An episode in Macbeth by William Shakespeare: the three witches. Mezzotint by J.R. Smith, 1785, after H. Fuseli, 1783.
- Fuseli, Henry, 1741-1825.
- 10 March 1785
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About this work
When William Shakespeare wrote his play Macbeth, around 1605, there were frequent outbreaks of fear in Europe about the dangers arising from witchcraft. The three witches who open the play seemed to many perfectly credible beings, greatly to be feared and, if possible, to be destroyed. The mixture that Shakespeare's witches claim to make up in the play, from a toad, a Jew's liver, the finger of a child strangled at birth, etc. raises up evil spirits of the kind that were believed to work in cahoots with the devil and to cause illness and death, wasting of crops, shipwrecks and stillbirths. Even after a literal belief in witches became confined to the least educated and least powerful, the witch remained a potent figure in the culture of the elite. The ghastly witches are accompanied on the left by a deathshead moth, a moth with markings resembling a skull on its back
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