Scene from Macbeth, depicting the witches’ conjuring of an apparition in Act IV, Scene I. The witches eventually lead Macbeth to his demise. Other possible sources, aside from Shakespeare’s imagination itself, include British folklore, such contemporary treatises on witchcraft as King James VI of Scotland’s Daemonologie, the Norns of Norse mythology, and ancient classical myths of the Fates: the Greek Moirai and the Roman Parcae. Productions supernatural elements in macbeth pdf Macbeth began incorporating portions of Thomas Middleton’s contemporaneous play, The Witch, circa 1618, two years after Shakespeare’s death.
Shakespeare’s witches are prophets who hail Macbeth, the general, early in the play, and predict his ascent to kingship. Upon killing the king and gaining the throne of Scotland, Macbeth hears them ambiguously predict his eventual downfall.
The witches, and their “filthy” trappings and supernatural activities, all set an ominous tone for the play. Some have exaggerated or sensationalised the hags, or have adapted them to different cultures, as in Orson Welles’s rendition of the weird sisters as voodoo priestesses. Some film adaptations have cast the witches as such modern analogues as hippies on drugs, or goth schoolgirls. Their influence reaches the literary realm as well in such works as the Discworld and Harry Potter series.
Macbeth’s Hillock, near Brodie Castle is traditionally identified as the “blasted heath” where Macbeth and Banquo first met the “weird sisters”. The name “weird sisters” is found in most modern editions of Macbeth. In later scenes in the first folio the witches are called “weyward”, but never “weird”.
The modern appellation “weird sisters” derives from Holinshed’s original Chronicles. In Holinshed, the future King Macbeth of Scotland and his companion Banquo encounter “three women in strange and wild apparell, resembling creatures of elder world” who hail the men with glowing prophecies and then vanish “immediately out of their sight”.
Another principal source was the Daemonologie of King James published in 1597 which included a news pamphlet titled Newes from Scotland that detailed the infamous North Berwick witch trials of 1590. Not only had this trial taken place in Scotland, witches involved confessed to attempt the use of witchcraft to raise a tempest and sabotage the very boat King James and the Queen of Scots were on board during their return trip from Denmark. Moreover she confessed that at the time when his Majesty was in Denmark, she being accompanied with the parties before specially named, took a Cat and christened it, and afterward bound to each part of that Cat, the cheefest parts of a dead man, and several joints of his body, and that in the night following the said Cat was conveyed into the midst of the sea by all these witches sailing in their riddles or Cues as aforesaid, and so left the said Cat right before the Town of Leith in Scotland: this done, there did arise such a tempest in the Sea, as a greater has not been seen: which tempest was the cause of the perishing of a Boat or vessel coming over from the town of Brunt Island to the town of Leith, of which was many Jewels and rich gifts, which should have been presented to the current Queen of Scotland, at her Majesty’s coming to Leith. Shakespeare’s creation of the Three Witches may have also been influenced by an anti-witchcraft law passed by King James nine years previously, a law that was to stay untouched for over 130 years.
His characters’ “chappy fingers,” “skinny lips,” and “beards,” for example, are not found in Holinshed. Macbeth’s Hillock near Brodie, between Forres and Nairn in Scotland, has long been identified as the mythical meeting place of Macbeth and the witches. Traditionally, Forres is believed to have been the home of both Duncan and Macbeth. However, Samuel Taylor Coleridge proposed that the three weird sisters should be seen as ambiguous figures, never actually being called witches by themselves or other characters in the play.