"Witchy" Women in Jacobean England: Subverting the Chain of Being in Shakespeare's Macbeth
Smith, Barbara A.
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William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play that explores the complex relationship between powerful women and witchcraft. In the early modern era, women who disrupted the natural order by displaying “unfeminine” characteristics of shrewishness, heightened sexual prowess, or an independence of mind outside of the home, were designated "other." Their purported unruly behavior led to these women being labeled as witches: a pejorative term that aligns potent females with the Devil and demonic spirits. Shakespeare created Macbeth to reflect this social interest in women as witches. In the play, the Weird Sisters are constructed as stereotypical, literal witches, whereas Lady Macbeth figures as a metaphorical witch. She, like the historical “witches” in England and Scotland, is ultimately suppressed because she subverts the Great Chain of Being by rising above her station in an unnatural way.