Unlike today, back in the 15/16th century witches were regarded very seriously, as the inciters of plagues, evil and misfortune, unlike now, where the witches appear like a joke rather than a serious matter. Witches were supposed to possess all sorts of weird powers to be able to tell the future and control humans. At that time witches and evil were seen as being a synonymous, as witches were meant to be in direct contact with the devil himself. Clear evidence of this appears when the three Witches come together in Act I, scene 3; where they discuss what one of them had done to a certain woman, who refused to give some chestnuts to her to eat:
A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap,
And munch’d, and munch’d, and munch’d: ‘Give
Me,’ quoth I…
And thrice again, to make up nine.
Peace! The charm’s wound up.
What we see here, is how easy it is to anger the witches, and the fact that they will want to cast revenge to who ever upsets them. In my view it is clear that along with the fact that they are easily angered, they will also go out of their way to make sure that that person will not have an easy life. What this implies is their ability to effect people’s lives, with powers. In turn we are made to believe that they have some influence from the Devil, or Hecat.
This image of the Hecat is powerful, as in a way it is the root of Macbeth’s downfall. This deduction arises form the fact that if you follow down the line of people who have influenced Macbeth, we will eventually arrive to the Hecat, who happened to be also the goddess of the moon.
Due to the passing down of popular myths, we now know that witches took part in certain rituals called ‘Sabbats’ or in Modern English known as Satanic Rites. From this sprung the ideas that witches hunted down mortals, ate human flesh, and met up with other witches to perform rituals. In the film by Roman Polanski, Macbeth, we get a very strong image of witches as being extremely ugly, bad mannered and very vile. Images are many which reflect these ideas. But most definitely that which I thought stood out the most; was when Macbeth enters the witches ruined house. Within the house are a conglomeration of other witches, they are all together dancing around a cauldron. Macbeth has come here to find out more about his future. Polanski manages to convey a great sense of putridity and evil. He achieves this by filming at one point with a far objective, then zooming on individual people. The characters of the witches are all played by old women, who are naked. Their hair is made to look greasy, and shabby. And if we to compare this film scene to the actual play, I felt that it gives a very vivid reality to the play.
And from these rituals which often involved cooking things, comes the popular idea of the cauldron which now a days is always associated with witches. Witches were also meant to have demons as their servants often appearing in the shapes of animals, having taken on this form to do the witches’ wishes. The most popular animal, which appears in folk-law, is the cat, which once again has been passed down until now, where the black cat is the standard witch partner.
James I, the king of England and Scotland at the time of the play and the patron of Shakespeare’s playhouse, had very strong feelings on the topic of witches. It almost lead him into insanity, and much of his paranoia was reflected in the church’s’ mass witch-hunting sprees. Clearly this was to please the king, who obviously was his greatest supporter. Therefore what Shakespeare was trying to achieve was to emphasise the power of the church which was again the most powerful institution at the time which ran every facet of life at the time. Evidently it was more complicated that this, as the politics involved were to say the least simple.
How would we consider witches now a days, I clearly very different to how they were thought five hundred years ago. Many at the time they were considered and referred to as inciters of plagues, and evil, and were directly connected to the Devil. A child at the time would have been just have been afraid of the name, let alone the idea that they actually existed. But today I would say the opposite effect has managed to drift into our lives. Children laugh at the idea of witches, and multi-million companies take advantage, and commercialise them. Therefore it is slightly hard for us to understand the message which Shakespeare was trying to achieve. A good comparison for today’s standards would surely be films such as Hell-Raiser, or Nightmare on Elm Street.
We are immediately made aware of the intensity and climax of the situation. The play opens with the affect of ‘thunder and lightning’ which obviously creates the tension and one could say fear. ‘Thunder and lighting. Enter the three witches’, such weather was when daemons and witches were meant to be the most active; the audience would already know this intensifying the atmosphere. Shakespeare is trying to achieve in this opening part of the play was the feeling of confusion, leads to the feeling of fear rising: ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.’ As you can see in this quotation, what Shakespeare was trying to convey was the sense of evil and putridity.
