discuss the Supernatural theme in Macbeth

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Macbeth Theme of The Supernatural

Witchcraft features prominently in Macbeth. The play opens, in fact, with the weird sisters conjuring on the Scottish heath. The witches are also the figures that set the play in motion when they accurately predict that Macbeth will be crowned king. Clearly, they have supernatural powers but their power over Macbeth is debatable. At times, the weird sisters seem to represent general anxieties about the unknown. They also seem to represent fears of powerful women who invert traditional gender roles. Elsewhere, the witches appear rather harmless, despite their malevolent intentions. Ultimately, the weird sisters are ambiguous figures that raise more questions than can be answered.


Supernatural in Shakespeare's Plays

In the time of William Shakespeare there was a strong belief

in the existence of the supernatural. Thus, the supernatural is a

recurring aspect in many of Mr. Shakespeare¹s plays. In two such

plays, Hamlet and Macbeth, the supernatural is an integral part of

the structure of the plot. It provides a catalyst for action, an

insight into character, and augments the impact of many key scenes.

The supernatural appears to the audience in many varied forms. In

Hamlet there appears perhaps the most notable of the supernatural

forms, the ghost. However, in Macbeth, not only does a ghost appear

but a floating dagger, witches, and prophetic apparitions make

appearances. The role of the supernatural is very important in Hamlet

and Macbeth.

A ghost, appearing in the form of Hamlet¹s father, makes

several appearances in the play. It first appears to the watchmen,

Marcellus and Bernardo, along with Horatio near the guardsmens' post.

The ghost says nothing to them and is perceived with fear and

apprehension, ³It harrows me with fear and wonder². It is not until

the appearance of Hamlet that the ghost speaks, and only then after

Horatio has expressed his fears about Hamlet following it, ³What if it

tempt you toward the flood, my lord, or to the dreadful summit of the


The conversation between the ghost and Hamlet serves as a

catalyst for Hamlet¹s later actions and provides insight into Hamlet¹s

character. The information the ghost reveals incites Hamlet into

action against a situation he was already uncomfortable with, and now

even more so. Hamlet is not quick to believe the ghost, ³The spirit

that I have seen may be a devil... and perhaps out of my weakness and

my melancholy..abuses me to damn me², and thus an aspect of Hamlet¹s

character is revealed. Hamlet, having no suspicion of the ghost after

the production by the players, encounters the ghost next in his

mother¹s room. In this scene the ghost makes an appearance to ³whet²

Hamlet¹s ³almost blunted purpose². Hamlet is now convinced of the

ghost and he no longer harbors any suspicion. He now listens to it,

³Speak to her, Hamlet².

In Hamlet, the supernatural is the guiding force behind

Hamlet. The ghost ask Hamlet to seek revenge for the King¹s death and

Hamlet is thus propelled to set into action a series of events that

ends in Hamlet¹s death.

The supernatural occurs four times during the course of

Macbeth. It occurs in all the appearances of the witches, in the

appearance of Banquo¹s ghost, in the apparitions with their

prophesies, and in the ³air-drawn² dagger that guides Macbeth towards

his victim.

Of the supernatural phenomenon evident in Macbeth the witches

are perhaps the most important. The witches represent Macbeth¹s evil

ambitions. They are the catalyst which unleash Macbeth¹s evil

aspirations. Macbeth believes the witches and wishes to know more

about the future so after the banquet he seeks them out at their cave.

He wants to know the answers to his questions regardless of whether

the consequence be violent and destructive to nature. The witches

promise to answer and at Macbeth¹s choice they add further unnatural

ingredients to the cauldron and call up their masters. This is where

the prophetic apparitions appear. The first apparition is Macbeth¹s

own head (later to be cut off by Macduff) confirming his fears of

Macduff. The second apparition tells Macbeth that he can not be harmed

by no one born of woman. This knowledge gives Macbeth a false sense of

security because he believes that he cannot be harmed, yet Macduff was

not of woman born, his mother was dead and a corpse when Macduff was

born. This leads to Macbeth¹s downfall. A child with a crown on his

head, the third apparition, represents Malcolm, Duncan¹s son. This

apparition also gives Macbeth a false sense of security because of the

Birnam Wood prophesy.

The appearance of Banquo¹s ghost provides insight into

Macbeth¹s character. It shows the level that Macbeth¹s mind has

recessed to. When he sees the ghost he reacts with horror and upsets

the guests. Macbeth wonders why murder had taken place many times in

the past before it was prevented by law -²statute purged the gentle

weal²- and yet the dead are coming back.

The final form of the supernatural is the ³air-drawn² dagger

which leads Macbeth to his victim. When the dagger appears to him,

Macbeth finally becomes victim to the delusions of his fevered brain.

The dagger points to Duncan¹s room and appears to be covered in blood.

The dagger buttresses the impact of this key scene in which Macbeth

slays King Duncan.

The supernatural is a recurring aspect in many of the plays by

William Shakespeare. In Hamlet and Macbeth the supernatural is an

integral part of the structure of the plot. In these plays the

supernatural provides a catalyst for action by the characters. It

supplies insight into the major players and it augments the impact of

many key scenes. The supernatural appeals to the audience¹s curiosity

of the mysterious and thus strengthens their interest.