The Role of Witches in Act 1 of William Shakespeare's Macbeth
The people of England endured a lot during its vindictive and powerful
history. Reformation both in politics, economy and especially in
religion had created a more independent England.
Henry VIII had broken away from the disintegrating yet more prevailing
and orthodox Catholic Church, for his desire to gain a divorce from
his current wife. It was customary in the Catholic Church that only
the Pope could grant a divorce, and so the Pope refused to bestow one.
The breakaway created an independent Church of England with a new
state religion adopted called "Protestant", in which the king was the ...view middle of the document...
Education was not universal and there were no scientific explanations
for various topics. Rational causes were thrown out of context, and
firm religious beliefs were adopted, which meant that witches were
evil and caused malevolence and suffering.
The people of England believed that witches were employed on behalf of
the devil to cause evil and suffering. They thought witches could fly
through the air, vanish into thin air, predict the future, control the
weather, sink ships and make people mad. Any evil, terrifying or
mysterious events were associated with witches.
Any body suspected of being a witch could be tortured and executed,
but this was not only confined to England but also Europe. The
majority of suspects were single women or elderly women who lived
unaccompanied. In general, women who had no partners or children and
lived alone in isolated places. They were held responsible for all
types of misfortunes and disasters. The fear of being overrun by
witches, led people to take considerable actions against them.
People suspected of witchcraft could be tried very easily and very
harshly. A system of methods to determine whether people where witches
or not were adopted. The method that was selected, and most common and
brutal was the trial by drowning. The suspected persons arms and legs
were tied behind their back before the victim was positioned upon a
ducking stool. The ducking stool was placed by the side of a river or
pond. The stool would be slowly lowered into the vast area of water.
If the person floated, it meant that they were a witch. If they sank,
the person was considered innocent, however they would have drowned.
It was a terrifying method and either way they would have died.
The play "Macbeth" was written between 1603 and 1606. This coincides
with the accession of James VI of Scotland, to the English throne, as
James I of England in 1603. James was personally terrified of witches
because he believed a group of them had raised a storm to try and
drown him, and then created a wax image of him to make him sicken and
die. The suspected women confessed and without reluctance were
executed. He also had a strange experience with one woman from
Scotland, called Agnas Sampson.
Agnas Sampson was brought before the king charged with witchcraft.
James I did not believe in the power of witches, but was surprised
when Agnas told him his exact words exchanged between him and his wife
on their wedding night, and was surprised at the accuracy and detail.
James I felt so strongly about the issue that in 1597, James I
published a book entitled "Daemonologie" in which he argued that
witches really existed, wielded hellish powers and should be
In 1604, Parliament increased the penalty for witchcraft by death, and
subsequently many innocent people were...