Influence of the supernatural in ‘Macbeth’

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Examine the dramatic impact and influence of the supernatural in ‘Macbeth’

Dramatic impact is the effect on the audience. ‘Macbeth’ is a play designed to be performed for and to involve the audience. Dramatic influence is the way supernatural has effect upon the characters in the play.

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In Shakespeare’s time, most people believed in witches and witchcraft and they were the objects of morbid and fevered fascination. Persecution reached terrifying proportions. Between 1560 and 1602, hundreds of people, mostly women, were convicted as witches and were executed. Although some voices were raised against this superstitious and barbarous persecution, most people had believed in witched. There were hundreds of pamphlets describing the lurid details of witchcraft trials printed. They enjoyed large and popular sales, which were the equivalent to our popular newspapers today.

Witches were credited with diabolical powers. They could do things like predicting the future, fly, bring on night in daytime, cause fogs and kill animals. They cursed enemies with fatal wasting diseases and induced nightmares and sterility, and could take demonic possession of any individual they chose. Witches could raise evil spirits by concocting a horrible brew with nauseating ingredients.

Macbeth may have been performed before King James in 1606. King James was very keen on the topic of witches. He did many investigations of witchcraft. A group of witched attempted to kill him once, but their plot was discovered and was taken to trial.

There are many events in the play of Macbeth, showing much of dramatic impact on the audience and dramatic influence acted upon the characters.

The first stage direction is the first of dramatic impact right at the opening of the play, this sudden impact creates a huge tension and excitement atmosphere:

‘Thunder and lightning. Enter the three witches..’

The three witches are entered with thunder and lightning, creating tension and catching the attention of the audience. This sets into the audience’s mind that there is a link with the witches and lightning. Thunder and lightning is used once again to open Act I Scene 3. As the use of thunder and lightning had been done before, it becomes a signal to the audience, making the audience realise that it is the entering of the three witches. It also confirms into the audience’s mind that the witched are evil and bad.

The audience of Shakespeare’s would have been familiar with the things that the witches say as qualities or witchcraft and would have be fascinated and become involved. The text below is a small sample of what the witches say at the opening of the play:

‘First Witch: When shall we three meet again?

In thunder, lightning or in rain?

Second Witch: When the hurly-burly’s done,

When the battle’s lost, and won…’

The witches speak in rhyming couplets, showing that the witches are interlinked. This has dramatic impact on the audience as it states in the mind of the audience that they are witches and they have evil powers. Further on with the script, there is evidence that the witches have a connection with Macbeth right from the start:

‘ Third Witch: There to meet with Macbeth.’

The witches seem to want to use their supernatural powers to play upon Macbeth’s ambitions as they know they have the power to produce chaos they wish to make. They also seem to have a link with Macbeth. In Act I Scene 1 line 12, the witches say the line,

‘Fair is foul and foul is fair.’ In Act I Scene 3 line 36, Macbeth enters the scene as says,

‘So foul and far a day I have not seen.’ This shows dramatic influence, which the witches have acted upon Macbeth. Macbeth enters the play as a noble hero and he and Banquo had defeated the two separate invading armies from Ireland and Norway.

Following their pitched battle with these enemy forces, Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches as they cross a moor. The witches from the start of the play influence Macbeth, and it is this influence, which leads Macbeth into doing wrong. The witches make predictions for Macbeth and Banquo that Macbeth would become Thane of Cawdor on top of the title he already has as Thane of Glamis:

‘First Witch: All Hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis.

Second Witch: All Hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor.

Third Witch: All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.’

The audience sees how Macbeth is under influence right from the start and gains the curiosity that these predictions would come true. The witches had ignited Macbeth’s ambition of kingship. The impact that the witches cause on Macbeth from the predictions, is that he becomes afraid of the witched and their predictions, and seems to become under their ‘spell’. Macbeth becomes aware that Banquo’s descendants are predicted to be king, which makes Macbeth feel that the witches are speaking the truth and starts him thinking about him becoming king.

The thoughts that Macbeth has of becoming king, becomes interfered by Duncan, as he seems to see that Macbeth had been influenced by the witches and gets in the way of Macbeth being king, announcing Malcolm as heir:

‘We will establish our estate upon

Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter

The Prince of Cumberland…’ (Act I Scene 4, lines 37-39)

This makes Macbeth very frustrated and he feels that murder is the only way of kingship.

Lady Macbeth believes that Macbeth would be king. Lady Macbeth is very amibitious and seems to be very keen and eager for Macbeth to be king. To the audience, this is very shocking. Lady Macbeth becomes involved in influencing Macbeth of becoming king.

Lady Macbeth seems to become in control of Macbeth, persuading him to go ahead and murder Duncan and giving him the confidence that he would be king.

‘I thought good to deliver thee, my dearest partner of greatness, that thou mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing by being ignorant of what greatness is promised thee. Lay it to thy heart and farewell.’ (Act I Scene 5, lines 9-12).

Her dramatic speeches build up the tension and excitement in the atmosphere and touches on what Shakespeare’s audience would have believed. Lady Macbeth continues to persuade Macbeth in murdering Duncan, even though Macbeth becomes in doubt with the plan. The audience sees how Lady Macbeth seems to push her husband, almost as witches did earlier in the play. Lady Macbeth calls on supernatural spirits to assist her plans of helping her husband to achieve his newfound ambition of kingship.

