- Three Witches
The Three Witches (also known as the Weird Sisters) are supernatural characters created by
William Shakespearein his play " Macbeth". Many of their actions and traits are drawn from " Holinshed's Chronicles"—a popular history of the British Isles in Shakespeare's day—as well as from the Nornsof Scandinavian legend and the three fates of both Latin and Greek mythology. In Macbeth, The witches inform Macbeth that he is destined to be king, and although they help him gain the throne by urging him towards bloody, ambitious acts and showing him visions of his fate, their guidance ultimately leads to his destruction.
The Witches' dark and contradictory nature is believed by many scholars to set the tone of the play. For a contemporary Shakespearean audience, their presence would have represented rebellion and treason in their worst sense. The manner in which the witches tempt Macbeth to his deeds matches the manner in which many at the time argued the devil tempted man. This belief held that he worked by placing a thought in a mind and allowing its growth into act. Not all witch scenes in the play are thought to have been written by Shakespeare; several may have been lifted directly from "
The Witch" by Thomas Middleton.
In the 18th century, as Shakespearean as well as supernatural art began to become popular, the witches were portrayed in a variety of different ways by artists such as
Henry Fuseli. Since then, their role has proven somewhat difficult for many directors to portray, due to the tendency to make their parts exaggerated or overly sensational. Some have adapted the original "Macbeth" into different cultures, as in Orson Welles' performance making the witches voodoo priestesses, among others. Film performances have also taken liberties, turning the witches into characters familiar to the modern world, such as hippies on dope, or goth schoolgirls. Their influence reaches the literary realm as well in such works as " The Third Witch" and even the Harry Potterseries.
Early representations of the women were based on the
Nornsof Scandinavian legend and the fates of Latin and Greek mythology. [Tolman, Albert H. "Notes on Macbeth." "PMLA." (1896) 11.2 pp. 200-219] Shakespeare's main source for their appearance "Macbeth" was taken from Raphael Holinshed's 1577 "Chronicles". In this history of Britain, Scotland and Ireland, the Three Witches are depicted as dressed "in strange and wild apparell, resembling creatures of elder world."Kliman, 14.] The women in Holinshed's work utter in many places exactly the same words as Shakespeare gives them in his play. The place where Macbeth and Banquo first meet the witches is commonly known as Macbeth's Hillock, known to be an area near Forresat the mouth of the River Findhornin Scotland. Traditionaly, Forres is believed to be the living-place of both Duncan and Macbeth. [Ayto, John et.al. Brewer's Britain & Ireland. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005. ISBN 9780304353859 pp. 435.]
The witches appear in the first act of Shakespeare's Macbeth, when they are shown deciding whether to meet with Macbeth in the aftermath of a battle. Two scenes later the witches stop Macbeth and
Banquoas they return from the battle and hail Macbeth as a great king and ruler. They deem Banquo as a "lesser" than Macbeth, yet still great and prophesy that Banquo will never be King, though his children will be. Macbeth pleads with the witches to explain, but they disappear before answering. [Cross, 11]
After a brief appearance in Act three, in which the witches meet with
Hecate, they appear again in Act four. At the beginning of the first scene of the act, they are shown singing around a cauldron brew. Macbeth appears, but by this point he has become King through a series of murders and intrigues. The witches advise Macbeth to be more bloody, murderous and aware of Macduff. They make clear that Macbeth cannot be harmed by a man born of woman, [Cross, 107] and reveal to Macbeth that his kingdom will not fall "until the trees of the forest come up to his castle walls". The Witches show visions of Banquo and the lines of his descendants; all kings. The womens' prophecies come true; Macduff cuts the trees to use as camouflage for his army as they approach the fortress. A battle occurs where he and Macbeth meet and it is revealed that Macduff was not "born of woman", but instead "untimely ripp'd" from his mother's womb. [Cross, 121] At this point, Macbeth is slain by Macduff, and the kingdom taken.
