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How Do the Witches Create an Atmosphere of Nightmare and Evil in ‘macbeth’?

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How Do the Witches Create an Atmosphere of Nightmare and Evil in ‘macbeth’?

How do the witches create an atmosphere of nightmare

And evil in ‘Macbeth’?

The play ‘Macbeth’ was written in the early seventeenth century, in a time when the English people believed very strongly in the existence of witches. A range of powers were certified to these evil beings, including the ability to see into the future, control the weather, fly and become invisible at will and communicate with the devil. The witches were believed to enjoy making human beings suffer, by causing livestock to get ill and die, for example. From the outset of this play, when three witches appear on stage, the contemporary audiences would have anticipated a plot that demonstrated just how evil such creatures could be.

In Act 1 Scene 1 Shakespeare introduces the witches immediately and this sets the tone for the rest of the play, it sets a mood of evil and supernatural influences. In this scene the witches meet close to the battlefield, this associates them with destruction and death. The first impressions we get from this scene is that there is aggressive weather which reflects their tendencies and their presence causes chaos in nature, also darkness links the witches with evil, two thirds of the play is set in the darkness. An absence of light suggests an absence of God and he is associated with light and goodness. The witches speak in rhyming couplets “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightening or in rain?” Speaking in rhyming couplets gives the impression of chanting or a spell being cast. Their control over the weather is alluded to as they discuss what it should be like the next time they meet. The witches refer to the current battle as a ‘hurly-burly’. But really this was a battle of horrific proportions that was to decide the fate of an entire country, resulting in many deaths. The witches’ description of this as a ‘hurly-burly’ suggests that they are dismissive of it, comparing it more to a childish scuffle in a playground. This shows how contemptuous they are to the affairs if man and their lack of concern at such human carnage and suffering. The witches know when the battle will be over suggesting that they may have some influence on this and reinforcing the idea that they can see into the future. They discuss their plan to meet with Macbeth, an intention that convinces the audience they mean to cause him harm. The witches’ familiars summon them, a reminder of the forces of evil they serve. The familiars were believed to be evil spirits in the form of earthly animals. The witches speak in paradoxes; ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’, this suggests that things are not always as they seem. We like Macbeth, shouldn’t take what they say at face value. The witches are ambiguous, deliberately setting out to confuse men.

In Act 1 Scene 3 the witches next appear. In the scene before the audience learnt a bit more about Macbeth, he had fought bravely in the battle and King Duncan is to reward his loyalty with the title Thane of Cawdor. This is an irony as Macbeth later betrays the king himself. This sets the scene because the next Thane of Cawdor will also be a traitor. In this scene the witches meet on the heath as they had arranged earlier, it is violent weather and sonic effect of thunder claps reinforce the nightmarish atmosphere. The witches boast about the evil deeds they have been committing e.g. killing swine and they wish to make humans suffer but killing livestock. The first witch plans revenge on a sailor whose wife refused to give her chestnuts: “in a sieve I’ll thither sail and like a rat without a tail, I’ll do, I’ll do and I’ll do.’ A sieve full of holes is so that the witches can clearly defy nature, showing how unnatural they are. The simile ‘like a rat’ would remind the Elizabethan audience of the plague, also reinforcing the impression of the witches themselves causing death and destruction. The number three was believed to have magical connotations. There are three witches; the repetition of ‘I’ll do, I’ll do and I’ll do’ stresses the witches’ supernatural powers. The witches’ control over the weather is again alluded to as the other two witches volunteer their power over the winds to assist the first witch in seeking revenge. The witches’ excitement in torturing an innocent man highlights their evil natures, the frequent references to three and multiples of three in lines 30 to 35 reinforce the idea that the witches are casting a spell. They dance three times in different directions alluding to a spell being cast just as Macbeth arrives: ‘Peace, the charm’s wound up’. His arrival brings together the two worlds of men and the supernatural. We see the conflict between the natural world of men and the unnatural world of the witches. As Banquo and Macbeth arrive, they symbolise the gathering of two complementary

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