The three witches who initiate William Shakespeare's (1564 - 1616) Macbeth (1606) are the play's primary figures of theatrical spectacle, their bodies and actions the products of the 'magic of the theatre.' While much critical attention has been paid to the interpretive significance of the witches in Macbeth, much less has focused on the practical physicality of the witches' presence and the methodology of their theatrical presentation. The witches' entrance open Macbeth and is central to understanding their role within Macbeth's Scotland. The 'magic' that appears on stage is acknowledged by its audience as a series of illusions that is an open fiction; but if the 'magic' of the play is illusory, then so too may be the physical and linguistic 'magic' in the world around them. Macbeth's credulity, within the Jacobean context of the play's composition, echoes James's published beliefs in Daemonologie. The theatrical spectacle of the 'magic' in Shakespeare's play concentrates the blame for treason and tyranny exclusively upon Macbeth, and, as James himself was beginning to question his former beliefs in the potency of witchcraft, the play exposes the danger in the persisting belief in magic and prophecy.

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Copyright © 2013 ROMAN Books. This book chapter first appeared in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Reprinted with permission by ROMAN Books.

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