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Home > English > Macbeth > The witches

English

The witches

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Interpretations of the witches

A traditional stage production of Macbeth showing haggard witches dressed in rags gathered round a smoking pit

A traditional playing of the witches from a 1983 production

The first characters we see in Macbeth are the three witches, who are to have a profound influence over events in the play. You can understand their part in the play and their significance better if you focus on some key questions -

How do the witches introduce the play?

The witches meet in foul weather - they speak of thunder, lightning, fog and filthy air. This introduces Macbeth as a dark, dangerous play, in which the theme of evil is central.

"Fair is foul and foul is fair"

(Act 1, scene 1, line 11)

These words appear to contradict each other - it's confusing. Is that what this play is about? Is everything as it seems? The words introduce the idea of illusion and reality.

We then hear Macbeth echo these same words - his very first line is:

"So foul and fair a day I have not seen."

(Act 1, scene 3, line 38)

Why are the witches' words in Macbeth's mouth? Are we meant to associate him with the witches and their evil? This echo introduces the idea of a prophecy and prompts the question: Is Macbeth in control of his own destiny?

Read through Act 1, Scene 1 and Act 1, Scene 3 again to remind yourself of what the witches say and do.

 

How the witches are made relevant in modern productions

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Some very different ways the witches have been portrayed

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Watch

Scene from Macbeth.

Class Clips

Actresses talk about how they chose to portray the witches

Watch

Scene from Macbeth.

Class Clips

Video clip - one interpretation of the witches

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