Monday, November 26, 2012

Macbeth and the Three Witches

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.    


Kelsey Maher said...

I agree with your entire characterization of Macbeth and his transformation to completely selfish and greedy after the witches’ prophecies. The prophecies of the witches become Macbeth’s self-fulfilling prophecies. He becomes completely consumed with the witches’ words and unbeknownst to him, through his actions, he causes the prophecies to come true. His own destruction would never have occurred if he had ignored the prophecies completely, like Banquo suggested he do. I think that his selfishness, combined with the persistent urgings of Lady Macbeth, and the influence of the witches’ predictions caused the destruction of his life and of Scotland.

ssomer said...

I enjoyed reading your post because I see a lot of significance in the role of the three witches as well. Without them, there would not be much of a play because it is their twisted words that bring about the greed in Macbeth. I find it interesting that no matter how they are portrayed in productions, they are always evil. As we learned in class in the Mckenna Theatre, the withces can be portrayed in so many ways. Sometimes they are even dressed in sexy dress and such but no matter what, their presence and words lead to the ultimate downfall of Macbeth. Their role is essential to the entire play.

Anonymous said...

In thinking about Macbeth's obsession with th witch's prophecies it makes me wonder how much drive his character already had. In other words, if he had not heard the prophesies, how far would his determination to be succesful take him. Also we have to take his social climbing wife's influence into concideration. I think that the witches plant the seed but there was already a garden in the making. I think successful people have a high drive wich could also be classified as greed.
Although, I do get the witch's evil influence on the character and how it permeates the play.

Nicole Belladone said...

I think it's interesting how these witches are made sure to be imagined and seen as creature-like beings. Shakespeare makes them seem manly in a way, even though they really are female witches. They are seen as unfeminine and mysterious as they control everything in the play; something a female character would rarely be capable of doing in many of Shakespeare's other plays. The witches in the play basically call the shots, when it comes to both the setting and mood of the play but through their prophecies in the play as well. I love the weird and strange mood that the witches contribute to Macbeth and it wouldn't have the same effect without them.

Cyrus Mulready said...

Your post raises the central question (for me) in this play--is it a play about selfish ambition (the Macbeths) or is it about how we are controlled by something outside of ourselves (the witches for the Macbeths). We talked about this in class a little, and it's raised here again by your post. I tend to agree with you that the play is really about human control and that the supernatural is what you make of it. It only has as much power as characters grant it.