An Analysis of the Use of Threes in William Shakespeare's "Macbeth"

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Bad Luck Happens in Threes: An Analysis of the use of Threes in William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

Since the Mesopotamian era of 3000 B.C. numbers have been an essential part of life and are easily found throughout society, imbedded in religion, intertwined in mythology and commonly related with superstitions. Even in the twenty-first century people still believe in ancient numerical superstitions, such as the lucky number seven, or the unlucky number thirteen. During the seventeenth century William Shakespeare uses societal superstitions in his famous tragedy, “Macbeth”, by writing in a threefold literary pattern. Shakespeare reinvents the number three by relating in to evil and darkness throughout the play, providing it with a new
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Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis! / All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! / All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!” (I.iii. 51-53). Three greetings that seem so fair “of noble having and of royal hope” (I.iii.59) are sure to turn foul. The greetings mimic the common greeting of the New Testament, “All Hail” (Matthew 28.9). In Matthew 26.49, Judas prepares to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin and Roman soldiers. His plan is to identify Jesus by greeting him with a kiss so that the soldiers will know which man to arrest. Judas approaches Jesus, saying, "Hail Master". The witches greet Macbeth in a similar fashion, and, as Judas betrayed Jesus, so do the witches betray Macbeth. This mirroring comparison shows Shakespeare cutting all biblical and holy beliefs in the number three, using religious evidence to eliminate the idea that three is a number of stability. Shakespeare even has his three witches speak in contradictions to create moral confusion and increase the presence of evil, such as when the witches characterize Banquo as “lesser than Macbeth, and greater” (I.iii.68). After stirring up quite a bit of trouble, the witches vanquish, not to be seen again until the first scene of the fourth act.
The signal to begin their evil incantations is brought to the witches by three meows of a “brinded cat” (IV.i.1). Again, the witches take turns, speaking in a threefold pattern, taking
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