Women are not always the affectionate, compassionate, and nurturing people that humanly instincts make them out to be. On the contrary, they are sometimes more ruthless and savage than their male counterparts. A good example of this idea is in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Through the use of various feminine roles throughout the play, Shakespeare manages to portray how dramatically important the witches are, along with how imminent greed and power can eventually grasp hold of Lady Macbeth’s morals, and thrust her into a state of emotional stupor.
Shakespeare begins the play with the witches for several reasons. First, the fact that they are witches portrays many evil themes since witches are a universal symbol for an advocate of the devil. They themselves foreshadow malign events to come. For example, to add to the witches’ representation of evil, the clich?d background is that of thunder and lightening, which also represents wickedness and confusion. Shakespeare also uses the witches to give some background to the play; they decide to meet with Macbeth “when the battle’s lost and won” (I, I, 4). Here, Shakespeare makes clear the fact that there is a battle taking place and Macbeth is involved. They choose to meet with Macbeth “upon the heath”(I, I, 7), wherein a heath is described as being uncultivated, open land. The uncultivated aspect of the heath can be used to foretell the uncivilized intentions the witches have for Macbeth. The last line of the scene is immensely important, for when the witches say that “fair is foul, and foul is fair”(I, I, 12), the reader
later understands that this is the main theme of the play. This implies that appearances can be deceiving. What appears to be good can be bad, and this is seen in such ways as the deceptive facade of Lady Macbeth and in the predictions of the witches.
The witches provide the spark for Macbeth’s explosion onto King Duncan. They plant the idea of him becoming king with a witty strategy in which they tell him half-truths, so that he will succumb to believing the false half of the lie since the later half is true. During the third scene of Act I, Macbeth and Banquo, his friend, encounter the three witches, who call him the “Thane of Cawdor” and he who “shalt be king hereafter!” (I, III, 50-51). The fact that Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor is true. Yet, the prediction that he would rightfully become king is false. This prediction gives him the confidence to kill King Duncan since the witches must have been right, as he thought, since they were correct regarding him becoming the Thane of Cawdor. Without the witches, Macbeth would have never had the encouragement to kill his loyal friend. However, while the witches are not entirely responsible for the actions of Macbeth, they are responsible for introducing the ideas to him, which in turn fires up his ambition, and leads to a disastrous and unnecessary chain of events.
One must note that the promoters of Kind Duncan’s murder are all female. This is contrary to the familiar understanding of women, who, instinctively, are nurturing and caring creatures. Because of this, Shakespeare performs a magnificent job of letting the reader know of their masculinity, and how whenever he hints at their masculinity, a malign event is forthcoming. When Macbeth and Banquo first set eyes on the witches, they are aghast at the sinister sight of the ugly women. Banquo states that they “should be women, / and yet [their] beards forbid [him] to interpret/ that [they] are so”(I, III, 45-
47). They are so hideous to Banquo that he believes that he could actually mistake them for being men. Interestingly enough, after this line, the witches make their prophecy about Macbeth becoming the king of Scotland. In the fifth scene of Act I, Lady Macbeth wishes that she were male so she could take the matter of dealing with King Duncan into her own hands, without having to cope with Macbeth. When she learns that Macbeth has invited King Duncan to his castle for dinner, she becomes thrilled, for she believes that her opportunity is at hand. In her soliloquy, her desire to be male is portrayed when she commands the “spirits/ that tend on mortal thoughts, [to] unsex [her] here, / make thick [her] blood/ come to [her] women’s breasts, / and take [her] milk for gall”(I, V, 39-46). She wishes that the deadly and evil spirits would turn her into a male, thereby unsexing her. In a way, she is wishing for a spell to be cast, which is exactly what witches do. She wants thick blood; men were thought to have thicker blood than women. Her nurturing characteristics as a mother collapse when she begs to have her breast feed gall, a bitter substance, rather than nutritious milk. Her motherly character is further abandoned when she states that she, while her baby was feeding from her, would “have plucked [her] nipple from his boneless gums, / and [dash] the brains out”(I, VII, 57-58). This intense line depicts her extreme will to have the throne, even at the cost of her own offspring. Similar to the witches, after Lady Macbeth states her desires to become male, Macbeth enters her room, and a discussion about the murder of King Duncan ensues.
The dramatic effect that the witches and Lady Macbeth bring to the play is great. Without them, there would be no play, since Macbeth would have never even considered killing his faithful friend, King Duncan. Yet, because of them, he becomes torn between his lover and his comrade. Lady Macbeth’s greed for power overwhelms her to the point
where she would sacrifice anybody that stands in her path. The witches toyed with Macbeth’s head just enough so that he thought he could commit the murder within reason. In the end, these two rationalities led to the death of King Duncan, physically by Macbeth, but mentally, by the women in his life.