Shakespeare's Use of the Supernatural in Macbeth
The supernatural is widely used in Macbeth, and covers major sections
of it. It is used to generate interest, and to provoke thought and
At the time the play was written, James the 1st was the English
monarch. James the 1st was originally James the 4th on the Scottish
throne, until there was a union of crowns between England and Scotland
in the late 16th century. Shakespeare wrote the play for him, so the
play Macbeth is popularly known as 'the Scottish play'.
Also during this time there were many more occurrences when witches
and heretics were burnt at the stake than at any period in history,
because people believed they manufactured plagues, pestilence and
famine through their 'black magic.'
When Shakespeare was writing the play, he wanted to impress the king
and interest his audience on his stage, the Globe Theatre. Shakespeare
did this by including the supernatural in his play.
Both king and populous have always been intrigued by the horror of
witches and the supernatural, but not as much as in the period of the
16th and 17th centuries. This was probably because of people wanting
to be religiously purer and remove disease from society. In the 16th
century many events occurred that were bizarre and impossible to
explain so were blamed on the supernatural.
Before James gained the crown of England as well as Scotland,
witchcraft was already on the people's minds. In 1563, parliament made
law that making murder by witchcraft was punishable by death. Forty
years later, any use of witchcraft was punishable by death. These laws
were made by a protestant parliament, to protect the monarch from
Roman Catholics, as witchcraft and rebellion went hand in hand.
To prove to the public that witchcraft existed and was destructive to
the cause of humanity came about through the death of the Earl of
Derby in 1594. He was thought to be the victim of witchcraft. This
also told the public that witchcraft and other such evils could affect
any individual, or any class. This alarmed the king, and paranoia
crept in. He had already burnt 8'000 people at the stake in Scotland,
so it was obvious he would burn others. Francis Stewart, Earl of
Bothwell, was accused of conjuring spells against James. The most
prime and famous example of witchcraft in England, however, occurred
in 1590. This was when James and Anne were sailing from Denmark to
Scotland. The 'Witches of Berwick' were supposed to have tried to
destroy Anne and James at sea by conjuring up storms and strong winds.
As it has already been said, the Shakespearean audience believed a
wide range of old wives tales.
This made James write his book on the supernatural, Demonology, in
1597. Shakespeare may have consulted this on writing Macbeth. He also