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Examination Questions on Macbeth

Question: What do you understand the "Weird Sisters" in Macbeth to be?

Answer: The "Weird Sisters" in Macbeth seem to us neither on the one hand mere mortal witches of popular superstition, nor yet, as Holinshed states, and as their name would imply, do we see in them "goddesses of destiny" -- "fates" determining human actions and issues without regard to that fundamental essence of personality, will. They know the future and can foretell events; yet they are not able of themselves to make those events come to pass. They also know the thoughts, tendencies, and purposes of human hearts, and herein lies the secret of their power over mortals. If there be not already the element of evil, the Weird Sisters never corrupt any man. It is that already in the heart which they draw out and develop.

I have been specially impressed by Mr. Hudson's idea of the symbolical character attached to the Weird Sisters -- that they are but the poetical embodiment of that mysterious principle of action and reaction which constantly goes on between the evil mind and external nature.

As to special or real character of the Weird Sisters, Mr. Hudson finds nothing gross, sensual, or vulgar about them; deems them "the purity of sin incarnate -- the vestal virgins, so to speak, of hell; in whom everything is reversed; whose ascent is downwards; whose proper eucharist is a sacrament of evil; whose law is violation of all law." Now, I like this idea very much; but, for some reason, find it impossible to divest myself of the feeling that there must be a certain and marked grossness about beings who could compile such surpassingly disgusting charm-potions as those upon which we find the Weird Sisters engaged in the latter part of the play.

Their relation to the play as a whole is no less important than to Macbeth as an individual. These creatures, whose proper element is the tempest, whose chariot is the whirl-wind, whose religion is to do the evil, form a fit setting for a drama in which the very ground rocks beneath one's feet, in which the whole action is a stormy struggle between the powers of good and the powers of evil.

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How to cite this article:
Bowman, N. B. Shakespeare Examinations. Ed. William Taylor Thom, M. A. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1888. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < >.


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