“Shakespeare used the supernatural in Macbeth to entertain and to terrify his audiences. Is a modern audience entertained and terrified in the same way by the supernatural elements in the play?”
The main function of the play is to entertain and to terrify the audiences who witness the play.
The three witches lure Macbeth into their plan and he fulfils their predictions after being influenced by the idea of becoming king. Once king, Macbeth goes back to see the witches again and he demands more prophecies of his future. Macbeth’s ambition takes control of him and is what eventually leads him to his death. The mood and atmosphere, within the audience changes, dramatically, during play. The characters, e.g. Macbeth, are constantly developing and becoming ‘new people’ due to the supernatural effect, influenced by others. The supernatural creates a dark and sinister effect towards the atmosphere of the play, where it is easier to believe that evil things can occur, for instance, Duncan’s murder. The way the witches control the mysterious forces of the supernatural gives the audience an uncomfortable feeling which partially contributes to the dark, threatening mood. Characters use ambiguities and antitheses to bring across a dramatic effect, “fair is foule, and foule is fair” is a direct contrast of words yet it has more than one meaning. This type of language adds towards the threatening mood of the play.
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Many people today do not believe in witches because we know that there is no such thing as supernatural, due to scientific evidence. This is why modern audiences enjoy reading or watching plays, like “Macbeth”, because it is very exciting and out of the ordinary due to its use of supernatural elements in the play. We notice that there is also a lot of superstition manifested in the play. Act 1 Scene 5, Lady Macbeth says, “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”, this tells us that she has a strong belief in superstition and relies on the evil spirits to give her strength. She also says “The raven himself is hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements” this shows that she believes in superstitious signs about what will happen. Shakespeare’s contemporary audiences would not have understood anything about the reality of supernatural elements. They would have all been very superstitious and have believed in the supernatural of witchcraft. They would have believed that Macbeth was possessed because he had visions and was distressed. People believed in these supernatural figures because they did not have any explanations for the things that happened.
Nowadays we have the advantage of having scientific knowledge and theories. We have a full advantage on the understanding of the supernatural elements of the play.
Act 1 Scene 1 is the first supernatural scene that we observe. In an open, deserted, wasteland, we first notice that all three witches mysteriously gather together and plan to meet again on the heath. Throughout the play, the witches speak in their own language to confuse their victims.
We observe the witches in three different clips and they are each portrayed very differently. Clip 1, directed by Trevor Nunn, 1978, the scene is rather daunting and unsettling. The witches enter a dark, deserted cave-like area at night and are seen as ‘typical’ witches. All three witches are dressed in rags yet appear to have different ages and appearances. The two elder witches rely on the younger witch as a source of prophesy for the future. The clip is fully focused on the witches as it is set on stage so the background is less detailed. Many background sound effects are used to create a dangerous storm-like atmosphere which creates a build up of tension. Clip 2, directed by Bogdanov, 1998, is an inaccurate approach to the witches as they are set in the future. It is set in an old quarry with an unpleasant and deserted atmosphere due to all of the rubbish and fires. Yet again, the witches all have different appearances- they are different races, they wear unusual, gypsy-like clothing and could be described as homeless people. Clip 1 is more realistic than Clip 2 because we know that at Shakespeare’s time, the surroundings would not have been like that and it is less convincing.
The witches are able to predict and foretell the coming future, Witch 3 exclaims, ‘That will be ere the set of sun’, this shows us that they can prophesise what is going to happen. The witches plan to meet with Macbeth from the very beginning of the play, ‘There to meet with Macbeth’ which also emphasizes their powers, because they plan to meet with a character of whom they have never met before, yet they know that he will definitely be there. As prophesized, he comes, and repeats the words that the witches have used, ‘So foul and fair…’ it is almost as if he has already had an anonymous connection with the witches and evil spirits.