‘…Come you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here

And fill me from the crown to the toe topfull

Of direst cruelty;…’ (Act I, Scene 5, lines 38-41).

In Act Two, the main events of supernatural are of Macbeth seeing a dagger and how he cannot say ‘Amen’ and is haunted in his sleep as he hears voices. Macbeth sees a dagger before his eyes.

‘Is this a dagger I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me cluch thee:

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still….’ (Act II Scene 1, lines 33- 35)

For Shakspeare’s audience, Macbeth having the vision of the dagger, makes the audience excited, as it would fit in with their knowledge of the witches at the time. For modern day audiences, the vision would mean that Macbeth would be hallucinating as results of tension and feeling of guilt. This would make modern day audiences feel involved and sympathise with him.

‘Or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?’ (Act II Scene 1, lines 37- 39)

The dramatic influence on the character’s mind from this event is that it is a sign of Macbeth being possessed and influenced by the witched as dagger seems to lead him into doing the bad of murdering Duncan. The dagger appears with blood on it, making the vision more effective and seems murder becoming more realistic.

Macbeth hears a voice in his head haunt him. Macbeth is obsessed by his inability to say ‘Amen’, and by a voice crying that he has murdered sleep and will never sleep again.

‘Methought I heard a voice cry, ‘Sleep no more:

Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,

The death of each day’s life…’ (Act II, Scene 2, lines 39- 40).

‘Still it cried, Sleep no more’ to all the house;

‘Glamis hath murdered sleep’, and therefore Cawdor

Shall sleep no more: Macbeth shall sleep no more.’ (Act II, Scene 2, lines 44- 46).

Shakespeare’s audience would see his inability to pray as another aspect of witche’s power. Modern day audiences would see this as an idea of Macbeth already being haunted by guilt. So the dramatic impact on the audience would be different compared to the time the audience is from.

The main supernatural event in Act III, is during the banquet scene, where Macbeth has visions of Banquo’s ghost. This event is very dramatic for audience to watch. At the beginning of the banquet scene, Macbeth seems relaxed with guests and quite happy. However he changes when he hear that Fleance had escaped, even though Banquo was dead, Macbeth still felt tense. The tension builds up and real drama occurs as Macbeth reacts to the ghost he has vision of and the Lords become suspicious. Macbeth visions produce him to have disturbed behaviour, which could have been the influence of the witches he was under. To Shakespeare’s audience, this would have made the audience think that he had felt guilty and was worrying.

In Act V, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, and talks to herself. This reveals to the audience of her guilt.

‘Out damned spot! Out, I say! …Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear? Who knows it, when none call all out power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?’ (Act V, Scene 1, lines 30-34).

Shakespeare’s audience would see this as evidence of supernatural and that the demons of Lady Macbeth had called upon haunting her. On the other hand, to modern day audiences, we would see this as manifestation of her guilt. The guilt weighs her down and the audience would feel this as a warning that something terrible is about to happen. Lady Macbeth becomes deeply effected by guilt, as she realises what she has done and tries to justify and comfort herself by saying,

‘…Come, give me your hand: what’s done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed…’ (Act V, Scene 1, lines 56-57).

The final event which has the most of both dramatic impact on the audience and influence on the characters, is in Act V, Scene 8, where Macbeth is challenged by Macduff.

‘Accursed be that tongue that tells me so,

For it hath cowed my better part of man;

And be these juggling fiends no more believed…

…And break it out hope…. (Act V, Scene 8 lines from 17- 22).

This is the climax of the play as Macbeth and Macduff meet each other to fight. The audience would realise that this would be Macbeth’s death, and the prediction would have been filled. The audience would see him redeem himself at last by fighting Macduff and not begging for mercy and backing away. He seems to regain some of the old nobility of the war hero, which he had at the beginning of the play.

Macbeth realises that his luck had run out and the predictions made by the witches had come true and that he is to die. He finally faces his death. Even though he knows he has to die, he is determined to go down fighting until he is killed.

‘…Yet I will try the last. Before my body,

I throw my warlike shield…’ (Act V, Scene 8, lines 32- 33).

At first, Macbeth refuses to fight with Macduff, but when he is threatened with display and humiliation, he at last picks up his sword and fights. Macbeth realises that the double meanings which the spirits had given him, had him fooled and he is prepared to die. This is the huge dramatic influence on Macbeth as he finally realises that he had been tricked into what he had done. Atlast, Macduff gets his revenge for his family.

Shakespeare tries to create a supernatural atmosphere by the language he uses. Certain words recur throughout Macbeth, creating meaning, atmosphere and significance. For example the words, ‘blood’, ‘fear’, and ‘sleep’. The use of words like this repetitively, creates tension, and a dark, spooky and dramatic atmosphere. Characters like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had spoken soliloquies, which reveals to the audience their inner thoughts and motives. Macbeth often thinks aloud, about half his lines seem to be spoken to himself. This use of him thinking aloud is very essential to the audience, as the audience needs the knowledge of how he feels after acting upon something. For example, he had felt bad after killing Duncan, and he had kept killing because he did not want to lose what he had gained.

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