Why do you think Shakespeare used a scene with three witches to start this play?

think about how this beginning might prepare the audience for what is to come. This question is from the Act 1 discussion questions in the book 

Asked by
Last updated by jill d #170087
Answers 1
Add Yours

Starting from the Weird Sisters' first words that open the play, audiences quickly ascertain that things are not what they seem. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "equivocation" has two different meanings—both of which are applicable to this play. The first is:

“The using (a word) in more than one sense; ambiguity or uncertainty of meaning in words; also . . . misapprehension arising from the ambiguity of terms.”

 This definition as simple verbal ambiguity is the one that audiences are most familiar with—and one that plays an important role in the play.

The use of words or expressions that are susceptible of a double signification, with a view to mislead; esp. the expression of a virtual falsehood in the form of a proposition which (in order to satisfy the speaker's conscience) is verbally true.

This kind of equivocation is similar to lying; it is intentionally designed to mislead and confuse.

The intentional ambiguity of terms is what we see in the prophesies of the Weird Sisters. Their speech is full of paradox and confusion, starting with their first assertion that "fair is foul and foul is fair" (I i 10). The witches' prophesies are intentionally ambiguous. The alliteration and rhymed couplets in which they speak also contributes to the effect of instability and confusion in their words. For many readers, more than one reading is required to grasp a sense of what the witches mean. It is not surprising, therefore, that these "imperfect speakers" can easily bedazzle and confuse Macbeth throughout the course of the play (I iii 68).

Just as their words are confusing, it is unclear as to whether the witches merely predict or actually effect the future.