Comparing the Supernatural in William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth
In the time of William Shakespeare there was a strong belief in the existence of the supernatural. Therefore, the supernatural is a recurring theme in many of Shakespeare's 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 an augmentation of 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 also a floating dagger, witches, and prophetic apparitions also make appearances. The role of the supernatural is very important in both Hamlet and Macbeth. A ghost, in the form of Hamlet's father, makes several visitations in the play. It first appears to the watchmen, Marcellus and Bernardo, along with Horatio near the guardsmen's post. The ghost, though silent causes them a little anxiety, "It harrows me with fear and wonder"(I.i.53). 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, "What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord, or to the dreadful summit of the cliff"(I.iv.76-77). The conversation between the ghost and Hamlet serves as a catalyst for Hamlet's later actions and provides insight into Hamlet's character.
The information the ghost reveals incites Hamlet to action against a situation with which he was already uncomfortable, and now is even more so. Hamlet is not quick to believe the ghost, "The spirit that I have seen may be a devil... and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy. Abuses me to damn me"(II.ii.606-611), and thus an aspect of Hamlet's character is revealed. Hamlet, having no suspicion of the ghost after the production by the players, encounters the ghost next in his mother's room. In this scene the ghost makes an appearance to "whet" Hamlet's "almost blunted purpose"(III.iv.126). Hamlet is now convinced of the ghost and he no longer harbors any suspicion. He now listens to it, "Speak to her, Hamlet"(III.iv.130). The supernatural is the guiding force behind Hamlet. The ghost asks Hamlet to seek revenge for the King's death and Hamlet is thus propelled to set into action a series of events that ends in his own death.
The supernatural occurs four times during the course of Macbeth. It occurs in all the appearances of the witches, in the appearance of Banquo's ghost, in the apparitions with their prophecies, and in the "air-drawn" dagger that guides Macbeth towards his victim. Of the supernatural phenomenon evident in Macbeth the witches are perhaps the most important. The witches represent Macbeth's evil ambitions. They are the...