Essay on The Power of the Witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth

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The Power of the Witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth

The tragedy of Macbeth comes about because of a single event in his life. If that one moment, the meeting with the witches on the heath, had not happened then Macbeth would no doubt have gone on to be a loyal and respected subject of King Duncan and, later, King Malcolm. However, the meeting did happen and the powerful force of ambition was unleashed within Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It is the combination of these two factors, the meeting with the witches and Macbeth's own inner demons, that lead to tragedy, and make the play 'terrifying' in the Aristotelian sense.

The three witches are certainly responsible for initiating the events that lead to Macbeth's tragedy.
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There can be little doubt that the witches are exploiting the situation for their own evil ends and are using "honest trifles" to win Macbeth to harm, but given the limited nature of their powers, it is hard to say that they are responsible for Macbeth's later actions.

Like the witches, Lady Macbeth is crucial to the actual accomplishment of Macbeth's crime. Without her, Macbeth would not have carried out the murder in the first place - "we shall go no further in this business" - and without her timely interventions in gilding the groom's faces with blood and conveniently fainting when Macduff's questions become too insistent, it is unlikely that he would have got away with it. She seems to be just as ambitious as her husband and the plan to kill Duncan is largely hers. She overcomes Macbeth's scruples by both encouragement and scorn:

Macbeth Pr'ythee, peace!

I dare do all that may become a man;

Who dares do more is none.

Lady Macbeth What beast was't, then,

That made you break this enterprise to me?

When you durst do it, then you were a man;

And, to be more than what you were, you would

Be so much more the man.

Also like the witches, Lady Macbeth calls explicitly on the power of evil and asks to be filled with "direst cruelty" in order to overcome the "milk o' human kindness" that is too prevalent

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