In the play, the Three Witches represent darkness, chaos, and conflict, while their role is as agents and witnesses. Their presence communicates treason and impending doom. During Shakespeare's day, witches were seen as worse than rebels, "the most notorious traytor and rebell that can be." They were not only political traitors, but spiritual traitors as well. Much of the confusion that springs from them comes from their ability to straddle the play's borders between reality and the supernatural. They are so deeply entrenched in both worlds that it is unclear whether they control fate, or whether they are merely its agents. They defy logic, not being subject to the rules of the real world. [Coddon, Karin S. "'Unreal Mockery': Unreason and the Problem of Spectacle in Macbeth." "ELH". (Oct 1989) 56.3 pp. 485-501.] The witches' lines in the first act: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air" are often said to set the tone for the remainder of the play by establishing a sense of confusion. Indeed, the play is filled with situations in which evil is depicted as good, while good is rendered evil. The line "Double, double toil and trouble," (often sensationalized to a point that it loses meaning), communicates the witches' intent clearly: they seek to only trouble for the mortals around them.
While the witches do not directly advise Macbeth to kill King Duncan, they use a subtle form of temptation when they inform Macbeth that he is destined to be king. By placing this thought in his mind, they effectively guide him on the path to his own destruction. This follows the pattern of temptation many believed the
Devilused at the time of Shakespeare. First, they argued, a thought is put in a man's mind, then the person may either indulge in the thought or reject it. Macbeth indulges in it, while Banquo rejects.Frye, Roland Mushat. "Launching the Tragedy of Macbeth: Temptation, Deliberation, and Consent in Act I." "The Huntington Library Quarterly". (Jul 1987) 50.3 pp. 249-261]
Several of the witches' parts are thought to have been added after the original play's completion around
1618using text from " The Witch". The text in question involves Hecateand the Three Witches in Act III, scene v, and Act IV, scene i, lines 39-43 and 125-32, and includes two songs. [Evans, G. Blakemore, textual editor. "The Riverside Shakespeare." Boston, Houghton and Mifflin, 1974. pp. 1340-1.]
William Davenant's version of the play added a scene in which the Witches tell Macduff and his wife of their future. He also added several lines to their parts before Macbeth's entrance in Act four. Most of these lines were taken directly from Thomas Middleton's play " The Witch". David Garrickkept these added scenes in his 18th-century version. [Fiske, Roger. "The 'Macbeth' Music." "Music & Letters." (Apr 1964) 45.2 pp. 114-125] Horace Walpolecreated a parody of "Macbeth" in 1742 entitled "The Dear Witches" in response to political problems of his time. The witches in his play are played by three everyday women who manipulate political events in England through marriage and patronage, and manipulate elections in order to have Macbeth made Treasurer and Earl of Bath. In the final scene, the which gather around a cauldron and chant "Double, double, Toil and Trouble / parties burn and Nonsense bubble." In their concoction they throw such things as "Judgment of a Beardless Youth" and "Liver of a Renegade." The entire play is a commentary on the political corruption and insanity surrounding the period. [The Dear Witches: Horace Walpole's MacbethAuthor: Catherine M. S. AlexanderSource: The Review of English StudiesPub.: 1998-05Volume: 49Issue: 194Pages: 131-144] Orson Welles' production of "Macbeth" set the play in Haiti, and cast the witches as voodoopriestesses. As with earlier versions, Welles has the women stand as silent lookers-on to the murder of Banquo, as well as Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene. Their role in each of these scenes communicated the idea that they were behind Macbeth's fall in a more direct way than the original portrays. The witches' encroach further and further into his domain as the play progresses, appearing in the forest in the first scene and in the castle itself by the end. Directors often have difficulty keeping the witches from being exaggerated and