Originally Posted by HarryT
In the early 17th century, when the play was written, belief in witchcraft was almost universal. You really can't judge the play by the standards of today's society.
The question, though, as to whether the witches made Macbeth a murderer, or whether they simply foretold something that he was going to do anyway is one that's been asked many times. There is no clearcut answer - one can find arguments to support both sides.
But even if you accept that, for the purposes of the story, witchcraft was real, their relevance to what unfolds always seemed (to me) to be minimal. That probably reveals my own cynicism; that people don't need excuses to behave like complete ....
Given the context of the plays, I'm inclined to think that the witches weren't actually intended to offer any deeper meaning to the story, I think they were added to please the audience - just as modern authors now add vampires, werewolves and zombies.
I get the impression that a modern editor would have told Shakespeare to "kill his darlings" (as that awful modern advice goes), and remove the hags. ... And yet what a loss that would have been. All these questions that we pose now, that need not have been outstanding had he just told the central plot without them.