My essay is going to focus on the role of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I am going to look at how the witches are portrayed in the play and how they represented through various different mediums. In order to do this I will initially consider the written text and then I will compare this to the portrayal and influence of the witches through the video version.
Introduction to Shakespeare:
William Shakespeare was born in the year 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of eighteen (1582) he got married to Anne Hathaway. One year later he had his first child. It was a girl. After another two years he had another two children. They were twins. In 1588 he moved house to London, to act out his plays. In 1592 the theatres close in London due to the plaque. The theatres reopened two years later and Shakespeare could start acting his plays. Some of his most popular plays include Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and hamlet. In the year 1613 the globe theatre burned down. Three years later William Shakespeare died and he became more famous than what he was before.
Introduction to Witchcraft:
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st the public were increasingly preoccupied with witchcraft. A law came into force making murder by witchcraft punishable by death. It is estimated that in Scotland alone 8,000 witches were burned to death. An additional law was passed in Scotland, which declared that anyone found guilty of practising witchcraft should be executed.
People in the 16th century believed that witches could predict the future and when the witches in Act 1 Scene 3 they predicted the future they said “All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.” Macbeth, like most people of the time, believed in witches and so took seriously what they said.
We can tell that there are three witches, the three ‘Weird sisters’. We know from the stage directions that the witches usually meet Macbeth on the heath or any rate a very desolate place. Thunder generally accompanies any appearances the witches make and both these features enhance our opinion of these evil, unnatural creatures. We assume from the text that the witches represent evil and unnatural elements because of what we know about the presence of the witches and the preconceived idea people had of them in the sixteenth century.
The witches had their own style of specking and it is difficult to grasp sometimes exactly what they are talking about. We can tell however that the strange and jumbled way in which they communicate reflects their mysterious, anti-social behaviour. From reading the text we generally tend to imagine the witches as filthy hags who plot and carry out evil deeds.
The video version of the play reinforces this idea about Macbeth. The video goes a step further however; it presents us with a very visual image of these creatures and provides an almost tangible element of supernatural to the whole play. Evidently there are various ways in which the witches might have been portrayed but fairly traditionally they appear in this film version as the ‘old hags’.
The witches on the video wore dull, ragged and dirty clothes. They were all ripped torn and old.
Their facial expressions were frowning, like they were sad. They had wrinkled faces, like they were old and a withered appearance as if they were poor tramps.
The witches body language was like they had no energy as they moved slowly like the way a cat would.
The way they talked was squeaky and high pitched like a mouse.
The background at the scene was night and it was an open space with wind blowing through their greasy hair.
We meet the witches mainly in Act 1 Scene 3 and Act 4 Scene 1. They appear to initiate and reinforce the notice of the supernatural. We might say that they symbolise the beginning of Macbeth’s downfall. It is in Act 1 where Macbeth meets the witches, believes their predictions and begins to take matters into his own hands. We might say that this is the exact point where things began to go wrong for Macbeth, the witches have initiated the evil and destruction in this character.
Again in Act 4 where the witches reveal the premonitions to Macbeth we see very evidently the element of the supernatural, the role of the witches at play again.
This is evident in both the written text and the film version of the play. Macbeth is once again under totally willing to believe the witch’s premonitions. They again represent the element of evil as Macbeth is warned against Malcolm’s comeback. He starts to plot and plan.
Having looked at the film version of the play I think it enhances the role the witches play in Macbeth. I think it adds to the enjoyment of the play. It also helps to broaden our awareness of the role of the supernatural in the sixteenth century by presenting us with very visual images of an uncanny concept. Overall I found the video a helpful and informative aid to appreciating Shakespeare’s Macbeth.