The Influence of ‘Withcraft’ in the 16th Century on Macbeth and Shakespeare – British Library



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“In Shakespeare’s England, anxiety about witchcraft and belief in magic and the supernatural were not limited to the lower or uneducated classes. Macbeth is a powerful man of high estate, and though at times he questions the validity of the three witches and their prophecies, he ultimately accepts the potential of witchcraft and magic. One of Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers, Sir Walter Ralegh, described witches as women controlled by the Devil. But others, such as Reginald Scot, author of The Discoverie of Witchcraft, were far more sceptical; Scot argued against the existence of supernatural witchcraft and claimed that some accused witches were women with mental illness while others may have been con artists. Indeed, at the height of the witchcraft trials almost all of those accused were women, and many of them poor or economically vulnerable who, like the witches of Macbeth, might beg their neighbours for something to eat. But unlike the stage witches, who, in Act 4, Scene 1, truly can conjure powerful magic, while some of those accused were convinced they were able to do so, ability to perform such magic was only on stage.”


Article discussing how witchcraft trials in the 16th century influenced England’s culture and Shakespeare’s writing in Macbeth. This piece argues that King James I certainty in the existence of witchcraft and interest in it led Shakespeare to craft the story of Macbeth to “please his new king.”


  • Carole Levin


  • Witchcraft in Shakespeare’s England


  • British Library


  • No date.


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