Posted in Macbeth

How Are The Witches Presented In Macbeth?

The Witches, or the Weird Sisters, don’t appear too often in Macbeth, but they play a major role in the story, especially on the character of Macbeth.

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Here are some key points to note about their presentation in Act I, Scene I (when they make their first appearance):

  • The Witches are the first characters we meet in the play. Their link to magic and the dark arts helps Shakespeare to establish the theme of the supernatural.
  • The thunder and lightning (which is present in this scene) also helps Shakespeare to establish a tense, foreboding mood. Perfect for maintaining the reader’s attention.

Macbeth & the Presentation of the Witches.

Probably the most famous quote spoken by the Witches is:

“Fair is foul and foul is fair.”

(We explore this quote in more detail in this Quote of the Week post. Read it here). However, for now, it’s really worth noting that when we meet Macbeth for the first time (in Act I, Scene III), he basically repeats this phrase:

“So fair and foul day I have not seen.”

This similarity causes us to think about a really important question: Why would Shakespeare have Macbeth say the same thing as the Witches? What point is he trying to make?

Well, we could argue that Shakespeare uses this similarity to present the Witches as being the controllers of Macbeth’s destiny. Instead of having free will, Macbeth is, in fact, under the Witches’ spell. And if that’s true, it has important repercussions for our understanding of Macbeth and the crimes that he commits in the play.

Another interesting aspect of the Witches’ presentation in Act I, Scene III, comes from Banquo’s observations. For example, take a look at this quote:

“What are these

So withered and so wild in their attire,

That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ Earth,

And yet are on ’t?—Live you? Or are you aught

That man may question?”

When Banquo sees the Witches, he is overcome by their physical appearance. They look “withered” and “wild”, and Banquo wonders if they are from a different planet or if they are even alive.
Through these observations, Shakespeare presents the Witches as being other-worldly. They are not quite human nor are they ghosts from another realm. On one level, this links to the supernatural theme and tone of the play. But if we look deeper, the confused identity of the Witches also helps to establish the theme of deception and appearances. We never really know the Witches’ true identity, just as we never truly know if Macbeth was a victim of their spell or simply an over-ambitious man, prepared to kill to get the throne.
Like this post? Want more Macbeth quotes and analysis? Check out our study guide here.

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