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Set in the middle Ages, Shakespeare challenges the old beliefs regarding astrology and fortune telling. By using a hyperbolic metaphor about the swiftness and fate, Shakespeare depicts how Macbeth is being praised and held in a very high esteem. This depicts how he is loved and respected, even by Duncan, the king himself. By doing so, Shakespeare creates a suspension about how Macbeth's position may have to go through a dramatic change, such as a sudden downfall, which accounts for a tragic feature of the play.
Shakespeare emphasizes on the presence of witchcraft even further throughout the play to create a dark, ominous, atmosphere:
"I will drain him dry as hay:
Sleep shall neither night nor day"
The witches in the Middle Ages represent illusions that are created by devils and the people who follow these rituals are those who worship the devils. People believe that black magic is associated with evil and witches are the causes of harm, such as bad luck, death, illness, etc., in society. To illustrate the evil of the witches, Shakespeare depicts how the witches deprive a sailor of his sleep. However, what they are most feared for is their ability to lure a man or a woman into a dark path and evil deeds, which is believed to be the delivery of the victim's soul to the devil. Based on this belief, Shakespeare deliberately uses this aspect on the witches to change Macbeth.
However, though witches are most feared for their ability to turn lure and persuade people, they have no actual power to control other people. Even though they are believed to possess the power of black magic, they do not have the power over other people's minds. Therefore, the victims of these witches actually maintain the freedom of choice, as they can still think and make their own decisions. In the Middle Ages, the devil, whom the witches serve, are known as the "father of lies", witches do not use lies to get to their goals. Conversely, they often use the truth to achieve these purposes. Shakespeare uses these aspects of the witches to lure Macbeth into doing evil deeds. The witches prophesize that Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor, and later, King, which hypnotizes him into believing into these prophecies. This adds tension to the mood of the play, as the atmosphere is dark, not just because of the existence of black magic, but also with the exposure of the evil side of Macbeth's mind. Shakespeare also foreshadows the tragedy of Macbeth with the warning from Banquo, which creates a dramatic irony in the play:
"And oftentimes to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's
In deepest consequence. . ."
The witches' seduction of Macbeth leads to another aspect of a tragedy in this play. By allowing him to be corrupted, Shakespeare introduces Macbeth as a character with a hamartia, or a fatal flaw. Macbeth, despite initially being a brave, noble warrior, is easily seduced into the thought of becoming King, even though he is fully aware of the darkness in the path that he is treading:
"For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires:
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be,
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see."
By creating a main character with a megalomaniac characteristic, Shakespeare can present the character as being fragile. He is fully aware that his thoughts and desires are wrong, yet his lusts are causing his thoughts to be irrational and intoxicated. He and Banquo allow themselves to be tricked corrupted, even when they fully realize the presence of evilness in their action. Shakespeare also uses this to depict the duplicity that pervades in the kingdom. This increases the level of dramatic irony even further, as the passage above is the thoughts of Macbeth that is isolated from other characters. This creates a contrast within Macbeth, as he addresses Duncan respectfully, which shows signs of deference, despite scheming a plot to usurp the throne, which is considered as a treachery of the highest order.
In the play, Shakespeare also includes visceral imageries and metaphors in order to depict the dark side of Macbeth, as well as to sullen and intensify the mood of the play:
"Till he unseamed him from the nave to the th'chaps"
These imageries are used not only in the play, but also in Roman Polanski's rendition of the movie as well. These imageries not only create a sense of macabre of the play and Macbeth, but also depict the story in a dark, somber way.
The antithesis that Shakespeare uses in the play also suggests a feature of a tragedy in the play:
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air."
By creating a constrast between fair and foul, which are terms that are opposite to each other, Shakespeare creates juxtaposition between luxury and horror. In literature, this is often used to describe characters that contain opposite traits, however, Shakespeare has used this to present 2 opposite traits that dwell within a single character. This creates an ambiguous atmosphere throughout the play. The word foul also creates an ominous mood in the act as it is directed to Macbeth, the main character.
From the outset, Shakespeare creates an awareness of the genre of the play, which can be nothing other than a tragedy, which causes the play to be macabre. Shakespeare constantly creates dramatic irony throughout the play to build up suspension as well as moral suspicion about Macbeth and the witches. The play emphasizes on the corroding of Macbeth's psychological strength which caused him to be unable to resist to his temptations. Thus, even today, the play Macbeth remains one of the darkest and ominous tragedies.