Minor Characters

For my second essay for Shakespeare, I decided to analyze the impact of minor characters on a plays plot. I wanted to use this theme and apply it to Macbeth because it seems to reppear and a lot of Shakespeare’s plays

From the first act of Macbeth, we meet two witches who proclaim to Macbeth and Banquo their future. Macbeth is said to be king and Banquo’s children will become royalty. As we know, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are excited by his proclaimed future and kill the current king to make the witches statement true. This is our first encounter with the witches controlling the plot of the play. Now that we enter Act III, Banquo realizes Macbeth’s future has become true, he wants his fortunes. In essence, the witches contribute very few lines to the play but they control the major characters actions. The witches were able to force murder on the current king, what will Banquo do in order to make his come true?

Entering Act Iv, the witches reappear in a cavern spitting out riddles to the major characters. They do not answer any questions, instead perform a crazy dance and vanish. Analyzing this action further, the witches are able to reveal “half truths” but our characters are using their information as whole truths. Even when they speak in riddle, the characters are driven crazy trying to decipher it. They are left with unanswered questions and take matters into their own hands. Instead of ignoring the witches prophecies, they are controlled by it and will perform violent tasks in order to obtain a “half truth”

Looking deeper into the witches as characters, they are vague in appearance as well. They call themselves women, but they have man-ish qualities, like beards. Shakespeare cross-genders the witches because of their confusing nature. Because they speak in rhyme and riddles, speak half-truths, it does make sense for them to be half woman, half man. Mixing the two genders makes them even more confusing then they already are.

While doing some research on the two sisters, it suggests looking up terminology for the word “weird.” The anglo-saxon word “wyrd” means fate or doom.  Both of these words apply directly to the two sisters, they rhyme and riddle fate while almost forcing the characters to their doom.



2 thoughts on “Minor Characters

  1. maggylynn

    I like the idea that the witches being “half-gendered” parallels their imperfect speech. Their confusing nature (whether it be gender or speech) mirrors their role in the play. Their projection of Macbeth and Banquo’s fates can be taken many different ways. Is it their speech that makes things come true (do they really know what will happen?) or is it their ability to prompt people into believing that something will happen? Their purpose seems unclear – are they predicting or instigating? I think the they are often seen in only half-light so that the audience is never quite sure what to make of them.

  2. irenecorvinus

    It’s interesting how you commented on the vagueness of the witches appearance. I like the idea of a split gendered witch simply because I think it characterizes them better. The witches seem to be neither good or evil, they don’t manipulate Macbeth yet they pique his curiosity and their identity as both women and possibly men according to your post is a great idea. They are right down the middle of all aspects of life which is why the readers and Macbeth himself doesn’t completely understand or trust what the witches are saying.


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