THIS IS ALREADY SUBMITTED TO TURNITIN. COM The Supernatural in Shakespeare’s Plays Throwing an unrealistic element into a play that is meant to be performed on a stage does not exactly seem logical. Unless, however, you are William Shakespeare; in that case, you would have complete and total free reign as a playwright. Shakespeare brilliantly incorporates ghosts and spirits into his plays to serve his purposes. Although there are a few unexplained questions about his supernatural choices that will have to remain unanswered, it is possible to speculate about those choices and why they were made.
An obvious supernatural element placed into some of Shakespeare’s plays is his use of ghosts. His ghosts always had a purpose, however, whether or not that purpose was full of good or bad intent may be left to the reader or audience’s discretion. Although he used ghosts as an important factor in some of his works, he was not responsible for actually inventing the ghosts themselves (Smidt 435).
They had already been incorporated into many other literary works. Shakespeare’s intent for his ghostly figures was not for them to come and go, but for them to appear and disappear.
Portraying this was slightly difficult due to the fact that Shakespeare was, in fact, a playwright. Actors cannot simply just appear and dissipate on and off of the stage. If they could, it would make Shakespeare’s point of the ghosts being ghosts get across a little more obviously. The ghost actors would have been dressed as they were when they were living, with the addition of evidence of how they perished, such as blood on their clothing. For the fact that in Shakespeare’s time plays had to be performed live, sans technology, this seems about the cleverest way to go about insinuating that there were ghosts present on the stage.
Out of all of the ghosts in his plays, only one ghost actually comes and goes, and that is Hamlet’s father. The other ghosts Shakespeare uses appear to the living at times when they should be dreaming or they appear to them as supernatural fantasies (Faber 132). This allows the viewer of the play to question whether or not the ghosts were actually ghosts or if they simply apparitions in the actor’s heads being portrayed visually on stage. Shakespeare’s ghosts are not generally the awful or screeching kinds of ghosts that movies use today (Smidt 427). They were sually used to haunt live characters for their past actions. Each ghost has a specific purpose. The first play that Shakespeare incorporated a ghost was in Richard III (Smidt 427). The first ghosts to appear are to the Duke of Clarence. He is able to clearly relate a vivid dream to his keeper of his ghostly encounter. He does this so well that the readers of the play are able to practically experience the ghosts as he does, whereas in Richard and Richmond’s case, both the viewers and readers literally get to experience the procession of the ghosts (Smidt 428).
There was not only one ghost, but many; and they not only appeared to Richard, but also to Richmond. It can be argued that the ghosts Richard sees should have just been a bad dream for him, but their procession across the stage to Richmond is important (Smidt 436). This shows that it was significant for the ghosts to travel from Richard and deliver curses and then to Richmond to deliver good wishes for the battle. The ghosts were used as a foreshadowing tool. After the ghosts of Richard III are examined, the ghost of Caesar himself from Julius Casear is next to be analyzed.
This ghost has an incredibly short appearance and is only seen by one character, Brutus. It occurs right before the battle of Philippi. Caesar’s ghost announces that he is an “evil spirit. ” Supposedly Brutus’ guards did not hear a thing. After he experiences the ghost, Brutus’ manner is frightened, then very shortly after, quite calm. Only a few brief lines are even spoken by the great ghost of Caesar, yet they’re powerful in meaning and deliverance by the actor. Caesar’s ghost is also suspected to have nothing to do with the fact that Brutus commits suicide.
This ghost symbolizes the dominant spirit of Caesarean Rome. When it momentarily and mysteriously appears to a very skeptical Brutus, it asserts the idea that it is a ghost that a sane man might see. The ghost of Caesar is said to be Shakespeare’s finest ghost. If incorporating ghosts into plays were an art, Shakespeare created a masterpiece with this one. He perfectly controlled the power of the ghost by using restraint and not actually having the visitation be repeated again further in the play (Smidt 428).
Caesar’s ghost does state that he will appear to Brutus later, but he is not actually seen nor does he get to speak again. Readers and the play’s audience are only aware of a second appearance by the ghost due to Brutus telling of how he interacted with it. A question that has been raised by a few scholars is whether or not the ghosts are actual ghosts. However, the main reasoning that justifies this question is that the ghosts in Richard III and in Julius Caesar appear to the characters in the plays who are guilty of some heinous deed.
