Books and Movies Reviews

role of witches in macbeth

Origins, Interpretation, and Roles of the Weird Sisters in Macbeth
Often the role of the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth is overlooked by Shakespearean scholars. Macbeth is obviously a violent play about the downfall of man. However, its connections to the world of the supernatural are often disregarded. It is the only Shakespearean drama, in which witchcraft, black magic, and the supernaturaldo not merely play an important part, but provide the vital pivot on which the entire play depends. Furthermore, the complicity of the Weird Sisters is intriguing as many diverse interpretations exist concerning the origins and the role of these essential characters in Macbeth.
The belief in the existence and power of witches was widely accepted in Shakespeare’s day, as demonstrated by the European witch craze during which an estimated nine million women were put to death for being perceived to be witches (Ellwood NP). The credence in such an illogical belief was due to society’s inability to explain tragedies (i.e. illness, death, natural disasters) because of a lack of technology and knowledge that existed. It was much easier and comforting for people to blame something on a person who seemed a little out of the ordinary than to try to understand a deep scientific explanation. The practice of witchcraft was seen to subvert the established order of religion and society and hence was not tolerated. Witch hunting was considered to be a respectable, moral, and highly intellectual pursuit through much of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries (Riedel NP).
The conception of witchcraft can be divided into two discourses – “elite” and “popular” traditions. The elite tradition (also known as a “scholarly-clerical” tradition) was based upon both Church teachings and the speculations ofscholarly men and was dispersed in written form. Witches were seen as a threat to the authority of both King and God. Elitists either expla…

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