Period 2 English 3
The History behind the Occult in Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth accurately portrays the role of the occult in Elizabethan England, feeding into the fears of the general public. The occult held many powers over its audience, and Shakespeare’s use of the occult held both symbolic and literal value. The occult was used as a tool to introduce evil into the play through the actions and predictions of the three witches. The appearance of witches was reasonable during the Elizabethan Age and the negative connotation that came with them was widely accepted. Shakespeare also used this as a tool to illustrate the fall of Macbeth, from a great war hero to an insane tyrant and make it seem reasonable as if the only thing that could bring Macbeth down was the supernatural and evil. Macbeth is truly a product of its time showing influence from the general conception of witchcraft at the time and expertly using these beliefs to his advantage to appeal to his audience.
The occult philosophy during the Elizabethan Age was alive and well and held a great amount of power over its audience. Many of the common people feared the real threat of witchcraft and dark magic. William Perkins a writer who wrote during the Elizabethan Age reported; “Witchcraft is a rife and common sinne in these our daies, and very many are intangled with it, beeing either practitioners thereof in their owne persons, or at the least, yeelding to seeke for helpe and counsell.” (Perkins 9).
... we will talk about Shakespeare’s dramas to expose Elizabethan age. In the Elizabethan age, Shakespeare’s dramatic genius is considered incomparable. Intensity ... hooted off the stage by the uncontrollable laughter of the audience, one could now hardly understand. It is not only ... plot and theme. In his four great dramas, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and Lear, Shakespeare overcame all the difficulties which ...
Truly a product of his time, Shakespeare also shared this view of witchcraft as something unnatural and unholy; “What are these/so withered and so wild in their attire/that look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ Earth” (Shakespeare 42).
This common view is significant because previously witches and witchcraft had not had a negative connotation. Witchcraft had gained its negative connotation during the 17th century in England as a result of the bubonic plague that hit London in 1603 and other religious factors, which used witchcraft as a scapegoat. Shakespeare, who wrote Macbeth sometime form 1603-1607, reflected the fears of the general public by portraying witches as unnatural and evil.
Shakespeare used the general belief and negative connotation of witchcraft as a tool to introduce evil into the play. The role of the three witches throughout Macbeth is one of guidance not simple ambivalence. The witches do not simply foretell the future, they have a hand in it. They are able to control the actions of Macbeth and other main characters by perverting their predictions. By presenting predictions that fill Macbeth with false confidence, the witches are able to shape the decisions Macbeth makes;
Be bloody be bold, and resolute! Laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth. (Shakespeare 97)
This prediction comes to backfire on Macbeth, as Macduff, born through caesarian section, eventually murders Macbeth. This intervention serves to support the assertion that the witches are deceitful and not simply predictors of the future, but they have their own personal agendas regarding the fall of Macbeth. The witches are the single force pushing the play forward, ensuring the progress of their own goals; “They are Fate’s master conspirators, appearing at ever crucial event, like a network of spies, hiding in the shadows, mixing with the crowd, assuming new identities, always ensuring that the action moves forward according to an unseen master plan.” (De Rose 404).
... in the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, and especially in the character Lady Macbeth. In the play, she takes the role of the evil manipulator with ... the prophecies told by the Three Witches become true. In Act I, Lady Macbeth begins her evil decline by manipulating and trying to ...
Shakespeare, as a product of his time, wrote the play with the mindset that witchcraft was inherently evil, and therefore, in the play, the witches are the true culprit behind all of the evil in Macbeth.
As the harbinger of evil the witches’ purpose is not some drawn out plan in which they benefit in any way, but rather their purpose is simply to cause turmoil and distress. We the readers get to peek in to the motives of the witches in scenes where the witches are in private, and on many occasions they show their true motive, “And I, the mistress of your charms/the close contriver of all harms” (Shakespeare 91).
As the quote suggests the witches are the contriver of all harms and that is their duty. This view is shaped by the actual treatment of witchcraft during the Elizabethan Age where witch trials and witch hunts were somewhat ordinary. With the progress made in the Elizabethan Age also came the rise of accusations of witchcraft; “Ironically, this period of great learning [The Elizabethan Age] brought with it a renewed belief in the supernatural including a belief in the powers of witchcraft, witches and witch hunts” (Smithson 17).
Shakespeare used the witches to bring evil into the play because he saw their true role as beings bent on creating turmoil and distress which was probably shaped by the view of the general public during the Elizabethan Age which saw a large increase in superstition and things like witch hunts and trials.
Starting from the very beginning a relationship between Macbeth and the witches is shown. Shakespeare creates this relationship in order to show Macbeth’s tie to evil and his eventual downfall to the witches. From the very beginning of the novel Shakespeare creates a very obvious connection in the form of the language of the two characters; “Fair is foul, and foul is fair…So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” (Shakespeare 37, 42).
Shakespeare purposely created this connection and created a; “a close and mysterious connection between the hero, and the supernatural hags is established…” (Kranz 346).
The close literal relationship that Shakespeare created only serves to further the understanding of the role of the witches as the root of all evil in Macbeth. All Macbeth’s evil and wrongdoings can be tied to his closest counterpart in the play, the witches. The close literal relationship may also be a clever tool implemented by Shakespeare to get the reader to begin to think of both Macbeth and the witches on the same wavelength.
Comment on Shakespeare's presentation of Macbeth, focusing on your selection of two relevant scenes At the beginning of the play Macbeth is presented as ... his wife says but he is also persuaded by the evil female witches. The role of a man was to make all ... beat rhythm which the witches speak in. This relevant as it shows us the evil in him. Macbeth believes what the witches tell him.
The commonplaceness of witches as previously discussed and their role in society during Shakespeare’s time all benefited Shakespeare, who not only used witches as a tool to introduce evil into the story but to make the fall of Macbeth seem reasonable to his reader. Macbeth at the beginning of the book was described as a war hero who seemed flawless;
“Brave Macbeth, laughing at Luck, chopped his way through to Macdonald, who didn’t even have time to say good-bye or shake hands before Macbeth split him open from his navel to his jawbone and stuck his head on our castle walls.” (Shakespeare 34)
Shakespeare used the witches to make the fall of Macbeth seem reasonable. Nothing could have taken down Macbeth from a great hero to a horrid tyrant except for the supernatural. Along with making the play reasonable to his audience, as previously stated the use of witches was perfectly acceptable; “As dramatic symbols, Shakespeare’s Weird Sisiters seem to be preeminently adequate and successful. In appearance, speech, and action they seem intended to suggest accurately such witches and witchcraft as were familiar to the Elizabethan public.” (Curry, 1).
The witches were not only used as a tool to introduce evil but they served a unique binding purpose as well making the play believable and more able to resonate with Shakespeare’s audience.
In conclusion, Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is truly a product of its time, showing influence from Elizabethan Age common thinking about witchcraft, its power, regularity, and role. The play accurately portrays the general thought about witchcraft and witches. Because of its general view and acceptance, Shakespeare uses witchcraft to both introduce evil into the play as well as to make the play more reasonable to his 17th century reader. By portraying the common view on witchcraft in England during the Elizabethan Age and expertly using the general view to his advantage through his storytelling Shakespeare not only made the play historically accurate and reasonable for his time he also made the play more accepted by his audience.
... plot can follow. Many Elizabethan beliefs about witchcraft and witches are illustrated in the play ‘Macbeth’ in order to entertain and thrill ... , without the King’s permission and acceptance of the play, Shakespeare would not have been allowed to perform it. The author ...