Essay on Supernatural Forces in "Macbeth"
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The Play “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare is shaped by supernatural forces with the use of the weird witches, the apparition of the ghost, and the floating dagger. These forces lead Macbeth to act in the way he did and add suspense to the play. The play opens with the three witches, and later on Macbeth and Banquo encounter them. They prophesized that Macbeth will be promoted to Thane of Cawdor, and then become King of Scotland. In addition to that, Banquo was told that his sons shall be kings, but never himself. Macbeth was skeptical about the prophesies, but until some of King Duncan’s men came to inform Macbeth that that he was to be named Thane of Cawdor due to the betrayal of the previous and condemned to death. Then Lady Macbeth…show more content…
If Macbeth didn’t know about this prophecy he would have happily took his position as Thane of Cawdor, but knowing he will be King drove him to commit murder. Macbeth was rapidly changed from an honorable general to an evil tyrant. “The witches did not tell him to commit murder; all that was necessary was for them to suggest the fact of the crown, and they could trust Macbeth to overcome the obstacles in his way just as they would have him” (Wiley, 45). This emphasizes the fact that the play is shaped by the supernatural. This lead to the murder of Duncan, then to get rid of his obstacles he kills the guards. The Witches also reveal “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none” (1.3.67) to Banquo. This knowledge leads Macbeth to send Murderers to kill Banquo and his son. This is more evidence to show that the words of the witches construct the plays events. The witches play an important role they have the ability to predict the future and affect it too. Without their warnings and predictions Macbeth wouldn’t have chosen to act in the way he did. In their second appearance they prophesize that that he cannot be harmed by no one born of woman, a child with a crown represents Malcolm, and he’s warned about the moving Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill. “But yet I’ll make assurance double sure, and take a bond of fate” (4.1.83-84).
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Shakespeare wrote Macbeth at a period of time when people believed in the supernatural as natural daily occurrences. The common belief was that powers of good and evil remained in constant conflict to take control of the souls of people. Witches, as elements of the supernatural, were, of course, on the side of evil.
Other phenomena were thought to occur in nature as a reaction to man’s unnatural or sinful acts. Shakespeare makes use of elements like the three witches, ghosts, gory scenes and unnatural events to heighten the dramatic effect of the supernatural in Macbeth.
The play Macbeth starts with a dramatic portrayal of elements of the supernatural in the form of the three witches announcing their continued presence in the play.
When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lighting or in rain? (3, 1, 1)
There to meet with Macbeth. (3, 1, 8)
This enhances the perception of the role of the supernatural throughout the play. So it is, as the plot of the play is dependant on the prophecies of the three witches. They immediately let the audience know that they will have an evil influence on Macbeth.
All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!
All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter! (8, 1, 47)
Characters of the play are influenced by the power of the witches and these words play a crucial role in their moral downfall. It is easier for Macbeth and his wife to believe in prophecy rather than in free will. It is customary to refer to Macbeth and his wife as the symbols of evil and violence, but more profound analysis makes evident that these personalities are too complicated to regard them from a single point of view.
They represent a mixture of various emotions and intentions. For example, Macbeth initially fears the witches’ prophecy and refuses to kill Duncan. Before the witches appear, Macbeth is a lauded thane in battle, one whom the king trusts implicitly. As he considers his wife’s plan, he hallucinates a dagger, which seems to be leading him to Duncan’s chamber, and interprets it to mean that he should kill the king.
Would he have interpreted it that way if he had not heard the witches’ prophecies? Later, Macbeth becomes ruthless and overconfident while his wife descends into the tormenting depths of guilt by the end of the play.
Even as Lady Macbeth was influenced by the suggestion of these witches, she did show some moral hesitation. When she went into Duncan’s chamber, she found herself unable to kill him because of his appearance; she notes,
Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t. (27, 2, 12)
She also manages to rescue her husband from the horrors created by his own conscience during his coronation banquet. Macbeth hallucinates the ghost of Banquo. As Macbeth is addressing the ghost that nobody else sees, the thanes become alarmed and consider leaving. Lady Macbeth attempts to calm him and explain his odd behavior to the other thanes:
Sit, worthy friends: my lord is often thus,
And hath been from his youth: pray you, keep seat;
The fit is momentary; upon a thought
He will again be well: if much you note him,
You shall offend him and extend his passion:
Feed, and regard him not (Act III, Scene IV)
Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are two strong personalities with cruel and evil intentions. Until they heard the witches’ prophecy their true personalities seemed to be hidden. The witches’ suggestions illuminate the true characters’ motivations and desires.
Macbeth is convinced to kill Duncan, then Banquo to keep his issue from taking the throne. Lady Macbeth even asks the evil forces to help her in order to follow her intention and desires of becoming queen.
Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood,
Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse. (17, 1, 44)
In this passage, Lady Macbeth is asking the spirits to make her more like a man and to make her as cruel as possible to undertake the murder. She recognizes that her husband is waffling about killing Duncan, so she wants to be prepared to take it on.
The initial prophecies encourage the ambition in Macbeth to cause him to lose his soul to evil. The rest of the play is based on the foul deeds of Macbeth in the pursuit of his ambitions and the subsequent prophesies that encourage him and give him unfounded confidence. Once Macbeth becomes king, he returns to the witches for reassurance.
He becomes so lost in his belief in their prophecies that he does not realize until too late that the prophecies are leading him to actions that would culminate in his doom. He remains a puppet in the hands of the three witches. However, in the end he chooses to refuse supernatural powers and live as a regular person:
Why should I play the Roman fool, and die on mine own sword? (94, 5, 1)
But it was too late; he ended up his life like a warrior.
Evil begets more evil, in that their plan goes from murdering the king, to implicating the guards, and the fact that the king has heirs to his throne means that greater misdeed must be contemplated, although that’s not discussed in this scene. There will be need for further evil to be done by the pair to secure Macbeth’s throne.
The question must be asked, would Macbeth, without Lady Macbeth’s encouragement, have murdered his friend and king? The answer is yes, because Macbeth, even without his wife’s support is convinced, because of the witches’ predictions, that he will be the king. At this point, that cannot be accomplished without conspiracy and murder.
Lady Macbeth’s mind, too, has been cultivated with the idea of her husband becoming king, and seems to accept it as something that must come to pass since it was predicted by the witches. That is why she is the natural ally of the supernatural with her ambition for Macbeth and herself.
She is initially the picture of a person inclined to the evil side in achieving whatever is required. She goads Macbeth into the initial evil deed in the murder of King Duncan to become King and thereby fulfil the prophecy.
From then on, the character of Lady Macbeth weakens and the stronger character of her pupil Macbeth takes over and goes on committing one foul deed after another, as Lady Macbeth gradually fades away with her remorse in those famous words:
Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. (83, 5, 53)
These words are overheard by her nurse and doctor as she is sleepwalking. During these episodes, Lady Macbeth continually writes on a paper and tries to wash non-existent spots of blood out of her hands. This action implies that she is becoming guilt ridden for her actions.
This is the indication of the gradual weakening of the evil forces that are in constant conflict for the souls of human beings and portends the defeat of evil in the course of events to follow in the play.
Shakespeare uses Banquo as a foil to the character of Macbeth. Both are mentioned in the prophecies of the witches, but while Macbeth succumbs to evil, Banquo does not. Sadly, Banquo’s refusal to lower his moral standards earns him death at the hands of Macbeth’s hired murderers. He may be faulted in that though he suspects Macbeth hand in the murder of King Duncan, he does nothing. Still he becomes a victim of Macbeth wanting to remove any impediments and remains a ghost haunting Macbeth.
The supernatural elements of the conflict between good and evil is not just related to the characters of the main players, but is present in every aspect of the play. Shakespeare uses the supernatural to convert a common story of a strong-willed woman’s vaulting ambition, goading her husband on, to the gripping play of Macbeth.
Shakespeare heightens the atmosphere of the play by the use of the supernatural through not only the background of the three witches and their preparation of foul brews, incantations and prophesies, but also makes use of the ghost of Banquo and other unnatural events. For example, after the murder of Duncan, nature responded in three bizarre ways.
First, Duncan’s horses broke free of their stalls and attempted to devour each other. Next, an owl attacked and killed a hawk, which usually happens the other way around. Finally, the sun did not rise the morning of the murder, leaving the land cloaked in darkness. Through these supernatural elements, the readers understand that even nature has picked up on the evil that man has brought about.
The depiction of evil is the most horrifying part of Macbeth and comes from the deep vision of Shakespeare on the subject. Shakespeare makes use of the stifling, confounding and murky air that envelopes the characters to create an atmosphere of mystery and darkness and scepticism.
The play abounds with rumours and more so with horrible and gruesome murders. Shakespeare utilises all these images to cast upon the audience irrational fear that brings about a feeling of witnessing a nightmare.
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The language that Shakespeare uses in Macbeth, in combination with the imagery, makes the nights in the play abound with sorcery, lust and murder. This creates the impression in any reader of Macbeth, the feeling of alarm and the fear to remain alone as the night is filled with all forms of evil including murder. The clever and strong portrayal of the supernatural in Macbeth is what made the play so alluring and remains so, for the lure of the supernatural still remains in this modern world.
Author: Russell Ransom
The Role of Supernatural in Macbeth
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