One of the things that I focused on in my re-reading of the first act of Macbeth (after considering our class in McKenna theater last Tuesday) was the role of the witches in the play. I found it interesting how the entire essence of these supernatural beings impacted Macbeth’s character even in the first act alone. In scene one we get the sense that the three witches are clearly associated with darkness. They enter the stage with the sound of thunder and lightening supplementing their eerie supernatural presence that is later described/questioned by Banquo (in 1.3) as:
That look not like th' inhabitants o' th' Earth,
And yet are on ’t?—Live you? Or are you aught
That man may question? You seem to understand me,
By each at once her choppy finger laying
Upon her skinny lips. You should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are
It is now understood that these witches are envisioned as these ugly, almost demonic beings. As we discussed in class last Tuesday, it seems as though the vibe that is intended to be felt by the presence of these witches on stage is an ominous one. They embody the image of evil in these seemingly supernatural forms.
In regards to Macbeth’s character I thought it was interesting how the prophecy of the witches immediately began to change his views from being selfless to being selfish. Just as the witches are a representation of evil forces in the world, selfishness is an evil force instilled (in Macbeth’s case at least) by the drive to attain something for one’s own benefit. In this particular situation, Macbeth’s selfishness begins to take rise at the possibility of power. Once he is presented with the prediction that he will be the thane of Cawdor and is then presented with the reality of that prediction when Ross tells him the kind has been sentenced to death, Macbeth finds himself thinking about murdering the man himself. At this point, he is afraid of the darkness that has now permeated his thoughts. He says:
This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature?
All of the sudden, his heroism—in his defense of the king and all of his people in all the battles he has fought valiantly in— seems to be in danger to this sudden promotion of power.
In my opinion, the selfish drive for power is amongst one of the darkest concepts Shakespeare explores in many of his plays (most recently this was idea showed up in Hamlet with Hamlet’s uncle killing his own brother for his chance on the throne). To connect this idea back to the image of the witches, we see how the evil thoughts popped as suddenly into Macbeth’s mind as the witches vanished out of sight. They are quick and dark and have the power to change the direction of things as they are the darker they become.