Shakespeare wrote Macbeth at a time when interest in witchcraft bordered on hysteria. Witches were blamed for causing illness, death and disaster, and were thought to punish their enemies by giving them nightmares, making their crops fail and their animals sicken.
The Macbeth and the Three Witches 1855 painting originally painted by Theodore Chasseriau
Witches were thought to allow the Devil to suckle from them in the form of an animal, such as ‘Graymalkin’ and ‘Paddock’, the grey cat and the toad mentioned by the Witches in Act 1, Scene 1. Those who were convicted were often tortured, their trials reported in grisly detail in pamphlets that circulated in their hundreds. Often, those accused of witchcraft lived on the edges of society: they were old, poor and unprotected, and were therefore easy to blame.
Στο έργο, οι τρεις μάγισσες αντιπροσωπεύουν το σκοτάδι, το χάος και τη σύγκρουση, ενώ παίζουν και το ρόλο των μαρτύρων. Την εποχή του Σαίξπηρ, οι μάγισσες θεωρούνταν χειρότερες από επαναστάτες, αφού ήταν όχι μόνο πολιτικοί αλλά και πνευματικοί προδότες.