Macbeth and Witchcraft

(Banquo and Fleance in the forest of witches)

Witches have always had a history of being the scapegoats in society.  However, the question regarding the witches' role in Macbeth remains unanswered.  Some critics say that they may not have actually been predicting the future, just capitalizing on the mental weaknesses of Macbeth.  Through their predictions, they are able to persuade Macbeth to commit several acts of murder.  Do they determine his fate through prediction or through their ability to make him commit these acts? Their prophecies may have just been reports of the inevitable in the play.  

The Weird Sisters bring the element of evil to the play.  They are the ultimate antagonists because they are inhuman and show no human compassion.  Their predictions make the sisters seem like they control Macbeth’s fate because of their accuracy, but the audience as well as the characters are never really sure if the Weird Sisters have control over the future.  These witches remain mysterious throughout the play.  Shakespeare writes the dialogue of the sisters in rhyming couplets to make them stand out from the other characters.  The Sisters are unique in that they almost have no gender and they instigate chaos throughout the play. 


"For most of Shakespeare's contemporary audience, Macbeth would appear to be at the mercy of the witches and therefore not entirely responsible for his actions. In my opinion, it is easier to muster sympathy for a person who is not entirely to blame for their actions; in the case of Macbeth, the tragedy is more successful if the popular seventeenth century mentality is adopted and thereby the witches and Lady Macbeth are made partly to blame for his downfall."

-Jennifer Riedel


Women executed for witchcraft

Macbeth and Witchcraft

The Witches influence on Macbeth

Salem Witches

Modern Witchcraft

Shakespeare Online: Macbeth

Other Macbeth Information

The three witches from Macbeth painted by Alexandre Marie Colin (1827)

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