Their guilty conscious could lead them to imagining spirits or ghosts to be haunting them (Smidt 431). The ghosts could be perceived as just that: ghosts, or psychological creations. Supposedly Shakespeare intended them to be perceived as real ghosts. Yet, the characters that appear to Richard and Richmond could be created as figments of Richard’s imagination due to his sense of foreboding and his temporarily diseased consciousness. Richmond’s vision of them could be explained as a fair omened dream.
In regards to the ghost of Caesar, one may wonder if Lucius would have had the option of seeing it had he woken up a moment or two sooner (Faber 131). He might have, or his master Brutus could have been hallucinating. It is definitely a possibility that all of the ghosts in Shakespeare’s plays are not actually ghosts and are hallucinations or dreams, but at the same time they could have been “real. ” There is not actually any way to know for sure, since the man who wrote these plays is long deceased. All that can be down now is readers and observers of the plays may speculate and form their own opinions.
The next elements of the supernatural that Shakespeare includes in a few of his plays are the spirits and fairies that are present in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. They are an otherworldly component that Shakespeare uses for creating a dreamlike atmosphere and unrealistic aura in his plays. Each fairy plays a detrimental role in shaping the play that it is involved in. The fairies contribute to the human action in their plays and have their own. There are similarities between the two plays by way of their unrealistic atmospheres and the fairies and sprites behaving or misbehaving.
The fairies and the subplot present in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are neither good nor bad. They’re simply a supernatural element incorporated into the play to provide more entertainment in the plot. The lives of the fairies are separate, yet intertwined, but still manage to parallel those of the humans in the play. Oberon and Titania are sort of examples of nature personified and are unclassified (Smidt 426). Oberon himself states that he is a spirit. Not only do these fairies exist, but they eagerly involve themselves and their magic in their own lives and those of the human characters as well.
The fairies and their mischievous magic serve not only as a backdrop for the play, like most fantasy things would, but as a driving force throughout the play. The magic is used to emphasize love and the supernatural world of the fairies. The abuse of magic causes some chaos and a few mishaps that help shape the play and make it quite comedic. Bottom’s head being that of an ass is very supernatural because that sort of thing would definitely not occur on its own ordinarily and it is even not normal for a fairy (Snider 177).
Pretty much everything about A Midsummer Night’s Dream is supernatural because its setting is in a supernatural world meshed with reality and the lines between real and unreal are slightly blurred throughout the play. The Tempest is full of spirits and supernatural occurrences. It somewhat resembles the forest scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in that the whole action is a world of spirits and witches, but it actually mixes with the real life characters. Prospero manages to discover spirits, and somehow control them.
Just as the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the spirits in this play are neither good nor bad. Although, Prospero calls Ariel a “malignant thing. ” Caliban states that the spirits all hate their master, however, he may just be filled with resentment for Prospero. Nymphs of the sea are present, and they dance, they help create a magical world under Prospero’s rule for his daughter and Ferdinand. Spirits of the island impersonate deities and are presented as goddesses. They do not really serve a purpose except to celebrate and add festivity to the engagement that has just taken place (Smidt 435).
The Tempest ought not to be taken literally. A human would not command spirits, because spirits do not exist. However, they do create important developments in the plot; without them, the play would not advance. The whole play hinges on Prospero having power over the spirits and Ariel. Pretty much no part of the action that occurs would be possible were it not for the spirits jumping at Prospero’s every command. He is not a very just ruler and gets angry when they oppose him. The Tempest is definitely full of supernatural occurrences and creatures.
Shakespeare uses variety with his supernatural components within his play. This is a good thing; otherwise his readers would tire of the monotony and lack of creativity. Although he did not literally create the concept of a fairy, ghost or spirit, he manages to use them for his own personal advantages in his plays. Shakespeare brilliantly uses what was popular in his time to create a stimulus of interest in his audiences. The supernatural was held with the regard of it being real, or mysterious to the people of his time, so the element of it being included in a play was enticing.
Shakespeare relies on the supernatural to propel his plays into definitely entertaining his audiences. Works Cited Faber, M. D. “Shakespeare’s Ghosts. ” Am. Notes & Queries 5. 9 (n. d. ): 131-33. JSTOR. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. Ornerod, David. “MSDN-A Monster in the Labyrinth. ” Shakespeare Studies 11 (1978): 39-53. Ebscohost. Web. 3 Nov. 2012. Smidt, Kristian. “Spirits, Ghosts and Gods in Shakespeare. ” English Studies 77. 5 (1996): 422-38. Jstor. Web. 3 Nov. 2012. Snider, D. J. “Midsummer Night’s Dream. ” Journal of Speculative Phil 8. 2 (1874): 165-86. Jstor. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.
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