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The Supernatural In William Shakespeare's Macbeth

1975 words - 8 pages

The Supernatural in William Shakespeare's Macbeth

In Macbeth the supernatural is used to entertain and terrify the
audience. Supernatural things are those that do not belong in the
natural world. In Elizabethan times, people were so terrified of the
supernatural because they believed that there was a natural order
which effectively governed the universe, and when this order was
misaligned things would start to go very wrong. For instance, were a
Thane to kill a king and then become king, he would have changed the
natural order and thus strange things would happen, and in Macbeth
they did – horses started eating each other and weather became very
irregular. Today we are not terrified in the same way by the
supernatural. People today are not scared of witches, evil spirits and
hell, or at least not as much as the Elizabethans. However, we do
share a fear of murder, hallucinations, madness and manipulation;
which all play a large part in the telling of Macbeth.

The witches in Macbeth are exactly what the Elizabethans would have
expected them to be, scary and unnatural. Set against a dramatic
backdrop of “Thunder and lightning” these witches can tell the future
(“there to meet with Macbeth”) speak in paradox (“when the battle’s
lost and won” “fair is foul and foul is fair”) and have familiars,
spirits who take on animal forms to aid their masters in their evil
doing (“I come, Greymalkin!”). They even talk in a different rhythm
from other characters, using trochaic meter – which is the opposite
rhythm from a heartbeat and speak in tetrameter rather than pentameter
as the other characters do. and of course, worship the goddess of
witchcraft Hecate and concoct potions. To a modern audience these
witches are not believable or even frightening, but to the
Elizabethans they would have been realistic and believable.
Elizabethans blamed witches for natural things that they could not
explain, for example, a farmer’s crops failing and all his cattle
dying. To us, this is just bad luck but to Elizabethans it was the
work of a witch.

The Elizabethans believed strongly in the existence of spirits.
Spirits are portrayed in Macbeth as agents of evil who listen to
murderous plans. They are a key part of Lady Macbeth’s descent into
insanity. That Lady Macbeth would attempt to communicate with spirits
(“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts”), let alone ask them
to take away her female qualities (“unsex me here” “Come to my woman’s
breasts and take my milk for gall”) would have been alarming for the
Elizabethans. By summoning spirits you shunned God, and all things
Christian and good. Lady Macbeth uses dark, vivid imagery in abundance
(“Make thick my blood” “Come, thick night, and pall thee in the
dunnest smoke of hell”). Today we do not find spirits terrifying, and
the invocation...

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