Act 1 Scene 3, Banquo and Macbeth first meet the witches. Banquo describes them as ‘withered… th’ inhabitants o’ the earth’, this tells us they are old, wild looking, very unattractive and strange for wearing such unusual clothes. He also says that they have beards, which explains how they are different to most women. The Witches make predictions for Macbeth’s future. They exclaim, ‘Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none’ which leaves Macbeth confused yet intrigued to find out more about his prophesised destiny. Banquo thinks that it is weird how they have predicted such a grand future for Macbeth and exclaims ‘things that do sound so fair?’ Banquo does not believe the predictions will happen, ‘L’ the name of truth’. Act 1 Scene 3, the witches speak in contradicting riddles to confuse Macbeth, ‘Lesser than Macbeth, and greater’, ‘Not so happy, but much happier’. Both riddles are particularly confusing for the audience and Macbeth to comprehend due to their contradictions. Throughout the play, the witches continue to act very mysteriously, which also contributes to the cunning, impact that they have on us. Even though the witches are reluctant to tell Macbeth too much, they influence him to fulfil the prophecies, in order to become king, after a previous prediction comes true. It suggests that the witches put him under a spell as he is continuously intrigued to find out more about the predictions for his future.
Act 4 Scene 1, known as the cauldron scene, is one of the most commonly well known superstitious scenes throughout the play. It is well known for its famous quote, ‘double double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble!’. This scene is brought to life in the dramatic way in which the Witches use the cauldron. The theatrical effect is increased by the spell and its imaginary ingredients. A few of the ingredients are, ‘eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog’. This creates a dramatic impact towards the mood and atmosphere of the scene because the audience is encouraged to feel disturbed by the strange, eerie events on stage and the mysterious actions of the witches. The witches are very sinister and serious about the potion and repeat their charm, ‘double double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble!’, three times, which adds to the suspension causing the audience to feel especially nerved as they wait for what is going to happen next. This scene is very powerful because it creates a huge amount of suspension within its audience, who begin to feel as though they are being lingered into the dreadfully, dark, evil magic being created. Audiences may even begin to believe that they are supposed to be dark spirits and witches, observing the creation of the potion.
Before Macbeth enters the cave, the Witches predict, ‘by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’. Yet again, this emphasises their continuous, precision in their predictions. Macbeth begins to rapidly rely on the witches for his success in royalty. We begin to see that they are slowly, with disguise, lingering him into their prophesised trap and allowing him to become another one of their helpless victims.
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<[>During this scene, Macbeth is very unaware as he does not think deeply enough about the prophecies that he is being given for the future. Macbeth enters the cavern and demands the witches to tell him exactly what he wants, ‘…you secret, black and midnight hags! What is’t you do?’ Macbeth instantly appears fearless and has too much confidence. When he is told that ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’, Macbeth appears oblivious when he says ‘then live, Macduff, what need I fear of thee?’. He is fooled by the trick within the announcement and believes that no one can harm him. He believes he is invincible and is unafraid of death, “I’ll fight till from my bones my flesh be hack’d”. Macbeth threatens to curse the witches if they don’t do as he commands, and this shows that he has over estimated his power. The supernatural has a powerful, dramatic effect over people’s lives that takes control and causes character’s personalities to change for the worse. The witches are linked with supernatural and control the mysteriousness of it all, which is how Macbeth became possessed, leading to his death.
When Macbeth was told the predictions for his future, he made a turn for the worst and used evil methods to complete the necessary requirements, to fulfil the predictions. We know that Macbeth’s knowledge of the future took over his life and forced him to become an evil character.
Another scene that contains supernatural elements is Act 2 Scene 1, also well known as ‘the dagger scene’. Macbeth expresses his thoughts and emotions whilst heading towards Duncan’s chamber. Macbeth has visions and sees a dagger and is fascinated by it. The first half of the soliloquy, Shakespeare explores Macbeth’s feelings towards the dagger. Macbeth questions the dagger and is uncertain whether he is hallucinating or if there is a real dagger in front of him, “is this a dagger which I see before me”. Macbeth follows the dagger and exclaims, “Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going”. Shakespeare’s plot suggests that the witches have sent the dagger as a sign for Macbeth to follow and fulfil. The second half of the soliloquy, Shakespeare creates a daunting atmosphere, “nature seems at dead and wicked dreams abuse”. Shakespeare uses imagery to create a picture of the scene in our minds. He uses similes, “… moves like a ghost”, and so we can picture how silently Macbeth travels. Macbeth fears that all of the evil spirits will disturb the plan and cause it to fail “for fear thy very stones prate of my whereabout”. Macbeth is the main character of the play and as the story develops we start to become part of his character. Our thoughts and emotions become more similar to his, which is why although Macbeth is doing wrong, we still feel sympathy for his feelings and do not want him to be found out and punished. Shakespeare describes the outside world as a hell world and suggests that it is full of dark and evil spirits, hiding among the shadows of the night. Shakespeare creates an atmosphere that is both tensional and stressful for the audience. The night is full of dark, evil, dangerous, spirits from the unknown world and with such a sinister atmosphere; it resembles the witches because they encourage evil deeds to take place- this makes us sense that the witches are trying to communicate with Macbeth and lure him into their plan. Macbeth says, “Witchcraft celebrates Pale Hecate’s offerings”, which suggests the witches are near.
