Discuss Shakespeare's presentation of the witches in Macbeth. How dramatically effective is the presentation?

Essay by m_iria_mHigh School, 12th gradeA-, May 2004

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"Fair is foul and foul is fair". Sound familiar to you? This is a catch phrase used by witches in 'Macbeth' and is certainly not forgotten about today.

Years ago, witches were seen as a threat to a town or village, a menace and sometimes thought of as 'devils'. Yet, in 'Macbeth', the witches are given a sense of wisdom and knowledge, and are looked to for help by others. Some might even have called them Oracles. Back in the 17th century, people were either killed or tested for being witches. Most, if not all the people accused of being witches were thrown into a river and if they sunk to the bottom they weren't witches (because they were dead) or float (meaning they were witches) giving the towns people a reason to kill them. People were being accused of being witches because of cannibalism, disappearances and sometimes looking like a witch could get you burned at the stake.

Nevertheless, in 'Macbeth' the witches clearly show themselves as witches because of their looks and the fact they can do magic. They don't even give a second thought for who might hear them or see them as people in the 17th century practising witchcraft would. However, most of the people present in 'Macbeth' look only to the witches for answers. Shakespeare had a completely different view of witches than people back at the Salem trials or us.

For an audience member watching 'Macbeth' for the first time as a play, the first thing they see is the witches: small, ragged, bearded women. What do you think would be the audience's reaction? Now, after the witches have entered the scene, the audience are left in awe because of the excellent portrayal of...