Throughout history, mankind has been fascinated with the supernatural world, one that is both mysterious and intriguing. We can see this in our world today: in religion, on television, in books, and many more. King James was no exception. Published in 1597, his book Demonology proved his attraction to the supernatural subjects. To appeal to the king, William Shakespeare included the topic in his renowned play Macbeth.
This tragic play features a hero, Macbeth, who messes with fate and thus brings much trouble and evil upon him. Along with Macbeth, there are also three witches in the cast that bring out the supernatural in the play. Shakespeare uses symbolism, cruel and unusual imagery, and dark diction to portray the witches as evil characters. One of the most significant symbols throughout the play, the number three appears several times and mostly shows up when the witches appear. In the Elizabethan era the number three was considered a very evil number.
Also if there were more than one or even multiples of three, the evil would become more and more terrible as the numbers increased. In Act IV Scene l, the three witches appear in a cavern, where there is a boiling cauldron in the middle. This is the third and final time they show in the play, which is very evil because the number three is present a lot. When all three witches chant “Double, double toil and trouble;/Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” (4. 1 . 10-11) for their spell they repeat the statement three times, making it more and more evil.
In addition, the potion that they are brewing required certain parts of some animals; twenty-seven to be exact. A large multiple of three, this symbolizes the great evil that is in the cauldron as well as the capacity for evil of the three witches. To further characterize the witches, Shakespeare uses cruel and unusual imagery hen describing the ingredients of the potion which parallels the witches’ evilness themselves. Each piece of the potion has something wicked about it and is used by to create a horrible brew that is used for their evil work.
When depiction part of the potion, the first witch describes the “Toad, that under cold stone,] Days and nights has thirty-one;’ Sweltered venom sleeping got,] Boil thou first I’ the charmed pot! ” (4. 1 . 6-9). Here, Shakespeare implants an evil creature into the potion. It was believed at that time that if a toad was found under a stone, it was poisonous and dangerous to there. In the play this toad had been sitting under a stone for thirty-one days meaning that it NAS become extremely potent and an evil addition to the potion.
T witches are portrayed as evil because they have taken a deadly animal and are using it for their mysterious deeds. Later on, we can see the evil within the witches once again through Shakespearean cruel and dark imagery. The third witch states says that in the potion there is a “Finger of birth-strangled babe/ Ditch-delivered by a drab” (4. 1 . 30-31). This image further depicts them as dark and cruel as they take the body art of a newborn baby as it has Just entered the world. The three evil witches are characterized as evil as well as cruel through the use of dark and unusual imagery.
A final device that is used to display the evil in the witches is the dark diction. Shakespeare uses foul language in the witches’ dialogue to emphasize the evil nature they have. When the second witch concludes her ingredient list, she states that they are “For a charm of powerful trouble,] Like a hell-broth boil and bubble” (4. 1. 18-19). The use of the word “hell” when describing the potion gives off a dark and terrible lining that is associated with the word. This word also makes it seem as though the potion is from hell itself making it as well as the witches Just that much more evil.
Shakespeare uses negative diction once again during the spell. As the first witch casts her part into the potion, she begins by going “Round about the cauldron go;’ In the poison’s entrails throw’ (4. 1 . 4-5). The word poison used to describe entrails gives it a negative connotation. The potion as well as the witches are seemingly evil and more terrible to the reader as the negative diction portrays them as thus. Shakespeare characterizes the three witches as evil through the use of the symbol three, dark and cruel imagery, and evil diction.
They manipulated Macbeth in the play and were one of the causes for him to meddle with his own fate and disrupt the Elizabethan order of the universe. Shakespeare used these characters in his tragic play, one that epitomized the supernatural world because it was written for King James, his main audience and an avid supporter of the topic. Supernatural life has been a part of our history and has also been included in our culture throughout our lifetime, questioning reality and giving life to those surrounding it.