Act 2 Scene 1, there are many different interpretations which are all represented uniquely. Trevor Nunn, 1978, the scene is entirely focused on Macbeth as he speaks aloud. The dagger’s sharpness is emphasised and the scene is almost ‘too’ quite- this forces us to share his intensity. We see that Macbeth is terrified as he is sweating heavily and speaks with an uneasy tone. He later goes on to caress the dagger due to his madness. In the Orson Welles 1948, version, the entire scene is portrayed by Macbeth’s thoughts. The eerie background music is very disturbing and suspicious which adds to the impact of the scene. The camera goes in and out of focus, which adds to the confusion of the scene and the low-key lighting represents good and evil. We are unable to see the dagger although we hear mysterious voices, which represent how the witches are always watching their victims.
Act 3 Scene 4, is when we witness another supernatural scene from the play. The Banquet scene is the centrepiece of the play. When Banquo’s ghost appears, Macbeth is immediately terrified and scared that the ghost might punish and haunt him for the evil sins he has committed. Macbeth refers to the ghost and says “Thou canst not say I did it! Never shake thy gory locks at me!” which shows his fear as he tries to deny the murder. Macbeth is so terrified, he begs the ghost to leave several times, “Prithee, see there!”, “Avaunt and quit my sight!”. The fact that Macbeth can see ghosts reveals that he is losing his state of mind and going mad as a result of his fear and guilt. We do not feel the same way or have the same guilt and emotions as Macbeth does, this is because we cannot see the same visions since we haven’t committed his crimes and therefore do not have the same feelings of guilt. The tension, as we wait to see how Macbeth will react, creates a large amount of excitement within the audience.
Shakespeare’s audiences would have been held under suspension as they waited to find out what was happening to Macbeth, since they couldn’t see the ghost. Although, towards the end of the scene they would have explained that Macbeth was hallucinating over a guilty conscience .Although, nowadays a modern audiences opinion would not necessarily changed that much compared to Shakespeare’s contemporary audience. Many people would have thought similarly that Macbeth was fretting and hallucinating over a guilty conscience.
Just after Macbeth succeeded in murdering Duncan, we learn that he and Lady Macbeth appeared to have ‘swap roles’. The supernatural starts to take control of Macbeth and he dramatically changes characters. As before, he used to rely on his wife, however now he becomes less dependent on his wife and takes control of situations, he even plans to kill Banquo without his wife knowing. He also becomes more confident and decisive, and is more distant with his wife. Lady Macbeth also changes; she starts to sleepwalk due to her fear in guilt, of being found out, and shouts “out damned spot!” as she tries to rub off the imaginary spot of blood she sees on her hand. Due to the supernatural effect, Macbeth is so focused on becoming a successful king that he ignores his wife’s death.
Throughout this play, we learn how some people will do almost anything to be powerful and Macbeth was one of those sorts of people. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a character with a good heart. He was even prepared to die for his king. However when he was given the chance to rule, as king, he seized the opportunity and from then on, he became frighteningly power crazy, which was when he was overrun by his aspiration of becoming an entirely successful, triumphant king.
Shakespeare’s audiences may have seen the world in a different way to modern audiences, but nowadays we have the advantage of having scientific knowledge and theories, so we find the supernatural elements entertaining and, to some extent, terrifying. Many people today do not believe in witches because we have no evidence that it is physically possible, so we are not scared or intimidated by them. For example, we know that there is no such thing a wizard, potions and spells, which is why we enjoy watching Harry Potter. It is different from reality and we like to imagine that such a thing is possible. Although modern audiences do not react to supernatural elements in the play in the same way as Shakespeare’s audiences, we still find them entertaining and terrifying, in a different context.
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