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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Macbeth's Witches
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1764  Tuesday, 17 July 2001

[1]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jul 2001 16:40:13 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1750 Macbeth's Witches

[2]     From:   Janie Cheaney <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jul 2001 11:54:23 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1750 Macbeth's Witches

[3]     From:   Marcia Eppich <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Jul 2001 22:26:10 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1750 Macbeth's Witches

[4]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Saturday, 14 Jul 2001 00:52:32 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1734 Re: Macbett


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jul 2001 16:40:13 +0100
Subject: 12.1750 Macbeth's Witches
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1750 Macbeth's Witches

>I am not
>exactly sure of the precise biblical injunction concerning the
>sinfulness of conjuring and asking my born-again sister is far too
>tiresome at this time of the morning.  Perhaps someone else knows.
>
>Jane Drake Brody

I think it would be Saul visiting the Witch of Endor -- 1 Samuel 28,
verses 7 ff.

Robin Hamilton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Janie Cheaney <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jul 2001 11:54:23 -0500
Subject: 12.1750 Macbeth's Witches
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1750 Macbeth's Witches

> From:           Jane Drake Brody

>I am not
>exactly sure of the precise biblical injunction concerning the
>sinfulness of conjuring and asking my born-again sister is far too
>tiresome at this time of the morning.  Perhaps someone else knows.

According to Deuteronomy 18:19-11, "There shall not be found among you
anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, or one who
practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a
sorcer, or one who conjured spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one
who called up the dead."  All forms of magic are an "abomination unto
the Lord" because they try to influence fate in defiance of His
sovereignty.  Those who practiced magic in Israel were subject to
execution, but the sentence wasn't always carried out.  See the
fascinating account of King Saul and the witch of Endor in I Sam.28 (by
the way, to my mind Saul is a tragic hero of Shakespearean dimensions).

>From:           Takashi Kozuka

>In (another) classic debate about whether or not the three witches lead
>Macbeth to the evil actions, Marcia Eppich argues:
>
>>The very presence of witches is a matter of sensationalism. A thrill for
>>the Elizabethan audience, if you will.
>
>I'm not sure exactly what Marcia means by these terms, but I believe
>that the presence of witches on the Jacobean stage was more than
>"sensationalism" and/or "thrill" to the audience.

Amen to that.  Shakespeare not averse to providing thrills, but the
witches are a vital engine to the plot--they're the impetus to the evil
that is already in Macbeth but needs a push to get going.  After all,
they are waiting "upon the heath/there to meet Macbeth."  They don't
suggest a course of action, but don't need to--Macbeth and his lady can
act, once the "insane root" is planted.

I see the play as a study of the dynamic between destiny and free
will--one of the great themes of history, literature, theology and
physics.  But that's probably been discussed before.

JBC

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcia Eppich <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Jul 2001 22:26:10 -0500
Subject: 12.1750 Macbeth's Witches
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1750 Macbeth's Witches

Ok, sometimes I forget who I'm talking to on this list.

I am not arguing about what Takashi Kozuka wrote at all. I know that
King James wrote Daemonlogy, and I know how the contemporary audience
felt about witchcraft. However, I still believe that Macbeth's witches
were, at least in part, "for show". That mysterious, evil quality of the
witches is a thriller for audiences of any time period. I think the
witches lend to the appeal of Macbeth for high school students and other
people who feel like Shakespeare is too difficult to understand. But,
yes, we in the 21st century have a different view of the witches and
black magic.

I think, though, that we often forget that Shakespeare was in business.
All I'm saying is that the use of the witches would be a frighteningly
appealing part of Macbeth. I don't think that the Jacobean audience
would howl in fear and run away from the stage at the sight of witches.
I think the audience would be mesmerized, and that kind of enchantment
would probably sell tickets. Of course, I don't have a time machine, so
I can't prove that Shakespeare's audience would be thrilled at a
presentation of evil on stage.  However, most scholars agree that some
witch scenes were interpolated into Macbeth. Wonder why? To add to the
allure of the witchcraft/witch scenes already in the play? To make it
sell? Maybe I just have the (dis)advantage of 21st century money
grubbing in my head and shouldn't think of the bard as someone who would
be out to make money.

Also, I do not contend that the ONLY use of the witches is for a thrill.
Of course, they are a plot device and so on and so forth. But I also
mentioned in my last posting that the witches' influence could be
manipulated by staging. Again, we have to remember that Shakespeare
wrote plays, not really intended for reading as great literature, so a
director would be able to manipulate the witches' importance and
influence as he/she sees fit. And if the only contact a person has with
Shakespeare is in a classroom, then the teacher's interpretation takes
the place of the director's interpretation.  Therefore, it's all in how
we read the plays, right?

I hope I'm not coming off as terribly sarcastic. I don't intend to sound
snide; I'm just stating what I think.

Thanks for the discussion,
Marcia.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Saturday, 14 Jul 2001 00:52:32 -0400
Subject: 12.1734 Re: Macbett
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1734 Re: Macbett

The witches are evil in that although they cannot or at least do not
lie, they intentionally deceive Macbeth by couching their oracles in
ambiguous language that they know he will misinterpret.

My own dissertation chapter on Macbeth suggests (among other things)
Lady Macbeth as a practitioner of goetic magic in the pursuit of
political power.  I suggest that the whereabouts of the missing child
are suggested by the allusion to dashing out her own child's brains as
an act of child sacrifice common in black magic.  Such a practice
implies a higher value placed on personal power than on progeny and
dynasty, one of the political themes of the play.

Thanks to Evelyn Gajowski and Ed Taft for the additional sources.

Clifford

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