Witches And Witchcraft In Jacobean Society And Macbeth

1356 words - 6 pages

The people in the Jacobean era believed in the strong presence of evil that plagued their world and specifically accused witches to be responsible for such evil. These influential beliefs can be seen as a common motif in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where the witches have shaped Macbeth’s fate. Moreover the influence and fear of witches and witchcraft in Jacobean society has led to chaotic persecution of those associated with the practice and in Macbeth, the influence of witchcraft incited terror on one king and make decisions of an entire nation. The appearance and abilities of witches and witchcraft are motifs in Jacobean society and in Macbeth.
In Jacobean society, a witch’s appearance were described as old, wrinkled, lean and deformed. They would have unkempt and wild appearances where one cannot distinguish their gender (Porterfield, Warning, Familiarity, and Ridicule). Facial hair was also an indication that a woman might be a witch (Metclaf, The Presentation of Jacobean). They also were known to keep familiars or servants that did their bidding. These familiars were in animal form usually as a cat or toad (First Folio of Macbeth).
Furthermore, under James VI, qualities of an English and Scottish witch intertwined thus the appearance of a recluse English witch who preferred grim activities joined with the appearance of a social Scottish witch who enjoyed dancing (Thompson, Macbeth, King James, and the Witches). Apart from these characteristics witches assemble in covens and hold sabbats. These sabbats were celebrations or rituals in which the witches formed together supposedly to engage in erotic activities and cannibalistic feasts. These celebrations or rituals were a time for mischief and demonic activity (Metclaf, The Presentation of Jacobean).
Moreover, in Macbeth, the perception of the appearance of witches in Jacobean society is present within the acts. In Act 1 Scene 3 Banquo criticizes the three witches by telling them that they are weirdly dressed, withered, have skinny lips, have gruesome fingers, if they belong to this planet, if they are alive, and if they are women because their beards makes him think otherwise (Shakespeare, 275). In Act 1 Scene 1, the First Witch calls on her cat Graymalkin and the Second Witch calls on her toad Paddock, their animal familiars (Shakespeare, 272). In Act 1, Scene 3 and in Act 4 Scene 1, the three witches altogether dance in a circle and chant as they complete a mixture (Shakespeare, 275, 321).
Furthermore in Act 1 Scene 1 lines one to twelve was the completion of a sabbat. It is also a symbol of demonic activity and a hint of their prophetic abilities (Metclaf, The Presentation of Jacobean). In this scene, the First Witch declares where all three of the witches will meet and Third Witch states that they will also meet Macbeth there (Shakespeare, 272). It is referred that all odd numbers are demonic but the number three is the most demonic of all numbers (Metclaf, The Presentation of...

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