That all three witches say this at the same time gives the audience a sense of anticipation, not actually knowing what is happening, anxious for more. Although this was the original expectations that Shakespeare desired, in Macbeth, by Roman Polanski, a different opening is proposed. There is no thunder, rain and it is not shot at night. Polanski presents a beach shot where the three witches meets together and cast a spell on a poor soul. We see the camera panning in form a distance on the three figures of the witches. The wind is blowing, and it seems to be early morning, and I felt a sense of uncertainty, I did not really understand what was happening. We then see the three witches’ faces, disfigured, scared. Truly unholy sights as they perform a spell of some sort. In my view this was done, as now a days the same effect probably cannot be reproduced. But Polanski manages some amazing camera shots which really catch the moment and the feelings. Being the opening scene I found it to be a very emotional and make you start thinking about a lot of things. Who are they? What are they doing? What is going to happen? This is a very able thing to do, as it leaves the audience wondering, and most importantly thinking what will happen next.
Act I, scene III, The witches’ arrival is once again announced by thunder, like a doorbell, the alert the audience that the witches have arrived. In the in this scene we are reminded about the evil and cruel habits witches have when the first witch asks the second, where she had been: ‘Killing Swine’. One could say that Swine is a simile for humans, which therefore is even more evidence to how witches consider human beings, as low as pigs. But on the other hand you could consider it more literally, as the fact that the witches kill swine, pigs, for the joy of inducing annoyance and suffering to the people. We are then reminded of the malice of witches, when the first witch is not given a chestnut. This enrages the witch who curses the woman’s husband:
I myself have found the other.
And the… be tempest-tossed.
The witches are easily angered and severe in their punishments are: and the all this is being done because of a miserly chestnut. This intensify the witches’ presence on stage, as being one of great evil and bringers of pain and suffering.
This is followed by the third witch announcing ‘A drum! A drum! Macbeth doth come!’ These words are very powerfully, firstly because of the rhythm, to get the attention of the people, and the use of rhyming within the sentence. Much like when speakers at political rallies. Speaking slowly and with a certain rhythm, the good politicians manage to keep the audience going and interested. It is done as if to awaken the people for the arrival of the main character.
After a few preliminary exchanges of speech, the witches say three very important things, which to me are the most important things in the play, as it is the beginning of Macbeth’s down fall:
‘FIRST WITCH: All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee Thane of Glamis!
SECOND WITCH: All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee Thane of Cawdor!
THIRD WITCH: All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!’
One could say that this is the most important speech in the play. It is the seed of Macbeth’s downfall, and what triggered the whole of the play’s continuation as a tragedy. One could debate whether the meaning of this speech is not something of Macbeth’s concoction, and imagining the presence of the witches. Although we could perfectly argue this point, we have to remember the presence of Banquo, he to sees the witches, and they to tell him his future. Therefore we are faced by two futures, which interact and clash at a junction. The wording is very powerful, direct, and to the point. Looking at the rhythm you get a sense that there is pace to it, slowly building up for the third witch to say that he will be the King. Shakespeare tends to arrange the witches to speak in turn; their expression is given a greater edge by the fact that they seem to know each other’s mind and predict what each of them will be about to say. He gives the audience a sense that these witches are out of this world and that their abilities and powers are like nothing the audience had ever seen.
The rhythm of speech between the three mainly consists of a series of short lines, which are usually in the form of statements, emphasising the certainty with which they act. Notice the sense of ‘one’ and repeated use of trebles. This can almost always be seen whenever the witches speak. This in my view is done again to emphasise the idea of repetition and making their point clear.
From the moment Macbeth meets them, he learns of his future, and a sense of desire and wanting everything overcomes him. This makes him kill his very own king. But interestingly enough the fact that although Banquo also learns the truths about his future, he does nothing, almost to show the self-control and keep a straight mind. Or one could argue that Macbeth’s actually psyche has been taken control over by the witches. All the events have had some sort of influence by the witches, so one could say the witches are the creators of the tragedy of Macbeth. But the reason why the witches actually introduced themselves to the play was, in my view, is the best way for Shakespeare to show how the inner conscience is able to take control over someone.
And the witches are merely metaphors of what happens within Macbeth’s head. This may seem in some way to be applicable but does not actually give reason for the fact that Banquo had also seen them. This therefore makes me think whether there isn’t just another and more subtle meaning to the play. By looking at it now, with a further understanding and having analysed it, I get the impression the play revolves around the idea of power. Banquo, in my view must have felt something as well when he heard that one of his descendants would become king. So in a way he too must have had some sort of ideas running through his head, which seems likely as he to was a fine worrier and didn’t quite understand why all this ‘luck’ was appearing before Macbeth. But probably the defining factor was their personality. The witches must have seized these little factors and gave them different futures.