In the time that William Shakespeare lived in pracitly the whole population were strict Christians and would use demonic personas such as witches and goblins to explain any unfortunate incidents that occurred. Due to this fear and loathing many women were accused of being witches, tried and executed. This hysteria and fear can be seen in modern society although to a lesser extent with asylum seekers or immigrants for example. Using this latent fear and also king James’s interest in witchcraft Shakespeare came up with characters of the witches. In the play the play they serve as catalysts for the murder of Duncan and Macbeth’s demise as well. Shakespeare illustrates the evil intentions of the witches by using thunder as a stage direction whenever the witches are shown on stage and the description ‘A deserted place’ this gives me the impression of somewhere that people wouldn’t want go like a dark twisting forest, but could be interpreted differently depending on the directors view of the witches. This leaves a lot of scope for personal interpretation as Shakespeare does in all his plays stage directions.
When the witches give their first prediction to Macbeth and Banquo they say
” All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter”.
This immediately grabs Macbeth’s attention and sets his imagination racing, he asks the witches stay and tell him more. Banquo however says that he
“Neither beg nor fear your favours nor your hate”
by saying this Banquo is telling the witches that he doesn’t care what they say and that he isn’t desperate to hear any prophecies from them. Both Macbeth and Banquo follow through these two different reactions although they do change slightly. When Macbeth becomes ‘Thane of Cawdor’ as the witches accurately predicted he can’t quite believe it; then he begins to think about being king and what he may have to do to achieve this goal. Banquo however holds firm his belief that the witches’ prophecies are not important and are possibly deliberately misleading, he warns Macbeth
“That trusted home might enkindle you unto the crown, besides Thane of Cawdor. But ’tis strange and 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”.
With this Banquo is forewarning Macbeth that the prophices may cause him to hunger for the crown and that agents of evil (in this case the witches) tell people simple truths to make people trust them (Macbeth becoming the Thane of Cawdor), then them deceive them in important matters (Macbeth becoming becoming king) to bring about people’s damnation. This warning rings true when the witches give their second prophecy to Macbeth and make him believe that that he is somehow Invincible. Macbeth is told
” Laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”
And he believes that this means any man in the world cannot harm him. However the meaning is that no man who was born naturally can harm him, however any one born by caesarean such as Macduff can; and indeed does.
As I said above Macbeth and Banquo have contrasting opinions to the nature of the witches’ prophecies, these two points of view reflect the characters of their carriers. Macbeth who believes that the prophecies are genuine and mystical has the part of the villain in the play while Banqou who believes that the prophecies are unreliable and misleading plays the part of the fallen hero. Their reactions also show aspects of Macbeth and Banquo’s characters, Macbeth who blindly follows the prophecies has quite an unsure weak personality and seems to be prone to rash decisions and cold calculated murder. Banquo on the other hand is more cautious, stops to evaluate the situation and never takes things at face value.
Lady Macbeth is another character that acts as a catalyst for Macbeth killing Duncan Shakespeare has once again used a scary and unusual personality in lady Macbeth to shock his audience. Lady macbeth is not what the audience would expect in a ‘noble generals’ wife at all; she is in fact very much a bizarre or even evil women in the time of Shakespeare and the view of his audience. The main things that she would be considered abnormal for are the fact that she challenges her husband when he argues that they should not kill Duncan she clashes with him and says
” Art thou afeard to be in the same in thine own act and valour, as thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that which esteeem’st the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem, letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, like the poor cat I’ th’ adage?
By saying this lady Macbeth is acussing Macbeth of just making up excuses as to why they should abstain from the murder. This alone could be considered a bit audacious for a wife to say to her husband in Shakespearian times but lady Macbeth goes even further and argues
“What beast was’t then that made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst to it, then were a man”.
This argument is even more radical for a Shakespearian wife as she is accusing her husband of not being a man unless he dares to carry out the murder. This shows that lady Macbeth has the ability to take control of the situation. An example of this is that she manages persuades Macbeth to kill his king who he has sworn to protect when he suddenly changes his mind as the time to carry out the act draws near; she even as far as drugging the royal guards.
The reason that lady Macbeth would also come across as an evil character are the things that she says such as when she is trying persuade Macbeth to kill the king
“The babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, have pluk’d my nipple from his boneless gums and dash’d the brains out, had I sworn as you have done to this”.
Even in modern times to say that she would dash out the brains of her child would be considered an evil thing to say. Shakespeare also makes lady Macbeth appear evil by making the audience associate her with the witches and darkness, he does this by having lady Macbeth say things like
“Come, you sprits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty”.
This language gives the impression witches summoning a spirit. And lady Macbeth goes on to ask for darkness to cover her, she says
“Come thick night, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell that my keen knife see not the wound it makes, nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark”
This effect is counterbalanced when lady Macbeth becomes a vastly different character later in the play when lady Macbeth’s gentlewoman tells the doctor
“She has light by her continually, ’tis her command”.
This shows the audience another side lady Macbeth. I think this is done to show that lady Macbeth is not evil and regrets what she has done. This remorseful lady Macbeth along with the honourable kind Macbeth we are told about gives the play its moral; that ambition can change people if they give in to it.
In conclusion I think that the witches, lady Macbeth and Macbeth were all guilty for different crimes. I think this because Macbeth is a weak character who has latent evil inside him but wouldn’t use it without prompting. Lady macbeth was responsible for the murder of the king, as she plans the whole thing and carries out a certain amount the deed. Macbeth wouldn’t have been able to do it by himself and without her persuasion might not even have tried so she is responsible in my opinion.
The witches are responsible for the murder of Banquo, as they told Macbeth that Banquo’s children would become kings. This made Macbeth fearful and jealous and to try and keep the royal line his own he murdered Banquo. It could be argued that Macbeth would have killed him anyway because of his obvious suspicions of Macbeth’s rise to the throne, but in my opinion Macbeth would not have been fearful without the witches information.
Finally Macbeth himself, obviously responsible for all the murders although not entirely. However the murder of Macduff’s family was entirely Macbeths doing; so that is his major crime and in my view the worst crime of all as it was for no reason apart from revenge on Macduff and was just the mindless slaughter of women and children.
And the second and prevalent moral of the play is that everyone who does malevolent deeds will get their comeuppance. The examples are this are lady Macbeth who goes mad and then dies, and Macbeth who is first hated an in the ends up dying alone with no one lamenting his death.