Julianna TafuriProfessor KelnhoferENGL-260-DL1 22 Dec 2017The Supernatural in Macbeth Throughout history, literature has been a convenient outlet to express thoughts and beliefs about the supernatural and the way it impacts humans. The theme of the supernatural can be found in a variety of Shakespeare’s plays, including Hamlet as well as the tragedy Macbeth. In Macbeth, the supernatural is crucial to the development and the progression of the plot and presents itself to the audience on various occasions.
From the very opening of the play, the supernatural is made known and sets the tone for how the remainder of the play will unravel. Unlike most of Shakespeare’s other plays, though, the supernatural does not just appear in one way, but in several. By cleverly utilizing the supernatural objects of the witches and their prophecies as well as Banquo and the floating dagger, Shakespeare is able to demonstrate that Macbeth’s desires were fueled by the supernatural and could not have been otherwise accomplished in the human world. From beginning to end, it is obvious that whenever the witches are present, the atmosphere takes an abrupt shift and becomes dark and threatening. “The witches of Macbeth serve precisely Woodbridge’s dual purpose of endangerment and protection. Speaking to Macbeth’s desires, they both offer enticing visions and warn of future catastrophe. But they do not decide the course of Macbeth’s fate” (Noone 31).
The witches are aware of Macbeth’s plans and therefore, have a direct influence on the desires of Macbeth and whether or not he chooses to act upon them. ” Shakespeare’s witches, as manifestations of desire, are supernatural. They are beyond human control, but what remains in human control are the possible responses to the urges they excite” (Noone 32). Because of the supernatural powers of the witches, they are considered one of some of the most highly influential characters in the play. What makes the witches unique besides their supernatural powers, is the way they speak in rhyme. “The witches’ dictional doublings in unrhymed trochaic tetrameter catalectic soon give way to even more characteristic rhymed couplets in the same handful of meters analyzed earlier, though these verses repeat few words, even during the famous chorus: ”Double, double, toil and trouble…” (Kranz 355). The witches are known to speak in this way as it makes a bigger impact on the way the audience views them as evil and supernatural beings.
One of the most notable lines proclaimed by the witches “”Fair is foul, and foul is fair / Hover through the fog and filthy air” (Shakespeare 1.2.10-11). In a similar fashion, Macbeth also utters a similar combination of these words upon entering in his first scene “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” (Shakespeare 1.3.
36). What sparks a lot of interest around the witches is that they are such prominent figures in the play and yet they can only be found in three scenes. Despite the fact that Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays in length and the witches do not take up a substantial part of it, it is seemingly impossible for one to bring up Macbeth without having to bring up the witches too. Because of context clues and stage directions, the audience is able to conclude that the witches are indeed “bad” as the stage directions clearly indicate thunder and lighting (Shakespeare 1.1.1). Aspects of the supernatural drive the play and this magic has a clear impact on Macbeth from their first encounter. What Macbeth is unaware of though, is how the final lines of the witches in scene one, will impact his journey, his desires, and his life.
In the opening of scene 3, the witches return again and at this time the audience is able to see more dialogue and interaction between them and Macbeth. According to a Bachelor thesis by Jana Wendroff:”Macbeth’s command is : “Speak, if you can. What are you?” (47). Instead of answering his question, the Witches in turn “hail” him by the title he presently has (Thane or Lord of Glamis) and by the title which the audience knows, but which Macbeth does not yet know, has just been given to him in his absence by King Duncan (Thane of Cawdor). The Third Witch then hails Macbeth, “that shalt be king hereafter!” (48-50). It is clearly this prophecy that causes Macbeth to “start” and betray the guilty uneasiness which Banquo remarks on” (Wendroff 29). When Macbeth hears this prophecy spoken from the three witches, he is shocked and Banquo is confused, which leads the audience to believe that Macbeth may have been influenced into having evil desires about himself taking on the role of King from his first meeting with the witches in Act 1. After the moment sets in, Macbeth starts to get a little timid and worried because he feels that the witches may have used their supernatural abilities to read his mind and might know his desire.
