The High School Macbeth

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Updated: Aug 31, 2023
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A witch is an individual who possesses supernatural powers; their unnatural abilities are usually in relation with the devil or evil spirits. This monster and its representation in culture have shifted over time. If we look at modern times, monsters are exciting and their narratives are changing frequently. We are not focusing on gender constraints nor are we focusing on rules as we used to. However, this wasn’t always the case; many people were racialized, marginalized, and dehumanized throughout the history of monster culture.

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These effects applied to all groups: race, gender, sexuality, political view, religion etc. Since the beginning of time, we have observed deviant groups being monstrized by mainstream culture.

Casting monsters, such as witches and zombies, upon certain groups is done to dismiss them from society. As we grow as a nation and become more aware of these wrongdoings, these actions have become less acceptable. This specific reason is why we must continue to analyze the shift in the meanings behind the monster. For example, witches have evolved from antagonist to protagonist. From being mentioned in The Bible to appearing in Shakespeare’s Macbeth as well as contemporary films (“The Witch”), we are able to decipher the developing meaning of witches over time.

Why were witches created as monsters? The answer lies in specific times and places. There are a variety of reasons for why witches have been vilified, but there is an overarching theme that is being played out within these witch stories; specifically the rebellion and deviance of societal and religious norms. Looking back at Jeffrey Cohen’s piece, Monster Culture (Seven Theses), Thesis One states that “the monster is a cultural body”. This can be explained by looking at witches in The Bible: for example, in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Moses states to the children of Israel, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, or engages in witchcraft…”. The monster’s body evokes feelings of fear and anxiety when examined from a religious perspective.

When thinking about Thesis One, we must also consider what the monster is warning us about. In this case, society is being warned about the consequences of religious deviance or nonconformity. During the 7th century BC, witches were perceived as individuals practicing witchcraft for evil and demonic purposes. The creation of witches and their goal to frighten a population into Christian morals and modalities can be further explained by Thesis Four, which states, “monsters dwell at the gates of difference”. In this respect, the difference between “them” and “us” is clear. By creating a monster that represents non-Christians, the marginalization and dehumanization of these people becomes justifiable.

The influence of witches in society during the 7th century BC was only the start of what came to be a major turnover in witch productions. We have come to acknowledge witches as intrusive to the Christian religion, and Shakespeare contributes to this narrative. During the 15th century, Shakespeare produced Macbeth, a play about three pot-stirring, deceiving, and evil witches who trick Macbeth into his downfall. At the time, European settler colonialism was just beginning in North America; settlers built their first settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. The European settlers’ next accomplishment would be establishing Christianity as the primary religion. With help from Shakespeare, Christians were able to spread their beliefs about witches and propagate the notion that witches were part of a demonic scheme created by the devil himself to ruin humankind.

The witches in Macbeth played an important role in society. As this play was written about 400 years ago, many people at the time were extremely superstitious. This meant that there wasn’t any difficulty in negatively impacting the population’s view of witches, as the people were very suggestible. Reading Arthur Miller’s novel, The Crucible, through a monster perspective, we can see how prevalent witches are in our societies. This novel is a story about the Salem witch trials that took place in Massachusetts during the late 1600’s. The plot unfolds as follows: a group of teenage girls, dancing naked around a fire, are accused of practicing witchcraft. To avoid punishment, they start accusing random people (not witches), who are consequently executed because practicing witchcraft was deemed immoral.

The Crucible was written in 1953, a time when many major events were occurring throughout the United States, starting with the Hollywood scare. The Hollywood scare refers to a period in the late 1940s when the House Un-American Activities Committee targeted individuals they believed to be communists. Hundreds of actors, directors, and other entertainment professionals were blacklisted because of their alleged suspicious activity in the film industry. Miller probably wrote The Crucible during this period, inspired by the finger-pointing in the entertainment industry. This brings us to the concept of “the Other”. Historically, “the Other” has been defined as anything that deviates from the stereotypical image of an American. This could be seen as American exceptionalism; an ideology that regards the United States as superior among nations, especially in terms of democracy and freedom.

