Here is the answer and explanation to the question Using act 1, scene 3, write about how Shakespeare presents witchcraft and the supernatural. Include Macbeth’s reactions and how Shakespeare presents…
Using act 1, scene 3, write about how Shakespeare presents witchcraft and the supernatural. Include Macbeth’s reactions and how Shakespeare presents witchcraft and the supernatural in the play as a whole.
The witches are comical in their speech, but this is quickly replaced with a sense of horror when Macbeth and Banquo appear on the scene. The witches’ prediction that Macbeth will be named King of Scotland and that Banquo will be associated with him, as well as their foretelling of Banquo’s descendants who would rule England, increase the tension significantly. Macbeth’s reaction to the ghost, which appears at the banquet before he is made king, shows how much he fears things beyond his control. The witches could possibly have been hallucinations resulting from Macbeth’s fevered imagination or mass hysteria. But if we accept them as real, the play raises interesting questions about what is “real” versus ”
Our first impression of the witches , as with anything in Shakespeare or in drama overall, depends partly on acting, directing, lighting, production design, and the other elements of stagecraft. The words Shakespeare gives to the witches are at first a bit more comical than frightening, though most productions of…
Our first impression of the witches, as with anything in Shakespeare or in drama overall, depends partly on acting, directing, lighting, production design, and the other elements of stagecraft. The words Shakespeare gives to the witches are at first a bit more comical than frightening, though most productions of the play do not emphasize this. The sing-song manner in which the witches speak, and the eccentric things they say, create an oddly humorous tone, as in:
Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ th’ Tiger;
But in a sieve I’ll thither sail,
And like a rat without a tail,
I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.
Here I have a pilot’s thumb,
Wrecked as homeward he did come.
It is only when Macbeth and Banquo appear on the scene that things take a much darker turn, as the witches hail Macbeth successively as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and King of Scotland. Macbeth’s reaction is famously described by Banquo:
Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair?
Macbeth seems to know already, even at this point, that he cannot trust himself and that he is possibly going to embark on a killing spree. If not, there would be no reason for him to react in the way Banquo notices. The strange, puzzling message spoken by the witches to Banquo increases the generally creepy implications of the prophecy:
First Witch: Lesser than Macbeth and greater.
Second Witch: Not so happy, yet much happier.
Third Witch: Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.
So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!
The prediction concerning Banquo relates to the belief (which was current in Shakespeare’s time) that Banquo was an ancestor of the Stuarts, the ruling dynasty in England (as they continued to be in Scotland) after the death of Elizabeth I. The witches, therefore, are immediately shown to have valid knowledge of the future. Any comical impression would become more subdued at this point. But the tension between humor and horror exists in each appearance of the witches and their encounters with Macbeth. That he deliberately goes back to them to consult them later in the play shows how strongly he’s being driven on by their prophecies, unable to save himself and to break free of the horrible chain of wrongdoing that has fettered him.
Yet the additonal manifestations of the supernatural in Macbeth are, in my view, far more terrible and frightening than the witches. Banquo’s ghost, when it appears, throws Macbeth into a state of hysteria. The ghost’s face is so mangled and horrifying that Macbeth says it “would appall the devil” as he answers Lady Macbeth’s charge that he, Macbeth, is a coward and her questioning of his manliness. Since no one except Macbeth sees the ghost, it’s possible that it is, as Lady Macbeth asserts, merely a hallucination:
This is the very painting of your fear! This is the air-drawn dagger you said led you to Duncan!
Shakespeare’s theme here, and throughout the play as a whole, concerns illusion versus reality. Earlier, when Macbeth is preparing to murder Duncan, he soliloquizes about the “dagger” that appears to him out of nowhere, to which Lady Macbeth alludes in the banquet scene. He wonders himself if it is real or just a “dagger of the mind, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain.” The underlying point Shakespeare makes could be that what we consider the supernatural, in general, is actually a projection of human thought and intention. If so, however—that is, if we are to make a purely naturalistic interpretation of Macbeth—one has to ask why more than one person at times can see or hear the supposedly hallucinatory things, as Macbeth and Banquo both do with the witches. It could be mass hysteria, though this interpretation is probably a case of overthinking the situation.
An interesting additional point is that when Macbeth has been transferred to other genres, the witches or their equivalents are more frightening than in the play itself, I would argue. This is true in Kurosawa’s samurai version of the story, Throne of Blood, and in Verdi’s operatic version. In the latter, music is the dominant means of conveying emotion and meaning. In Throne of Blood, the witches are represented by a solitary, androgynous figure who quietly, almost robotically, sings its prophecy to Ishizu (Macbeth) and Miki (Banquo) in a manner more cryptic and eerie than that of Shakespeare’s witches in any production of Macbeth I have seen. The essence of Shakespeare’s poetry is that it conveys multiple meanings and implications, and many different interpretations are thus possible concerning the witches, and the supernatural in general, in Macbeth.
The witches in 1.3 are full of mischief and quick to exact revenge on those that they think have wronged them somehow. When the witches first appear, one of them says she has been off killing pigs, while another says she intends to torment a sailor because his wife refused to share her food with her.
When Banquo and Macbeth arrive, the audience learns that the witches are ugly, as Banquo comments on their skinny lips and their “beards” (1.3.48). Banquo and Macbeth have no idea where the witches have come from or where they go, but suggest that perhaps they came from a bubble in the earth and that they vanish into the wind (1.3.80-85).
Banquo and Macbeth are startled and suspicious about what the witches have to tell them, although the prophecy eventually causes Macbeth to allow his own ambition to run wild. When Macbeth has his first proof of the prophecy, he exclaims
This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success
Commencing in a truth? (1.3.142-146).
The witches don’t actually force Macbeth to do anything. Macbeth hears their words and then takes action on his own. He does play out their prophecy, but it is by his own hand and not through any action of theirs. These supernatural beings are creepy, ugly, and mysterious, but it is through Macbeth’s own faults that he becomes a murdering tyrant.
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