Witches In Macbeth By William Shakespeare

2493 words - 10 pages

Witches in Macbeth by William Shakespeare

People that lived during the Elizabethan period were very superstitious. They feared the power of witches the most. The hate stemmed mostly from the ". . . supposed satanic beliefs of the witches and their heretical partnership with the Devil" (Papp and Kirkland 43). Others thought of witches only when something of value had been damaged. They automatically assumed that a witch or one of her familiars must have done it, and "the one thing everyone [knew] about witches [was] that they were women" (Briggs 259). Because of the rigid social rules for women during the Elizabethan period, it was very difficult for a woman during that time to always do as she was supposed to do, and because of the strictness of these rules, many times she failed. Unfortunately, the consequences of not being the perfect example of femininity meant the possibility of being labeled a witch. Because Lady Macbeth and the Weird Sisters are far from being perfect examples of proper Elizabethan women and because they do not attempt to conform to their society's rules and expectations, they are often classified as being witches.

Older women were the easiest targets for witch-hunters because of their haggard appearance. Reginald Scott describes witches as being "'. . . leane and deformed, shewing melancholie in their faces, to the horror of all that see them'" (Jorgensen 118). Macbeth's Weird Sisters carry these characteristics of witches. Banquo describes them as being " . . . So withered and so wild in their attire, / That [they] look not like th' inhabitants o' th' earth" (1.3.40-41).

Many stereotypes were established for what a witch actually looked like. The Weird Sisters carry most of those stereotypes. One of the most common things that was said about witches was that they were women of " . . . unbridled feminine sexuality" (Briggs 259), meaning that they did not conform to the Elizabethan idea of what a woman should be. An Elizabethan woman's " . . . outer appearance was merely a reflection of inner condition" (Papp and Kirkland 74). To be considered beautiful and desirable, a woman was to be very feminine and have " . . . Ivory skin, rosy cheeks, a round face, rounder hips, and yielding flesh . . ." (Papp and Kirkland 75). Women labeled as being witches were the opposite of a beautiful Elizabethan woman. The Weird Sisters are described as not even looking like women at all. They are so skinny and unfeminine that on seeing them Banquo says, "You should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so" (1.3.45-47). "The beard, also, . . . was the recognised characteristic of the witch" (Dyer and Oxon 28). Women that were thought to be witches were " . . . without sex or kin" (Dyer and Oxon 27).

A woman's appearance was not the only thing that classified her as a witch. Her actions also made her appear to be a witch. The primary means of travel for a witch was by flying...

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