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How Does Shakespeare Present the Relationship Between Macbeth and the Witches?

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Throughout the extract and the entire play, Shakespeare presents Macbeth as a superstitious character who believes in the witches and is willing to trust them when they tell him what he wants to hear, which is that his position as king will not be threatened. Through the description of the witches, Shakespeare reflects the Elizabethan beliefs in witchcraft - many Christians believed that witches were a symbol of evil and were instruments of darkness, and witches were often burned at the stake. The witches were also used as a dramatic device to terrify and engage the audience at the time as Macbeth faces a battle with evil.

In the extract, Macbeth does not want to trust the witches and curses them. After seeing the witches for the second time, Macbeth says: “Infected be the air whereon they ride;/And damn’d all those that trust them!” After Macbeth hears that Banquo’s sons will become king, he is extremely enraged because he believes that he has damned his soul and has given up his eternal life for nothing, which is emphasized by the exclamatory sentence. The hyperbole of the poisonous air adds to the Elizabethan beliefs in witchcraft, as witches were seen as evil and manipulative by the primarily Christian audience. The exclamatory sentence “damn’d all those that trust them!” is ironic because Macbeth himself believes and trusts them because the witches tell him what he wants to hear.

In the aside, Shakespeare shows that Macbeth decides to act impulsively after listening to the witches’ prophecies. For example, he writes: “The very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand.” This statement by Macbeth shows that he has decided to act impulsively and will carry out his actions as soon as he thinks of them. The witches have given Macbeth a “false sense of security”, as Hecate had hoped, and he continues to act impulsively and irrationally because he believes in the witches and doesn’t grasp that all actions have consequences. Even though the witches revealed Macbeth’s hamartia, his ambition, they are not entirely at fault because Macbeth makes the ultimate decision to kill the king and other innocent people.

The rhyming couplet later in the aside also emphasizes that Macbeth is determined to follow through with his actions: “No boasting like a fool;/ This deed I’ll do before this purpose cool.” The simile used shows that Macbeth is intent on acting on murder as soon as he thinks of it, as he believes it will help keep his crown secure. Macbeth has a strong desire to keep the crown because he believes that it will bring the desired values of an Elizabethan nobleman, such as respect and honour. Macbeth is easily influenced by the witches because of this, as he wants to know if his position as king will be protected. His desire leads him to accept that murder is necessary to keep his position as king safe, so he is willing to go against the morals he has been raised upon to murder innocent families.

Shakespeare also uses pathos to show that Macbeth is being mislead by the witches. In the aside, he writes: “His wife, his babes and all unfortunate souls”. The dramatic irony used informs the audience that Macbeth will kill Macduff’s family. Macbeth also gives no justification for murdering Macduff’s family, which characterizes him as a ruthless and unemotional character, as he willingly murders innocent people in cold blood. The use of pathos and listing shows that Macbeth is easily influenced by the witches when they tell him what he wants to hear. Macbeth was initially portrayed as an honourable man but is led astray by the temptations that the witches give him, leading him to perform dishonourable deeds. This links to the theme that appearances do not always represent the reality and presents the motif of tragedy, as Macbeth was initially honourable with a good status and marriage, but after being tempted by supernatural forces and taunted by his wife, he is pushed to perform immoral actions. Shakespeare uses Macbeth’s relationship with the witches to create tension in the plot and to portray the Witches in a negative light - the witches are illustrated to be the more dominant catalyst for Macbeth’s downfall instead of Lady Macbeth since Macbeth’s morals have been led astray by the instruments of darkness.

In the entire play, the witches are portrayed as the dominant catalyst that push Macbeth to commit unforgivable crimes. At the beginning of the play, the witches say: “fair is foul, and foul is fair.” The use of chiasmus creates a terse and cryptic atmosphere as the witches wait for Macbeth. The witches choose Macbeth and tells him half-truths because he has evil and ambition in him already, and he has the potential to do evil. Macbeth is led on by the witches and his wife’s taunting, which



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