overly-sensational. [McCloskey, Susan. "Shakespeare, Orson Welles, And the 'Voodoo' Macbeth." "Shakespeare Quarterly". (Jan 1985) 36.4 pp. 406-416] Charles Marowitzcreated "A Macbeth" in 1969, a streamlined version of the play which requires only eleven actors. The play strongly suggests that Lady Macbethis in league with the witches. One scene shows her leading the three to a firelight incantation. In Eugène Ionesco's satirical version of the play " Macbett" (1972), one of the witches removes a costume to reveal that she is, in fact, Lady Duncan, and wants to be Macbeth's mistress. Once Macbeth is King and they are married, however, she abandons him, revealing that she was not Lady Duncan all along, but a witch. The real Lady Duncan appears and denounces Macbeth as a traitor. [Rozett, Martha. Talking Back to Shakespeare. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994. ISBN 087413529X pp. 127-131]
The Latin-American playwright
León Felipewrote a version of Shakespear's play in Spanish which significantly changes the witches' role, especially in the final scene. After Macbeth's death, the three witches reappear in the midst of wind and storm, which they have been associated with throughout the play, to claim his corpse. They carry it to a ravine and shout, "Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! / We have an appointment with you in Hell!" Within the play, they also connect themselves to a famous painting by Francisco Goyacalled "Volaverunt", in which three mysterious figures are flying through the air and supporting a more discernible royal female figure. [Kliman, Bernice and Rick Santos. Latin American Shakespeares. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005. ISBN 0838640648 pp. 103-105.]
Drawings contained in "Holinshed's Chronicles", one of the sources Shakespeare used when creating the characters, portray them as members of the upper class. They are wearing elaborate dresses and hairstyles and appear to be noblewomen as Macbeth and Banquo approach. Shakespeare seems to have diverted quite a bit from this image, making the witches (as Banquo says) "withered, and so wild in their attire, / That look not like th' inhabitants o' th' earth. . . each at once her choppy fingers laying / Upon her skinny lips. You should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so." ["Macbeth" Act 1 Scene 3 lines 39-47.] [
title = Witches: Those well-dressed women are witches?
work = Internet Shakespeare Editions
publisher = University of Victoria and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
url = http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/ideas/witches.html
accessdate = 2008-05-10]
The Three Witches of "Macbeth" have inspired several painters over the years who have sought to capture the supernatural darkness surrounding Macbeth's encounters with them. For example, by the eighteenth century, belief in witches had waned in the United Kingdom. Such things were thought to be the simple stories of foreigners, farmers, and superstitious Catholics. Despite lack of belief in witches, however, art depicting supernatural beings became very popular at the time.
John Runciman, as one of the first artists to use Shakespearean characters in his work, created an ink-on-paper drawing entitled "The Three Witches" in 1767-68. In it, three ancient figures are shown in close consultation, their heads together and their bodies unshown. Runciman's brother created another drawing of the witches called "The Witches show Macbeth The Apparitions" painted circa 1771-1772, portraying Macbeth's reaction to the power of the witches' conjured vision. Both brothers' work influenced many later artists by removing the characters from the familiar theatrical setting and placing them in the world of the story.cite web
title =Room 5: Witches and Apparitions
work = Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake, and the Romantic Imagination (Museum Exhibit)
publisher = Tate Britain Art Museum
url = http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/gothicnightmares/rooms/room5.htm
accessdate = 2008-05-10]
