The three witches are characters in Macbeth.

Macbeth begins with what is possibly the most theatrical opening stage direction of any play: Thunder and lightning, Enter three witches.

That sets the tone for the play, which is shrouded in darkness, fog, ‘filthy air’ and general foul weather. The language of the text is saturated with the kind of images that create that world. The witches – supernatural phenomena in this play – pervade the play with their presence, that hangs like a toxic cloud over the play.

Three witches stnading with deranged lokoing faces

Macbeth’s three witches as seen on stage

The weird sisters are a wonderful Shakespearean invention. They appear on the stage as characters and are played by actors, but they are not people. Shakespeare distances them from the people in the play by the way they use language. The human characters speak in Shakespeare’s usual mode of blank verse in iambic pentameter, whereas he gives the witches a strange, eerie incantatory verse in rhyming couplets. Their dialogue creates a mesmeric effect on the audience.

Moreover, although their intervention in Macbeth’s life is the most powerful dramatic device in the play, they do not participate with the human characters in the development of the drama. At the same time, there is the question as to whether they exist at all or are more like a personification of his ambition to become king, causing him to have the idea that he can if he can bring himself to kill the king.

So it would be pointless to try a character sketch of the witches. All one can say is that they appear on the stage as the source of evil – the kind of evil that can enter the soul of a good man, attack him at his most vulnerable point and produce the kind of chaos that leads to violence, murder and war. Macbeth’s most vulnerable point is his ambition. They do not have human characteristics: they are more like machines programmed to create confusion and destruction.

Early in the play we see the witches talking about the evil things they have just done to human beings and we hear that they are now going to attack this very good man, favourite of the king, and national hero. And they do that. They approach him and tell him things about his immediate future – things that turn out to be true, which makes them believable – and they tell him that he will be king one day.

That plants the idea in Macbeth’s mind. They know that it’s already there, beneath the surface: all they are doing is bringing it to the surface, knowing that he will take the bait. They know that his weak point is his over-reaching ambition. From that moment on it is a decline from the height of heroism to the lower depths of villainy with the destruction of Macbeth’s very soul.

Top Three Witches Quotes

“When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

“Fair is foul and foul is fair
Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

“I will drain him dry as hay:
Sleep shall neither night nor day
Hang upon his pent-house lid;
He shall live a man forbid:
Weary se’nnights nine times nine
Shall he dwindle, peak and pine:
Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.”

“All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!”

“First Witch
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
Second Witch
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Third Witch
Harpier cries ‘Tis time, ’tis time.
First Witch
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Third Witch
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.”

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