into the flame? a murderer?s gibbet. This shows that Macbeth will have the same fate as a murderer, being thrown into the flames of hell. There are other images of hell in the play. An example is in Act two, Scene three when the porter imagines himself to be the ?porter of hell-gate? when Macduff and Lenox knock on Macbeth?s castle door. Shakespearean audiences would have recognised this as Jesus knocking on the gates of hell. There is also the supernatural element as the witches call up the evil spirits they serve at line 62. This ties in with other supernatural images in the play, such as when Macbeth sees the floating dagger before him before he murders Duncan. This supernatural image adds to the importance of the witches in the play.

The witches also serve to develop our picture of Macbeth. In line 45, the witches, when they hear Macbeth knocking, say ?Something wicked this way comes?. This is ironic as the witches, who are evil are calling Macbeth evil. This shows that Macbeth is the most evil character in the play. In line fifty and onwards, Macbeth is willing to sacrifice the future of the universe to get his answer, about his future. The prophecies give Macbeth a false sense of security, so the witches have tricked him ?the charm is fair and good?. The fact that the charm is good is heavily ironic as it seals Macbeth?s fate. However, he continues to plan the murders of Macduff. ?But yet I?ll make assurance double sure.? I think this is because he is so insecure. After he sees the vision, he is angry and curses the witches as ?filthy hags?. He is obsessed about Banquo which I think is understandable as he has seen the ghost of Banquo at the banquet. He also unwittingly damns himself by exclaiming ?and damn?d [be] all that trust them? because he was the very person who trusted them. However, he could be just covering up his tracks so that Lenox would not suspect that Macbeth was in league with ?the weird sisters?. At line 25, the witches laugh at Macbeth ?but why stands Macbeth thus amaz?dly?? They are mocking him heavily and makes him look pathetic in our eyes. It shows how the witches have power over Macbeth and how Macbeth is a weak king. Macbeth realises that the ?weird sisters? are associated with fate (Wyrd was the Anglo-Saxon word for fate) but he believes that he can change fate. He might believe this because he is king and at that time monarchs believed in the divine rights of kings, whereby kings were chosen to rule by God. This in itself is ironic because of the murdering he has had to do to become king. Therefore it is not possible that God could have chosen Macbeth to be king. Macbeth would not have realised this because he is supremely confident in his abilities. Although his conscious, reflective mind is confident, his inner being is wrought with a guilty conscience and fear of failure.