Henry Fuseliwould later create one of the more famous portrayals of the Three Witches in 1783, entitled "The Weird Sisters or The Three Witches". In it, the witches are lined up and dramatically pointing at something all at once, their faces in profile. This painting was parodied by James Gillray in 1791 in "Weird Sisters; Ministers of Darkness; Minions of the Moon". Three figures are lined up with their faces in profile in a way similar to Fuseli's painting. However, the three figures are recognizable as Lord Dundas(the home secretaryat the time), William Pitt(prime minister), and Lord Thurlow( Lord Chancellor). The three of them are facing a moon, which contains the profiled faces of George IIIand Queen Charlotte. The drawing is intended to highlight the insanity of King George and the unusual alliance of the three men who take the place of the witches.Fuseli created two other works depicting the three witches for a Dublin art gallery in 1794. The first, entitled "Macbeth, Banquo and the Three Witches" was a frustration for him. His earlier paintings of Shakespearean scenes had been done on horizontal canvases, giving the viewer a picture of the scene that was similar to what would have been seen on stage. Woodmason requested vertical paintings, shrinking the space Fuseli had to work with. In this particular painting he uses lightning and other dramatic effects to separated Macbeth and Banquo from the witches more clearly and communicate how unnatural their meeting is. Macbeth and Banquo are both visibly terrified, while the witches are confidently perched atop a mound. Silhouettes of the victorious army of Macbeth can be seen celebrating in the background, but lack of space necessitates the removal of the barren, open landscape seen in Fuseli's earlier paintings for the Boydell Shakespeare Galleryof the same scene.Hamlyn, 515-529]
Fuseli's other Macbeth Woodmason painting "Macbeth and the Armed Head" depicts a later scene in which Macbeth is shown MacDuff and warned to be wary of him. Fuseli evidently intended the two paintings to be juxtaposed. He said, "when Macbeth meets with the witches on the heath, it is terrible, because he did not expect the supernatural visitation; but when he goes to the cave to ascertain his fate, it is no longer a subject of terror." Fuseli chose to make MacDuff a near-likeness of Macbeth himself, and considered the painting one of his most poetic in that sense, asking, "'What would be a greater object of terror to you if, some night on going home, you were to find yourself sitting at your own table . . . would not this make a powerful impression on your mind?"
At least fifteen operas have been based on "Macbeth", [cite book | last = Sadie| first = Stanley (ed)| authorlink =Stanley Sadie | year = 1992| title = The
New Grove Dictionary of Opera| publisher = Oxford University Press| location = Oxford | id = ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2| pages=Vol 4, p. 344] but only one is regularly performed today. This is "Macbeth", composed by Giuseppe Verdito a libretto by Francesco Maria Piaveand premièred in Florencein 1847. In the opera, the three witches became a chorus of at least eighteen singers, divided into three groups. Each group enters separately at the start of the opera for the scene with Macbeth and Banquo; after the men's departure, they have a chorus of triumph which does not derive from Shakespeare. They reappear in Act 3, when they conjure up the three apparitions and the procession of kings. When Verdi revised the opera for performance in Parisin 1865, he added a ballet (rarely performed nowadays) to this scene. In it, Hecate, a non-dancing character, mimes instructions to the witches before a final dance and Macbeth's arrival. [cite book | last = Budden|first = Julian|authorlink =Julian Budden| year = 1973| title= The Operas of Verdi, Volume 1| publisher = Cassell| location = London| id = ISBN 0-304-93756-8| pages=pp. 277, 300-2]
Orson Wellescreated a film version of the play in 1948, sometimes called the "Ubermensch Macbeth", which altered the witches' roles by having them create a voodoo doll of Macbeth in the first scene. Critics take this as a sign that they control his actions completely throughout the film. Their voices are heard, but their faces are never seen, and they carry forked staves as dark parallels to the Celtic cross. Welles' voiceover in the prologue calls them "agents of chaos, priests of hell and magic." At the end of the film, when their work with Macbeth is finished, they cut off the head of his voodoo doll. [Jackson, Russell. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 052168501X pp. 129-130.]
