Superstition is the belief in the existence or power of the supernatural. The supernatural is a manifesting phenomena, which is not explicable by natural or physical laws. ‘Macbeth’ contains many supernatural occurrences throughout the play which would have signified many things to the audience at that period in time. For example, the play opens with the three Witches; this would let the audience immediately know that evil was present. Elizabethans, with low levels of technology, developed their own beliefs.
It was impossible for the people to have come up with reasonable explanations of what was going on; instead they likened common occurrences with one another. In the play we can see that storms and miserable weather are associated with bad luck and evil happenings. Unusual or dangerous circumstances create stress and fear in the people who witness it, that is why many Elizabethans as indeed before this time attributed these happenings to the all-powerful God, as something they could relate to. A ‘known’ fear being far easier to cope with than an ‘unknown’ one. Many Elizabethans believed in the occult, magic and astrology.Order now
Probably the most common fear of that period was witches and it became officially sanctioned to seek them out. At that time it was accepted that supernatural forces were present and a common occurrence. Most people could not read, therefore the Bible, Christianity and the Church were considered the ‘good way’. People who were different, such as disabled, mental or herbal medicine doctors were often accused of being witches when something bad occurred. If a person was accused of being a witch, no proof was needed and they could be executed straight away. These witches were believed to have received evil powers from the Devil.
Witches were really hated and were tortured in order to make them confess even if they were innocent! If they didn’t confess they were killed; if they died during the torturing, it showed that they had no supernatural powers and were in fact not witches after all. The role of the three witches in the play is a very important and major one. Also referred to as ‘the weird sisters’, they embody the dark thoughts and unconscious temptations that evil represents. They cause trouble and mischief by using their supernatural powers to manipulate their chosen victim like puppeteers.
The witches are also set apart from the other characters by the way they speak using rhyming couplets, whereas the rest use mainly blank verse. Despite their almost comical rhymes and recipes, “Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog”, the witches are the most powerful and wicked characters in the play. We are left wondering if the witches set out to cause all the trouble that occurred throughout the play or are they simply prophets telling of the inevitable? I doubt Macbeth would have had the confidence to murder the King if the witches had not said that he was to become king in the first place.
Yet the witches foretold the future with great accuracy when they predicted that Birnam Wood would come to Dunsinane there is no way that this prediction could have been self-fulfilling. We see the witches as representing everything evil in the play; they are the ‘catalyst’ that brings out most of the evil in the Macbeths. The witches are what really drive the Macbeths to commit the murder if Macbeth was oblivious of what the future held, he possibly would have taken another route to reach his destiny, but there is something about the witches that stimulates evil thoughts.
Witches were believed, at this time, to be agents of supernatural powers or evil; the audience would recognise this and realise that they should be resisted, which brings about Macbeth’s battle of good versus evil. There are many supernatural beliefs included in the play such as storms, ghosts and apparitions. The storms are an omen that signifies that something bad will happen later on during the play. The ghosts are the people Macbeth has had killed and have come back to haunt him and drive him to the brink of insanity by tormenting him, such as Banquo’s ghost. Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that Which might appal the devil”
And the apparitions, such as the floating dagger act 2 scene 2, show how Macbeth’s conscience is thinking of his intentions. In this example, the blood symbolises death approaching, the direction the dagger pointing in directs Macbeths to where the murder is going to happen and the dagger is to be the weapon of choice. Shakespeare uses the supernatural to create suspense and horror. Witches, apparitions and ghosts all make the play more interesting and enjoyable to read by adding a certain amount of mystique.
The supernatural, horror and darkness are all essential tools that an author should use to grab the attention of the reader. It can set moods and give detailed descriptions of imagery and the mentality of the speaker, such as: “Prithee see there. Behold, look, lo, how say you? ” This is the point where Macbeth can see the ghost of Banquo, whom he has just had killed, yet nobody else can. The use of the supernatural in this play is mainly to give suspense, if there were no supernatural witches, ghosts and apparitions included in the play then Macbeth would not have reached his ultimate downfall.