In the United States, we often see a kind of hypocrisy when discussing issues of race, economics, and militarism, which can only be justified by American exceptionalism. America’s historical narrative frequently uses “the Other” as a scapegoat when encountering fear. This fear has led to the creation of many social issues such as racism and xenophobia. Miller’s novel, with its hysteria over “the Other”, demonstrates how a society’s fluctuating emotions over sensitive issues can lead to chaos. In this case, witches were the “sensitive issue”, but in reality, the sensitive issue was dealing with communists and their supporters. Lastly, The Crucible has a distinct social drama element in its portrayal of a society’s reaction to unexpected and horrifying fear.

Last but not least, the biggest transformation I have encountered is the way witches are perceived in modern times. For centuries, people have thought of witches as the Devil’s right-hand man, but the socially popular TV series, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, has proved them wrong. Sabrina Spellman, as the protagonist, is defined by her actions; she is the character who undergoes the most significant change. In the show, Sabrina is a high school girl with witch-like powers. She descends from a long history of witches and is taught how to use her magical powers with the help of her witch aunts. Throughout the series, Sabrina is faced with various obstacles, which is when she must decide whether or not she will use her powers for good or evil (more often than not, she makes the right choice). This TV series was produced and aired around the time when the early-third wave feminist activism movement emerged in the early 1990s.

In Grady’s article, she claims that “early third-wave activism tended to involve fighting against workplace sexual harassment and working to increase the number of women in positions of power.” During that time, people began noticing that there was considerable gender inequality, particularly a patriarchal dimension to the monstrosity of witches. This implied that there were patriarchal institutions attempting to control industries with accusations of witchcraft targeting women to maintain the scarce presence of matriarchal establishments. Accusing someone of being a witch became a strategy for individuals to outcompete and gain leverage over others. Notably, with the courageous battle Anita Hill waged against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991, America was shaken by the number of sexual misconduct allegations that subsequently came to light.

This development signified that women, despite encountering sexual harassment and abuse, were resisting by reporting these incidents. I believe this movement was a primary reason for the shift in witch culture. A more modern perspective on Sabrina values feminism and her self-independence, although witches are traditionally deemed “wicked”. In an article written by Clarisse Lou in The Independent, she cites reasons why she believes that Sabrina’s character exhibits feminism down the years. Specifically, she indicates how witches, once perceived as social outcasts, have come to be seen as “a new powerful image of femininity” thanks to contemporary movements.

Overall, witches currently possess a much-altered understanding and interpretation compared with the biblical era. A prime example that demonstrates this change in meaning over time is the play, Wicked, by Stephen Schwartz. As I have elaborated in my production history, Wicked identifies the socially constructed divisions in our society. Examining how witches have evolved allows for a clearer insight into the questions of “Why were witches created? And who benefits from this creation?” We have seen how witches were negatively depicted in dogmatic times, as well as in the portrayal of this monster in The Crucible. For decades, witches were vilified and eliminated in myths from all around the world.

The only people who benefited from the creation of this monster were men, more specifically, white, wealthy men who dislike seeing women in positions of power. Until more recent times, witches were dangerous, ugly, and evil. But as we progress in societal issues, we see an evolution that depicts witches as sexy, funny, and lovable. Regardless of our progress, we still fear witches. The monster always seems to escape because there is a feeling of anxiety instilled in society that remains even after the myth of a witch is told.

Women (in power) being thought of as witches can only be explained with the notion of the conflation of deviance. We represent this group in such a way that is associated with social deviance. As a myth, witches play many roles in society; these roles change constantly depending on the cultural climate. At the moment, witches are seen as complex and powerful, and not simply recognized because of their magic. We have redefined this monster to accurately represent what we feel is right. Ultimately, we have to acknowledge that monsterizing people is extremely dangerous and dehumanizing. With enough research and evidence, we must take a critical look at how we can overcome these mechanisms of social issues and power structures, which have impacted women for centuries across the world.

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The High School Macbeth. (2022, Apr 11). Retrieved from