Throne of Blood", a Japanese version filmed in 1958 by Akira Kurosawa, replaces the three witches with the Forest Spirit, an old hag who sits at her spinning wheel, symbolically entrapping Macbeth's Japanese equivalent, Washizu, in the web of his own ambition. She lives outside "The Castle of the Spider's Web", another reference to Macbeth's entanglement in her trap. [Jackson, Russell. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 052168501X pp. 130-131.] Roman Polanski's 1971 film version of "Macbeth" contained many parallels to his personal life in its graphic and violent depictions. His wife Sharon Tatehad been murdered two years earlier by Charles Mansonand three women. Many critics saw this as a clear parallel to Macbeth's murders at the urging of the Three Witches within the film. [Holland, Peter. Shakespeare Survey: an Annual Survey of Shakespeare Studies and Production. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0521841208 pp. 145-146]
Scotland, PA", a 2001 parody directed by Billy Morrissette, sets the play in a restaurant in modern Pennsylvania. The witches are replaced by three hippies on marijuana who give Joe McBeth drug-induced suggestions and prophecies throughout the film using a Magic 8-Ball. After McBeth has killed Duncan, one of them suggests, "I've got it! Mac should kill McDuff's entire family!" Another hippie responds, "Oh, that'll work! Maybe a thousand years ago. You can't go around killing everybody." [Leitch, Thomas. Film Adaptation and Its Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. ISBN 0801885655 pp. 117-118.] Geoffrey Wright's 2006 "Macbeth" takes place in the midst of a modern Australian gang and drug culture. The three witches are replaced by three teenage goth schoolgirls who are knocking down headstones in a graveyard in the opening scene. They whisper their prophecies in Macbeths ear as they dance in a deserted nightclub joined by his wife, urging him to murder in order to gain power. [
last = Seitz
first = Matt Zoller
title = Movie Review: Macbeth (2006)
publisher = New York Times
date = July 6, 2007
url = http://movies.nytimes.com/2007/07/06/movies/06macb.html
accessdate = 2008-05-10
"Come and Go", a short play written in 1965 by Samuel Beckett, recalls the Three Witches of
Shakespeare’s " Macbeth". It features only three characters, all women, named Flo, Vi, and Ru. The opening line: “When did we three last meet?” [Beckett, S., "Collected Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett" (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), p 196] recalls the “When shall we three meet again?” of "Macbeth": Act 1, Scene 1. [Roche, A., Samuel Beckett:The Great Plays After Godot, "Samuel Beckett – 100 Years" (Dublin: New Island, 2006), p 69] " The Third Witch", a 2001 novel written by Rebecca Reisert, tells the story of the play through the eyes of Gilly, one of the witches. Gilly seeks Macbeth's death out of revenge for killing her father. [Reisert, Rebecca. The Third Witch : a Novel. New York: Washington Square Press, 2001. ISBN 0-7434-1771-2] J. K. Rowlinghas cited the Three Witches in Shakespeare's " Macbeth" as an influence in her Harry Potterseries. In an interview with The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet, when asked, "What if [Voldemort] never heard the prophecy?", she said, "It's the “Macbeth” idea. I absolutely adore “Macbeth.” It is possibly my favourite Shakespeare play. And that's the question isn't it? If Macbeth hadn't met the witches, would he have killed Duncan? Would any of it have happened? Is it fated or did he make it happen? I believe he made it happen." [cite web|title=The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part Three|author=Melissa Anelli and Emerson Spartz|url=http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2005/0705-tlc_mugglenet-anelli-3.htm|year=2005|accessdate=2007-06-26] On her website, she referred to "Macbeth" again in discussing the prophecy: "the prophecy (like the one the witches make to Macbeth, if anyone has read the play of the same name) becomes the catalyst for a situation that would never have occurred if it had not been made." [cite web|title=What is the significance of Neville being the other boy to whom the prophecy might have referred?|work=J.K.Rowling Official Site|url=http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_view.cfm?id=84|accessdate=2007-06-26]
* Bloom, Harold. "Wlliam Shakespeare's Macbeth". Yale University: Chelsea House, 1987.
* Bernice W, Kliman. "Macbeth". Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2Rev Ed edition, 200. ISBN 0-7190-6229-2
* Hamlyn, Robin. "An Irish Shakespeare Gallery". "The Burlington Magazine". Vol 120, Issue 905. 515-529.
* Shakespeare, William; Cross, Wilbur Lucius (Ed). "Macbeth". Forgotten Books.
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