Macbeth is one of the most powerful literary works of William Shakespeare. The play is also considered the best tragic, as well as, darkest play of the great English author. Macbeth was written during beginning of the seventeenth century. Contemporary English society was quite superstitious and used to believe in various false notions. William Shakespeare described this superstitious behaviour in his different literary works including Macbeth. This paper proposes a discussion on Macbeth and further analyses how Shakespeare describes the theme of three in Macbeth by mentioning three witches, three murders and three prophecies.
Shakespeare wrote this novel in the beginning of the seventeenth century when the condition of England was absolutely different from what it is today. This period was a period of social upheaval in the society of United Kingdom. People were highly superstitious and used to believe that number 3 is not lucky for them. Number 3 was considered unlucky, magical and special in the contemporary society. William Shakespeare has significantly used number 3 throughout the play Macbeth. Shakespeare prominently portrays 3 witches, three murders by Macbeth and 3 prophecies (Williams 330).
Three witches appear several times in the play. They appear for the first time in act 1.1 in Macbeth and assure Macbeth to meet later. In 1.3, witches assure Macbeth that he will be the king and his friend Banquo will be in capacity of generating line of nobles. It is worth mentioning that prophesies of witches affected the acts of Macbeth in a significant manner. Macbeth decided to take over the throne of Scotland after the prophecy of witches. Macbeth’s subsequent actions and decisions were also affected significantly by prophesies of three witches (Shakespeare 12-13).
These three witches symbolize evil, darkness and conflict in the play. Three witches have been portrayed as spectators in different scenes, but their presence itself indicates of treachery and disaster that is about to take place. The magic of three started get reflecting when witches say “The weird sisters, hand in hand, Posters of the sea and land, thus go about, about: thrice to thine and thrice to mine, and thrice again, to make up nine. Peace! The charm’s wound up” (Shakespeare 10).
Witches are used to represent evil spirit in the contemporary Britain and were considered the most worst. Witches are portrayed conspiring politically, socially, mentally and spiritually. They used to misguide and corrupt minds of people. Witches used to persuade people for destruction activities and people had no choice but to believe their version of the story as they had access to both worlds. The same concept is depicted in the play of Macbeth, where three witches inform Macbeth about three important things that will happen in future. It seems like in the play, witches try to control the though process of Macbeth by telling him prophecies and set the plot of the play. Witches play the role of a catalyst by growing the darkness inside the Macbeth. Three witches used Macbeth as dummy to perform the murder of Duncan king and other.
Like three witches, Shakespeare has portrayed three murderers in the play and the third murderer is Macbeth. Shakespeare has portrayed Macbeth as one of murderers who commits three different murders in the play. Murders, committed by Macbeth were necessary in order to be powerful and continue his rule. William Shakespeare has again presented the importance of number 3 in the play by describing three murders, committed by Macbeth. Number 3 has got the enormous significance in the play that also shows how number three was considered in the contemporary society (Bloom 117).
The first murder of the Scotland King Duncan in act 1.2 set the plot for further play. The murder of king develops a fear in the mind of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, which lead to the second murder in the story. Macbeth realized that all warnings or prophecies mentioned by the three witches will come true, therefore he plot second murder of Banquo. The third murder of Macduff’s family was performed in act 4.5. All three murder performed in story do not have any solid base, but driven by the motivation of witches.
Prophecies are also one the major theme in the play. Three prophecies by three witches set the whole plot of the play in motion. The first prophecy says that “Macbeth will become thane of Cawdor” and second says that “Macbeth will become king of Scotland”(Grosz and Wendler 32). The third prophecy was about Banquo, it says his sons will be the kings, but he will not. The three prophesies said by three witches at beginning, drive the whole play. All three prophecies come true through the play.
The play confused audience at sometimes when they wonder if all prophecies made by the witches were fate or they are self-fulfilling. After knowing the prophecies Macbeth himself performed all actions that made him a king. Macbeth’s actions were driven by the prophecies, but in reality it looks like that witches intentionally says those prophecies to encourage Macbeth to perform actions. Shakespeare efficiently combined the sudden disappearance of witches and disbelief of Macbeth and Banquo (Zambrano 262).
In act ii, scene 1 Macbeth murder the Duncan King with the help of Lady Macbeth. Act ii, scene 4 both sons of Duncan fled away as they were charged for murdering their father, and Macbeth become the king of Scotland. Banquo suspects that it could be Macbeth who murdered the king but did not speak because the third prophecy was about his sons will be king. Macbeth after becoming the king started thinking about the third prophecy and considered Banquo as a threat. Therefore, Macbeth hired two murders to kill Banquo and his son. However, murderers only killed Banquo and his son was able to escape.
Macbeth scared of what all he has done and in order to know the future visit three witches again. Three witches again made three prophecies to Macbeth first “be aware of bloody revenge by Macduff”, “None of woman born shall harm Macbeth” and “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him” (Grosz and Wendler 32). In Act five, all three prophecies made by the witches come true. Macduff has a caesarian birth but Macbeth was not aware of this fact. In act five, scene eight Macduff and Macbeth come face-to-face and Macduff kills Macbeth. The play ends when Malcolm becomes the new king of Scotland.
After going through the portrayal of number three in Macbeth and its various aspects it can be concluded that Number 3 is not necessarily an evil number but it is also considered positive as it denotes Trinity. However Shakespeare has presented number 3 in negative ways in his play and has highlighted the evil side of this number. Three witches, three murders and three prophecies have been portrayed by the Shakespeare in the play that keeps driving the story. Readers are suggested by the author to peep into the contemporary social beliefs of England by such portrayal. Thus the theme of number 3 plays very crucial role throughout the play of Macbeth.
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Grosz, Tanya and Wendler, Linda. Macbeth. Portland: Walch Publishing, 2003.
Honan, Park. Shakespeare: A Life. New York: Clarendon Press, 1998.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. London: Marcus Prager Lindo, 1853.
Williams, George Walton. "Macbeth": King James's Play." South Atlantic Review 47.2 (1982): 12-21.
Zambrano, Ana Laura. "Throne of Blood: Kurosawa's Macbeth." Literature/Film Quarterly 2.3 (1974): 262.