Reading through the play, you can see that with every supernatural occurrence Macbeth becomes progressively more evil. The play opens with a supernatural happening, simply the witches making a spell and the storm around them being a bad omen. We have to take into account that Shakespeare wrote this play for the audience of the Elizabethan era. People of this time were very religious and believed in the forces of good and evil very strongly. Superstition was taken very seriously, witches were hated and if a person was suspected of being one, then they were tried and most probably killed by the local council.
Witches, as we are forced to believe, are old women who cast evil spells and are renowned for evil doings. The witches in ‘Macbeth’ are exactly this and foretell the future too. The involvement they have with Macbeth slowly turns him into a bad person. His first encounter with the witches, and indeed with the supernatural, is in act one, scene one, where he is tempted and succumbs that he will become king. Macbeth then says: “Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor: the greatest is behind. ” This comment suggests that straight away he is plotting a scheme of becoming king.
The witches, at no point, even suggest a binding to evil doing, the only real power they have over Macbeth is insinuation, by this the witches can increase Macbeth’s levels of greed and want, making him commit evil. Before their meeting Macbeth was a good person, he was a loyal and good soldier and put his life on the line for the sake of his country. A question that is still to be answered is: ‘are the Macbeths’ really evil or not? ‘ Again we refer back the witches. If it were not for them, the evil inclinations within the Macbeths’ would not have been released.
Macbeth believes the witches’ prophecies and is intrigued by what they say, as he becomes more interested he finds himself actually searching for them, even in a dark cave in order to acquire knowledge about the future. Therefore the witches are just a stimulant for Macbeth’s mind. The witches are described as “secret, black and midnight hags”, the darkness signifies their destructive nature. They also talk in riddles which makes people confused, Macbeth calls them, “imperfect speakers”. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” So in this sense Macbeth is not sure of exactly what the witches are telling him and how to reach his goal. The main reason why the witches play such a major role in the evils of the Macbeths’ is that they have the ability to predict the future. Because of this many people think that the witches are to blame for leading the Macbeths’ astray. But in no way did the witches direct Macbeth as to what he should or shouldn’t do and never bound him to evil.
In this sense the play is very difficult to understand because Shakespeare keeps the witches well outside the limits of human comprehension. We can see though, that Macbeth is not a totally evil person, he is very much troubled by the crimes he has committed and is haunted by evil thoughts and disturbed sleeping patterns. Although he is troubled by all this, he still plans to go ahead with his plan to become King. In act two, we see that Macbeth is full of guilt because he says, “Macbeth shall sleep no more”. Lady Macbeth is also having sleeping disorders and sleep walks.
She seems to be having a nervous breakdown due to the incidents that have happened in their castle. This proves that both are not evil because of how they are affected by the deeds they have done. If they were evil people, they wouldn’t think twice. This begs the question, how far does the supernatural lead Macbeth to commit these horrendous deeds? Maybe Macbeth is confused of what the Witches actually want him to achieve, or feels that if he disappoints them, they shall curse him. I feel that the supernatural in this play, only serves as part of Macbeth’s conscience.
Macbeth has the power of free-will to conduct himself in any way he wishes. Macbeth, and only Macbeth is guilty of his crimes. The supernatural influence is clearly seen when, at the end of the play, all the witches’ prophecies come true. As an enemy army comes to fight Macbeth, his people desert him, they too realise that he is an evil person. Yet Macbeth tries to fight on as he believes himself to be invincible due to the witch’s comments, “Be bloody, bold and resolute; laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth”
When Macduff arrives with his army, Macbeth shows no fear because he thinks he cannot be killed. Little does Macbeth know that Macduff was born by a caesarean operation, which technically means that Macduff was not ‘born of woman’, a fact the witches failed to mention. This is Macbeth’s major downfall, through naivety and ignorance, he has summoned his own death. Macbeth is finally killed by Macduff after a long gruelling battle, by his head being cut off. This symbolises the end of the evil reign and the end of the accompanying madness and chaos.