The Role of the Supernatural in Shakespeare's Play Macbeth

The Role of the Supernatural in Shakespeare's Play Macbeth

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The Role of the Supernatural in Shakespeare's Play Macbeth

"Macbeth" was a tragedy written by William Shakespeare in 1606. Five
years after the death of Elizabeth 1st and the accession of James 1st,
also James Vi of Scotland. The play shows the defeat of a man who has
many fine qualities, but commits murder as a result of his ambition to
become a king influenced by a prophecy of the supernatural witches.

The first scene shows the witches planning to meet Macbeth. The
setting of this scene is very important; they meet on a moor in
thunder and lightning. The surroundings portray an evil image. The
moor is a very lonely, barren and bleak place, while thunder and
lightning are associated with evil. The witches´ language includes
rhyming couplets that contradict each other and sound very powerful.
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air"
This quote tells us about the witches´ hatred for all things good, and
their love for things that are evil. Shakespeare adds rhyme and rhythm
to the witches´ language to emphasize their wickedness. The second
part of this quote adds to their image of wickedness and would have
created tension among the audience.

Most of Shakespeare's audience believed in the supernatural as they
were discovering the origin of life. Some critics say that the witch
made Macbeth commit the murder, but was this entirely true or was it
Macbeth's wife who persuaded him into doing so? How much influence did
the supernatural have on Macbeth? These are just some of the questions
that I will be exploring within this essay.

The visual impact of the witches may give a sign of their power, and
may fascinate the audience to look forwards in re-meeting them. Their
strange appearance "That not look like th' inhabitants of the earth"
shows that Banquo and Macbeth are mesmerized by their looks. In act 3
scene 1, Banquo seems to comment more about their looks than Macbeth,
and gives signs that Banquo is taking them less seriously than

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Macbeth. The witches wickedness is an obvious sign of evil and Banquo
senses this but Macbeth is less convinced as they prophesized a
positive future for Macbeth.

Throughout the play the witches give a sign of evil and the storm that
seems to move around with them is a major feature of their evil. This
could mean that the witches have the power to create storms and
control the weather, which gives the extent of their power. Another
example of this is after Duncan's murder when the weather turns into
an intense storm. "The night has been unruly...strange screams of
death" said Lennox. The witches' power is evident in all three scenes
in which they appear ranging from the conjuring of storms and the
storm that travels around with them. This storm not only portrays
evil, but power as well. The storm emanates a sign of power right from
the start and to the finish of "Macbeth". Another example of this
storm is from Act 1 Scene 3, where the witches' creation of a storm at
sea shows the extent of their power. "Through his bark…tempest-tost",
saying that she created a storm that killed the sailor. I think this
suggests that the witches do not have the power over life and death
but can exert an evil influence over other things, the weather in this
case, to create a fear within the audience.

The witches appearance and actions in the play are stereotypical of
the public awareness of witches in the Elizabethan age. Not much was
then known about witches and their existence was already beginning to
be questioned. The witches in "Macbeth" would probably have been
loosely based on the information known about witches at the time. The
only information known about the witches was that they had
supernatural powers that allowed then doing many mesmerizing stunts
that were thought to be unexplainable by using witchcraft.

It could be said that Macbeth controls his actions as shown when
Macbeth says let fate take its course. This shows that Macbeth thought
of the idea of murder before but the witches just sparked it off. The
witches, for example in Act 1 Scene 2, did not have the power over
life or death, but were able to tempt Macbeth into committing the
murders. This ties in with the theme of the Devil in Christianity and
how the devil is evil and persuasive. The Devil cannot make you do
anything but simply tempt you into committing a crime. However you
could say that the witches in "Macbeth" were not responsible for all
the events leading up to the climax of the play. The witches seem able
to control Macbeth's destiny. If they had indeed manipulated his
destiny to an extent, this would show that the witches in the play did
have power over life and death. The witches, who might be considered
to be the catalysts to Macbeth's actions, also affected all of the
other characters in the play in some way.

Other than the witches there are other signs of the supernatural in
the play. These include the first encounter with Lady Macbeth. We get
a sense of superstition in the ways in which lady Macbeth speaks to
the audience, "That I may pour my spirits in thine ear." This shows
that Lady Macbeth wanted to fill Macbeth's head with evil thoughts
that she had within her, by using supernatural methods of seduction.

Even though Macbeth has committed the crimes that he has, he still
regrets committing them. We can see this when he sees the daggers
before his eyes just after he kills the king, which shows how he is
seeing thing: "Is this a dagger that I see before me?" This shows how
Macbeth has been hallucinating the daggers, but her later find out in
the play that this was not the first time that this was to happen.
Macbeth also 'sees' the ghost of Banquo at the dinner table who haunts
him and drives him even more insane then he is. This shows the effect
of the supernatural on Macbeth's metal state. The Jacobean audience
would easily influenced by such events and would believe in their
existence. In all his madness Macbeth doesn't realise his mistake that
he has just made in front of people, but still continues to act in
such way that the guests could become suspicious because he thinks it
is some sort of trap. Also, he becomes so fanatical that he forgets
his wife, Lady Macbeth, was suffering but Macbeth did not spend time
with her. This cause them to move apart from each other even more then
they already were. So near towards the end of the play all signs of
love and affection were gone between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and
never even spoke to each other. This was the cause of the supernatural
witches and the prophesies that they made.

In conclusion I believe that the supernatural was the central to
action of the play and did exert a pressure on Macbeth to perform the
murders and influenced the way he lived thereafter. However, the
witches' powers could not extend as far as to force Macbeth to commit
the murders. The witches did not force him to do the murder but just
influenced him in doing so. Their role, as outlined earlier, was to
incite him to doing so.
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