Explore the impact of the witches in Macbeth’s Act One Scenes One and Three Essay

The aim of this essay is to explore what impact the witches had in Act I, scenes I and III. This will be achieved by analysing the setting and atmosphere, considering the language used by the witches, the audience and the main events which occur.

One of the most important things that Shakespeare had to think about when writing his plays where his audience. We can see that he has chosen specific words and phrases to impress, shock, frighten and keep their attention. It must be realised, that the majority of people watching his plays, were not very wealthy, and had to stand up during them. This meant Shakespeare had to keep their attention through the whole of the play. The audience during Elizabethan time were much more rowdy and more active then the audience in modern day theatres. If they were not impressed or satisfied they would heckle or throw things such as vegetables at the characters and also ‘boo’. Macbeth was based very much on what was happening around the time which Shakespeare wrote it.

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Such things as, witches, had a major impact upon this play. Throughout Shakespeare’s life, witches and witchcraft was the object of morbid and fevered fascination. Another reason Shakespeare used witches in this play are because he was aware King James I would be seeing it and knew it would impress. King James was petrified of witches, but also very interested in them and even wrote his own book about them. The amount of information which we get from Scene one is also something to consider as it is such a small scene.

To begin with, let us look at the atmosphere which Shakespeare has made at the beginning of the play. He uses thunder to immediately grab the audience’s attention and to make them silent. The thunder also makes a connection to the witches, as they were known for being the creators of bad weather. To make the thunder effect, Shakespeare probably used a cannon ball and smoke. Also the setting Shakespeare uses, ‘A desolate Place’ creates an unnatural atmosphere and puzzles the audience. In the first line ‘When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning or rain’, it implies they can change the weather. It also implies they have met before. The second witch replies to the first witch by saying ‘ when the hurly-burly’s done, when the battles lost and won’ , which first of all shows the witches rhyming and creating a sort of chant , but also saying that the battle they are discussing, will be lost and won. This is a paradox and is used to confuse the audience and make them think. When they refer to hurly-burly, it is also confusing as to whether they are talking about the battle or the weather.

In the next sentence, the third witch says ‘that will be ere the set of sun’ which implies she can predict the future, and as the audience have not been told these people are witches they are getting numerous hints as to the fact that they are , as normal people cannot predict the future. Then there are further predictions made when the third witch says ‘to meet with Macbeth’. This is also the first time the audience has any information about Macbeth, and as it is the witches who first mention him, it makes the audience immediately think that ‘Macbeth’ is maybe an evil person , and in some way connected to the witches. They then talk about ‘Greymalkin’ and ‘Paddock calls’.

These are the familiars calling to them, which again emphasises the fact that they are witches. When the witches are leaving, they begin to chant. It is also noticed that through the play, it tends to be only them who rhyme. Their chant ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair, Hover through the filthy air’ is again a paradox when they say ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ which again confuses the audience. It is also shocking to the audience as it basically means ‘good is bad and bad is good’, and it emphasises how evil they are. Shakespeare has also used alliteration within the sentence through the letter ‘f’ ‘fair, foul, foul, fair and filthy which makes the sentence stand out and creates an atmosphere of eeriness. ‘Filthy air’, suggests a link between later scenes when ‘Macbeth’ murders the king, and the blood which does not seem to disappear from his hands. This scene is also made up of short sentences, which gives the effect that the witches are in a rush and are meeting quickly.

Looking at Scene III, Thunder is again used, which will be making the audience once again deadly silent and expecting the witches to appear. It is also set in a Heath, which is again unnatural and links to the witches. Shakespeare uses tripling in the fifth line ‘munched, and munched, and munched’ which emphasises the motion of the person who was eating the chestnuts. We also see that witch one, had killed someone simply because a sailor’s wife would not give her chestnuts. The power the witch had to do this implies they can do anything.

Before ‘Macbeths’ arrival, the third witch says ,

“A drum, a drum;

Macbeth doth come.”

which is used to announce ‘Macbeths’ arrival.

“A drum, a drum”, is also an onomatopoeia, which Shakespeare has used to create suspense within the audience as they have not yet seen him and are probably expecting someone who looks very threatening. ‘Macbeth’ is now introduced in to the play. The way which he is brought in to it, is quite shocking as his first words, are that which are used by the witches in scene I.’ So foul and fair a day I have not seen’ , which again creates a link between him and the witches and makes the audience believe that ‘Macbeth’ is evil and dark. When ‘Macbeth’ sees the witches he says ‘Live you, or are you aught’. This means ‘Macbeth’ is asking them if there are real because he has not seen people like them before.

The witches then make their predictions to ‘Macbeth’. They predict he will be Thane of Cawdor, and eventually King. This makes ‘Macbeth’ think the only way which he can do this is to kill the present king. At the beginning of the play in Act I scene III, ‘Macbeth’ comes across as being valiant, brave and noble, and when he changes his character, to murder , it suggests that it is the witches impact on him which makes him change so rapidly. He has been told what is going to happen to him, and therefore he wants it. The audiences reaction to this scene that what the witches had predicted starts to come true, makes them realise the witches power. After the witches predictions, Banquo expresses that he is not afraid of ‘Macbeth’ and thinks a lot of him.

He asks the witches that if they can tell ‘Macbeth’ his future, to tell him his. They proceed to tell him he will be “Lesser than Macbeth, yet great.” “Not So happy, yet much happier” .This again is using paradox, and confuses the audience. They say his children will be kings, but as ‘Macbeth’ has just been told he will be King, this seems impossible and confuses Banquo and ‘Macbeth’. ‘Macbeth’ then makes a speech about how it is ridiculous to be told he may be thane of Cawdor as he is still alive, yet alone be the King. The witches then vanish, which once more, grabs the audiences’ attention and leaves them puzzled as to where they have disappeared to.

Later, Angus and Ross appear, to tell ‘Macbeth’ that the King has asked for him to become the Thane of Cawdor. This shows that the witches’ predictions are coming true, and makes ‘Macbeth’ realise he might actually become the King. When he is told this he says “what, can the devil speak true?’. This shows him referring to the witches as devils, as he believes they are not real. Through the whole of these two scenes, ‘Macbeth’ does not once quote them as being witches.

‘Macbeth’ later says, ‘If chance will have me king, why chance may crown me without my stir” meaning that if fate says he will become king, then he will leave it to fate to decide what happens. Therefore saying that he will do nothing about what he has been told.

In Scene III, line 7, Shakespeare uses the simile “and like a rat without a tail” to create a picture of what is happening. There are many Soliloquies used within these two scenes such as the one by ‘Macbeth’ in lines 127-141 which is describing how ‘Macbeth’ is feeling about what he has just been told.