The witches


The witches’ physical appearances show their abnormality

Unlike the other characters of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we get some information about the physical appearances of the three witches. In Act 1, Scene 3, Banquo describes them as creatures with “choppy finger[s]” and “skinny lips” (1.3.45-46). He generally describes them as unpleasant and wild to look at. Banquo also points out that they do not look like they belong in the human world since they are so “wither’d and so wild in their attire, / That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth.” (1.3.41-42). 

On top of this, Banquo is quite confused about their gender: “You should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so.” (1.3.46-48). A woman with a beard is unnatural; it goes against the natural order. All in all, the witches’ appearance is a sign that they are supernatural creatures who do not belong to the human world. This is also an indication that they should not be trusted. Ironically, this is exactly what Macbeth does.

Shakespeare may be toying with the idea of gender when he has Banquo refer to the witches’ beards. In the Elizabethan era, all female roles were played by men, so the actors playing the witches may very well have had beards. In this light, Banquo’s remark becomes comical. 

We know more about the witches than the characters do

Shakespeare makes sure we always meet the witches before any of the characters do. As a result, we get an insight into their evil plan of tricking Macbeth that he does not have himself, and yet we are unable to warn him. This is called dramatic irony.

The first time we meet the witches is in Act 1, Scene 1 as they are talking ominously of a battle in relation to Macbeth. Here, the presence of thunder underlines the danger associated with the witches. The ...

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