“They round out their prophesying by again hailing “Macbeth and Banquo! / Banquo and Macbeth!” (68-69), and without answering Macbeth’s urgent questions concerning the source of their prophetic knowledge or “why / Upon this blasted heath you stop our way / With such prophetic greeting” (76-78), they “vanish.” (Wendroff 30). Afterwards, the witches can’t be seen again until scene IV. Although there is a significant amount of time before the witches appear again, their supernatural prophecies are still impacting Macbeth and his quest. The witches are mentioned in Act I scene 5 when Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth, which describes his meeting with the witches. “Since Shakespeare gives no hint that the Witches got their information in a rationally explainable way, their greeting Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor also strongly suggests supernatural agency. Macbeth and Banquo are certainly both convinced that the Witches’ “soliciting” is “supernatural” (Wendroff 31). The next time the witches are mentioned is by Banquo when he discusses with Macbeth that he had dreams about them.
What is odd though, is that Macbeth attempts to stray him away from the conversation and instead speak about business. When Duncan is murdered and Macbeth is crowned King, suspicion of the witches and their prophecies is brought up again: “Thou hast it now–king Cawdor, Glamis, all, As the weird women promised; and I fear Thou play’dst most foully for’t” (Shakespeare 3.1.1-3). As the conclusion of the play reaches near, Macbeth has experienced several unfortunate events, due to the way he acted upon his desires which were impacted by the witches. Firstly, Macbeth at this point in the play is responsible for the death of Duncan and Banquo. His conscience is also feeling heavy as he sees Banquo’s bloody ghost and is becoming aware that many people are presuming him to be accountable for the murders. “He is growing desperate; himself says, he is gone so far in blood that there is no turning back (III.
4.137-139). He is determined now to seek out the Weird Sisters in order to learn “By the worst means the worst” that the future holds” (Wendroff 32). By reaching out to the witches, it can be understood that he has allowed his desire to get the best of himself and is truly corrupt. In scene IV, Macbeth makes one final attempt to solidify his desires while meeting with the witches. “Say if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths Or from our masters” (Shakespeare 4.
1.84-85). As Macbeth meets his fate, he is destroyed inside and his final moments involve putting a curse on the three witches and to anyone else who listens to them. Although the witches impact was a significant source of supernatural influence upon Macbeth and his journey in the human world, the ghost of Banquo as well as the floating dagger are also elements that had an impression on Macbeth’s fulfillment of the witches prophecies.
It is apparent that Macbeth’s agenda to kill King Duncan, haunted him in a supernatural way. “Is this a dagger which I see before me…
” (Shakespeare 2.1.33). Driven by his evil desire, Macbeth is overcome with shame as he sees a bloody dagger floating in the air, which is what he will end up using to murder Duncan. There is much controversy over whether the dagger was real and conjured up by the witches or just a figment of Macbeth’s imagination.
When the coast is clear and the guards are taken care of, Macbeth murders King Duncan and is rightfully haunted by bad dreams and hallucinations of all the supernatural elements that are impacting him. As his journey continues and he encounters the witches even more and his desires cause him to become paranoid, he finds it necessary to kill Banquo out of fear. Banquo and Macbeth were good friends and experienced the supernatural influences of the witches together. However, Macbeth feels the need to kill Banquo because he is fearful and is made aware that Banquo’s sons may be future Kings. “..
.There is none but he whose being do I fear: and under him, My genius is rebuked” (Shakespeare 3.1.57-59). But, Macbeth can’t kill Banquo himself due to the fact that they are friends and many may be suspicious, so he hires murderers to do it for him. Macbeth was hosting a dinner party on the night that he had Banquo killed and Banquo’s ghost just so happened to show up. Banquo’s ghost was sitting in what would have been Banquo’s chair and Macbeth was so petrified that he scared his guests too.
This goes to show that Macbeth had lost all control and the ghost of Banquo served as a symbol of supernatural destruction which throws Macbeth into a downward spiral. All in all, it can be concluded that the supernatural elements of the witches and their prophecies, the bloody dagger, and Banquo’s ghost, are all indispensable to the growth and development of the play Macbeth. These supernatural elements are presented to the audience throughout the play and provide the audience with understanding as to why Macbeth does the things he does. Macbeth’s desires are fulfilled due to his influence by the supernatural and it fuels his journey to achieve greatness. Each crucial incident that occurs in the play seems to have been caused by the supernatural and without it, the events that made Macbeth and his story, wouldn’t have occurred at all.