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Macbeth and the Witches Prophecies

Updated on February 25, 2011

Macbeth Witches


Macbeth's Encounters with the Witches

The play, Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, is a power struggle in Scotland. Macbeth, the main character of the story goes to three witches in the beginning of the story. These witches predict various things that could happen throughout the story. They may predict some of the things that happen throughout the story but they do not control the character in Macbeth.

When Macbeth goes to see the witches in the beginning of the story they predict that Macbeth will become king of Scotland. But after this we learn that Lady Macbeth knows that Macbeth had prior ambitions of being king before they made the prediction. She says this in Act 1, Scene 5, Lines 13-15.

    “To Catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great.
    Art not without ambition, but without
    The illness should attend it.”

This is also a great example of foreshadowing. It hints that Macbeth will try to pursue becoming king know that he has heard what the witches said.

    After Macbeth has killed King Duncan and assumed his role, he visits the witches again. This time they predict if Macbeth will be harmed, as king, in the first apparition, in Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 77-79.

        “Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laught to scorn.
        The power of man, for none of woman born
        Shall harm Macbeth.

The witches believe no one born of a woman will harm him. The man who kills him in the end of the story is Macduff, who was born of a cesarean section, but still of his mother, a woman. So if you really bend that prediction, it sort of seems right, but not completely. Act 5, Scene 8 tells that how Macbeth was born.

"From his mother’s womb
Untimely ripp’d"

This is an example of dramatic irony, because Macbeth assumed that everyone is born of their mothers, which are women, but Macduff being born of a C-section is ironic because it isn’t what you expected.

In the third apparition predicted by the witches they predict that Macbeth will never be vanquished unless the Birnham woods move to high Dunsinane hill, and everyone knows that tree’s can’t walk and move themselves to Dunsinane hill. In Act 5, Scene 4, Lines 4-6, we see this.

        “Let every soldier hew him down a bough.
        And bear it before him; thereby shall we shadow
        The numbers of our host and make discovery”

In other words, the soldiers, coming to kill Macbeth, all take a branch off the trees to camouflage themselves. By camouflaging themselves they moved the branches to Dunsinsne hill and fulfilled the third apparition of the witches, sort of. If you can believe that taking a few branches is the same as moving the whole woods, then the witches were correct. The quote above shows imagery of how the soldiers take the boughs off the trees and shadow, or camouflage themselves. The army eventually reaches Macbeth and Duncan kills him.

So the witches may be able to make educated guesses on what might happen in the story, but all they say doesn’t seem to be true unless you really stretch the truth. Further, the predictions given to Macbeth and others might influence them to do what the witches predict will happen.


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