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‘Macbeth’ is a tragedy, in which the protagonist, Macbeth, embarks on a dark path of betrayal and bloodshed that leads to his own demise and death. The play was written by William Shakespeare and dedicated to James 1 in 1606 who succeeded the throne in 1603. This tragedy deals with major themes such as ambition, guilt, and supernatural elements – such as the appearance of witches. The supernatural was a popular element in many of the plays written in Shakespeare’s time, such as Hamlet, as it had a huge impact on society during the Jacobean time period and Shakespeare often wished to be up to date in his writings. Many people in Jacobean society believed in evil spirits and argued that they were to blame for the disruption of nature, including storms or the prediction of death and hunger. Equally, King James took a special interest in the supernatural, he even wrote a book titled ‘Daemonology’ on witchcraft in which he linked witches’ powers to the forces of evil. The play Macbeth involves many supernatural elements that catalyze suspense as well as have a crucial influence on Macbeth’s actions and offer insight into the character. In this essay, I will consider Shakespeare’s use of supernatural elements in the eponymous play, Macbeth.

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The witches in the play are a key element of the supernatural. They are the first characters to be introduced, which highlights their significance. At the beginning of Act 1, they are planning to meet Macbeth in ‘thunder, lighting, or in rain’, which gives the audience three major clues to how Macbeth’s story will end and which part the witches play in his downfall. They are portrayed as ‘withered’ and ‘wild’ and they speak in short rhythmic verse and use trochaic tetrameter in quotes such as ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair’, this juxtaposes with the use of blank verse by other main characters in the play. Their physical appearance and style of speech distinguish them from the other characters in the play such as Macbeth, whom they seek to control, as well as the witches’ language imitates the use of spells and hence illustrates the supernatural. When they meet Macbeth soon after, they recount him three prophecies, that he will become Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glamis, and that ‘Ail hail, Macbeth! That shalt be king hereafter, exploiting his hamartia. The modal verb ‘shalt’ implies certainty and it becomes clear that the witches are very mischievous and that they give Macbeth ideas that keep the play moving and eventually lead to Macbeth killing both Duncan and Banquo. The witches later recount Macbeth’s further prophecies, they tell him that ‘None of woman born shall harm Macbeth’ and that ‘Macbeth shall never vanquish be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him’. Macbeth continues to have doubts but convinces himself that he must be untouchable, which illustrates how the witches’ riddling style creates confusion that ultimately leads to his downfall, as he later discovers that Macduff ‘was from his mother’s womb-ultimately ripped’. It becomes clear that the witches are presented as agents of chaos, whose prophecies lead to nothing but destruction, which surveys the beliefs that the Jacobean audience held. Shakespeare’s use of witches as a symbol of supernaturalism helps to stress the belief that supernaturalness has evil connotations that lead to destruction and so ought to be avoided, an opinion that many people in Jacobean, including James 1, had.

Another use of the supernatural in the tragedy is Macbeth’s hallucinations. As the play progresses, Macbeth appears to be more disrupted from reality and his disruptive mind can clearly be seen in the scene where Macbeth is on his way to kill Duncan, when Macbeth asks himself ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’. It can be argued that these sights are figments of Macbeth’s guilty imagination, which clearly emphasizes the inner conflict Macbeth is facing, in which his ambitious nature battles his honor and conscience. While Macbeth knows that he is hallucinating that there is a bloody dagger, ‘A dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain’, he is not able to let the vision go as his greed for power outweighs his moral conscience. That Macbeth suggests that the hallucination of the dagger comes from his ‘heat-oppressed brain’ again portrays just how upset and uncomfortable he feels about the situation, especially killing a king that he had seen as a friend and that had recently rewarded Macbeth for his loyalty and services in the war with the title ‘Thane of Cawdor’. This passage not only gives the audience a better understanding of Macbeth’s state of mind, but it also alludes to more contextual events, as there had just recently been a plan to kill the current king, James 1, and to blow up parliament known as the gunpowder plot. Mirroring the attempt of real-life regicide, Shakespeare suggests that an attempt to violate the ‘natural order’, what society in the Jacobean and Elizabethan periods believed to be a harmonious system, in which degree and hierarchy were significant concepts, created by God, would be punished and end in devastation, just like Macbeth is presented to be possessed by evil forces or gone mad.

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