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Supernatural in Shakespeare’s Macbeth – Purpose of the Witches

The Purpose of the Witches in Macbeth

One purpose for having the witches in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, is to make a comparison between Macbeth’s conscious world and Macbeth’s unconscious, dream world. In this essay, I will touch upon Sigmund Freud’s theories of dreams and the unconscious, and consider the nature of the witches and their relationship with Macbeth. I will also explore the relationship between witches and society, and conclude the essay by considering other roles of the witches in the play.

Sigmund Freud had a theory on dreams and the unconscious, which I believe, applies to ‘Macbeth’. Sigmund in 1923 proposed a new dynamic model of the human psyche. He believed that our brain was divided into three principal parts. The ‘ID’ was the primitive, unconscious; dream world, which he believed, was mainly dominated by primary urges. The ‘Ego’ he says is the psyche’s give in reality and it contains perceptions of which is experienced, the ‘Ego’ is the part of you which represses your primary urges. The ‘Super Ego’ segment, Segmund Freud said was your conscience. He said it is like the ‘higher authorities’. The ‘Super Ego’ informs you about what is right or wrong. Freud’s theory can be directly related to the play, ‘Macbeth’. The ‘ID’ can be compared to the witches in Macbeth. They both conform to the same principle. The ‘ID’ is wild it is untamed much like the Witches. They both are uncontrollable, we cannot control our primary desires and the witches in Macbeth are also uncontrollable.

The witches in Macbeth are typical of seventeenth century witches. They have supernatural powers, they can predict the future e.g. Predicting when the battle of Cawdor will end , they can turn into things e…

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… many other possibilities to explore if one wanted a complete understanding of why the witches are in Macbeth.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Cathell, A.L. “The Diabolic Witches in Macbeth” in Shakespeare Survey: Volume 5. Edited by Allardyce Nicoll Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996

Elliot, G.R. “Introduction: On `Macbeth’ as Apex of Shakspearean Tragedy” in Shakespearean Criticism, Volume 3. Edited by Laurie Harris (Gale: 1984)

McElroy, Bernard, “`Macbeth’: The torture of the Mind” in Shakespearean Criticism, Volume 3. Edited by Laurie Harris (Gale:1984)

Ribner, Irving. “Macbeth: The Pattern of Idea and Action,” in Shakespearean Criticism, Volume 3. Edited by Laurie Harris (Gale:1984)

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Edited by Norman Sanders. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984)

Importance of the Players and Their Play within Hamlet

In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, the players and their play emphasizes the importance of theatre and its’ power. The players arrive in Act2 Scene2. They are announced by a flourish of trumpets, which is the usual occurrence upon the arrival of actors; yet, this is the second time in the scene we have heard such a grand entrance, the first being that of the King and Queen at the start of the scene, therefore a similar feeling of importance is evoked for the players Immediately.

Hamlet himself welcomes them with great warmth and ‘entertainment.’ He has great admiration for these people and their lifestyle, which has the freedom from duties and of expression that Hamlet lacks. Through them we see him explore role-play and word-play in a way which he himself cannot, in Shakespeare’s use of Hamlet as our guide to the world of theatre, and as an overly contemplative avenger.

Already, in Act2 scene2, we see that Hamlet is conceiving plans and deception, as he warns of his contrived madness:

“I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” (2, 2, 374-5)

and so we see that he is already taking on some of the wiles of a player in order to conceal his true ideas, posing as a madman.

Later in the scene we see Hamlet trying to gain further some affinity with the players, promoting a speech from the first players, prompting a speech from the first player, which refers to the attack on troy. Shakespeare has used Marlowe’s Dido as his source and manipulated it to create greater relevance to ‘Hamlet’ and Hamlet who is mirrored by the character Phyruss, who is made more of a dark thinker than rash avenger, reflecting back to our first images of Hamlet in his ‘inky cloak.’

Yet, Hamlet plays…

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… so this alternative questioning of our key protagonist could in some way be viewed as fulfilling, an abstract fool role. The player king delves into views on takking action, such as:

“What to ourselves in passion we do propose, the passion ending, doth the purpose lose.”

(3, 2, 189-190)

Yet Hamlet is too caught up in the purpose, he needs ‘passion,’ like that of the players in order to avenge. Instead he is waiting for the ‘wripe fruit’ to fall-fall, a sign that the time is ripe or right.

The players and their play serves to underline the analysis of theatre and its power in ‘Hamlet’, and as functions to make objective comparisons to the ‘real’ characters in the play as well as provoke their actions and thoughts in their reflections of what is past and what is to come in the murders of the old King Hamlet and the inevitable murder of Claudius.

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