‘What do you think is the significance of the witches in Macbeth?’ GOTHIC ESSAY

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`What do you think is the significance of the witches in Macbeth?'
The witches within Shakespeare's `Macbeth' can be interpreted as providing a
number of roles within the play which add not only to the plot but also to the
atmosphere and fear evoked within the audience. Within the Jacobean period in
which `Macbeth' was first performed, witches were the subject of much public
hysteria and superstition, with the King's own beliefs being based on a long
history of Christian paranoia about witchcraft. As a result, the witches can be
seen as a supernatural influence within the play, linking them to the devil and
other dark forces and playing on the real and current fears of what may have
been a dominantly Christian audience. In this respect, a modern Gothic reading
can be applied to the novel.
The supernatural power of the witches is one of the first elements highlighted
within the play, as in Scene 3 Banquo states they can `look into the seeds of
time/And say which grain will grow and which will not.' Therefore, from the
outset the witches are highlighted as the fortune-tellers within the story, who
hold an otherworldly power to see into the future. This gives them a greater
level of power than the surrounding humans, and such power in the wrong
hands may have created a sense of unease and unpredictability within the
audience. Additionally, it is this power to tell the fortune which creates the
catalyst for the play and leads to Macbeth's moral deterioration: `All hail,
Macbeth! That shalt be King hereafter!' Thus, the witches can be seen to play the
role of the typical villains through their manipulation of Macbeth, turning him
from a `worthy gentleman' into a brutal murderer. However, there is also
contradictory argument that in reality, the witches do not hold any true
superiority of power and that it is instead the planting of the idea in Macbeth's
mind which leads him to commit murder through the growth of his own `dark
desires.' This is exemplified further as Banquo suggests `oftentimes, to win us to
our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to
betray's in deepest consequence.' Following this interpretations, the witches may
be interpreted as having less power as they merely suggest an idea, and it is the
desire and drive of the human mind which instead leads to Macbeth's downfall.
This interpretation may also be considered particularly frightening both to a
Jacobean and a modern audience as it follows the modern Gothic stereotype of
playing on the realistic fears of humans, such as the power of our deep and
potentially repressed desires.
Furthermore, the witches can also be seen to play a part in destabilising the
typical gender roles of men and women within Jacobean society. Banquo states:

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You should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.'
The `beards' of the witches bring about confusion as to whether the witches are
female or male, and deconstruct the opposition between both genders. This
ambiguity leads to the witches failing to fall into either category, which further
highlights the unnatural nature to them as they do not fit within the realms of
human and social convention.…read more

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