Supernatural in Shakespeare's Plays
In the time of William Shakespeare there was a strong belief
in the existence of the supernatural. Thus, the supernatural is a
recurring aspect in many of Mr. Shakespeare¹s 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 augments 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 a floating dagger, witches, and prophetic apparitions make
appearances. The role of the supernatural is very important in Hamlet
A ghost, appearing in the form of Hamlet¹s father, makes
several appearances in the play. It first appears to the watchmen,
Marcellus and Bernardo, along with Horatio near the guardsmens' post.
The ghost says nothing to them and is perceived with fear and
apprehension, ³It harrows me with fear and wonder². 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, ³What if it
tempt you toward the flood, my lord, or to the dreadful summit of the
The conversation between the ghost and Hamlet serves as a
catalyst for Hamlet¹s later actions and provides insight into Hamlet¹s
character. The information the ghost reveals incites Hamlet into
action against a situation he was already uncomfortable with, and now
even more so. Hamlet is not quick to believe the ghost, ³The spirit
that I have seen may be a devil... and perhaps out of my weakness and
my melancholy..abuses me to damn me², and thus an aspect of Hamlet¹s
character is revealed. Hamlet, having no suspicion of the ghost after
the production by the players, encounters the ghost next in his
mother¹s room. In this scene the ghost makes an appearance to ³whet²
Hamlet¹s ³almost blunted purpose². Hamlet is now convinced of the
ghost and he no longer harbors any suspicion. He now listens to it,
³Speak to her, Hamlet².
In Hamlet, the supernatural is the guiding force behind
Hamlet. The ghost ask Hamlet to seek revenge for the King¹s death and
Hamlet is thus propelled to set into action a series of events that
ends in Hamlet¹s death.
The supernatural occurs four times during the course of
Macbeth. It occurs in all the appearances of the witches, in the
appearance of Banquo¹s ghost, in the apparitions with their
prophesies, and in the ³air-drawn² dagger that guides Macbeth towards
Of the supernatural phenomenon evident in Macbeth the witches
are perhaps the most important. The witches represent Macbeth¹s evil
ambitions. They are the catalyst which unleash Macbeth¹s evil
aspirations. Macbeth believes the witches and wishes to know more
about the future so after the banquet he seeks them out at their cave.
He wants to know the answers to his questions regardless of whether
the consequence be violent and destructive to nature. The witches
promise to answer and at Macbeth¹s choice they add further unnatural
ingredients to the cauldron and call up their masters. This is where
the prophetic apparitions appear. The first apparition is Macbeth¹s
own head (later to be cut off by Macduff) confirming his fears of
Macduff. The second apparition tells Macbeth that he can not be harmed
by no one born of woman. This knowledge gives Macbeth a false sense of
security because he believes that he cannot be harmed, yet Macduff was
not of woman born, his mother was dead and a corpse when Macduff was
born. This leads to Macbeth¹s downfall. A child with a crown on his
head, the third apparition, represents Malcolm, Duncan¹s son. This
apparition also gives Macbeth a false sense of security because of the
Birnam Wood prophesy.
The appearance of Banquo¹s ghost provides insight into
Macbeth¹s character. It shows the level that Macbeth¹s mind has
recessed to. When he sees the ghost he reacts with horror and upsets
the guests. Macbeth wonders why murder had taken place many times in
the past before it was prevented by law -²statute purged the gentle
weal²- and yet the dead are coming back.
The final form of the supernatural is the ³air-drawn² dagger
which leads Macbeth to his victim. When the dagger appears to him,
Macbeth finally becomes victim to the delusions of his fevered brain.
The dagger points to Duncan¹s room and appears to be covered in blood.
The dagger buttresses the impact of this key scene in which Macbeth
slays King Duncan.
The supernatural is a recurring aspect in many of the plays by
William Shakespeare. In Hamlet and Macbeth the supernatural is an
integral part of the structure of the plot. In these plays the
supernatural provides a catalyst for action by the characters. It
supplies insight into the major players and it augments the impact of
many key scenes. The supernatural appeals to the audience¹s curiosity
of the mysterious and thus strengthens their interest.
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