Shakespeare's Use of the Supernatural

'Shakespeare's Use of the Supernatural', a piece of English coursework looking at the play of Macbeth. I was quite proud with my finished 'product', and so I thought that I might as well post it here.

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair!”

It is the last line of the very first scene of the play, spoken by all the witches together. That line sets the tone of the entire play: that what is spoken and the events that happen are filled with uncertainty and ambiguity. The play, ‘Macbeth’ questions the mind of the main character, and looks at how his subjects question the choices that he makes.

A theme that Shakespeare weaves throughout this play, and that involves the supernatural greatly, is the theme of lies and deceit.

An example is when the witches tell Macbeth what he wants to hear, but they do not tell him the whole truth. Macbeth is told that he will be king, but not how he will get there or for how long. He starts trying to make it happen, and he sets everything in motion.

In addition, Macbeth lies to his subjects, lying about how King Duncan died, but telling the truth that he, Macbeth, killed the servants (Act 2, scene 3, lines 102-103).

Shakespeare does this to show how powerful the witches’ words have been on Macbeth, how twisted his mind is being. The witches have a hold on Macbeth, even though he tries to use them, to ‘employ’ them for his own advantages, but they always seem to get the better of him.


In Act 1, scene 3, Banquo and Macbeth first meet the witches, and Banquo instantly is wary of them, although when Macbeth looks “rapt”, Banquo encourages him to be less shocked.

“Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear

Things that do sound so fair?”

The witches give Macbeth the good news, and then vanish without answering the man’s questions, leaving him impatient and beginning to be under the witches spell.

Banquo says (line 80): “The Earth hath bubbles, as the water has,” indicating that he does not understand who (or what) the witches are; they are from somewhere beyond knowledge. He even mentions an “insane root” (perhaps Hemlock, which could have been used in the witches’ brews), suggesting that the witches could have just been part of their imagination. Shakespeare could be suggesting that, deep down, Macbeth desires to be the king, whilst Banquo just wants the best for his family, because the witches tell Banquo that his descendants will be kings.

There is an uneasy, anticipating atmosphere in Act 1, scene 3, getting the play ready for the murder and deceit that is going to happen. Shakespeare uses words like “fantastical”, “wild” and the phrase “melted as breath into the wind” to describe the witches, words that very much conjure up the image of something not from this world.

In this scene, the phrase “All hail, Macbeth,” is repeated three times, and then 10 lines later, “Hail,” is repeated three times, all spoken by the witches. Shakespeare does this to emphasise how, later on during the play, Macbeth is going to be hailed for a while, as his subjects will worship him with praise.

The End

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