Macbeth: Superstitions Essay, Research Paper
The tragedy of Macbeth was written by Shakespeare in 1606 and produced
in 1610. Macbeth is the most concentrated of Shakespeare’s tragedies. The action
gushes forward with great speed from the beginning to end. The main characters
in the play are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who are very noble, but their evil
ambition ultimately causes their downfall and death. The play focuses around
evil, greed and the supernatural. The play was written by Shakespeare for the
king at that time, since he was a big believer of witches and the supernatural.
Supernatural is classified as the unnatural or the explainable mysteries of our
universe. In Shakespeare’s time many people would relate many of the unusual
happening against the supernatural, since this was the most simplistic of an
answer to give. Elizabethan’s have several beliefs in superstitions. Some of
these superstitions include that they believe in witches, ghosts, destiny, and
the foretelling of the future. This essay will investigate superstitions and how
they are used in the play Macbeth.
Witches were believed by many people in Shakespeare’s day. The
supernatural was believed by everyone from the educated to the non-educated.
When something was not explainable they would relate that problem to the
supernatural, even though today that same problem was explainable in scientific
The witches in this play are named by Shakespeare as the “weird Sisters”.
These witches had all the features of witches in those days; old people, dirty
broken clothe and come together in groups of three. These witches have many
animal’s but in this play – a cat, and a toad are used – who are actually evil
spirits who have taken this form. In Macbeth we here about the owl quite often
which has to relate to the witches. The owl gives a sense of scariness which
makes the paly thrilling to read. It keeps the reader hooked to the play and the
suspense increases with every scary sound. Macbeth had many nightmares, which
were caused by the witches, even so hallucinations, such as the “air-drawn
dagger.” that Macbeth seen before he went to kill Duncan.
The very – word “nightmare,” often called in Shakespeare’s time “the
riding of the witch”, which refers to a witch riding wildly through the night on
horseback, visiting bad dreams on her victims.
Supernatural is the unusual, unseen, and the unknown. The supernatural
occurs in many parts of the play. The supernatural occurs in the appearances of
the witches, in the strange behaviour in nature on the night of Duncan’s murder,
in the appearance of Banquo’s ghost, in the apparitions with their prophecies,
and in the “air-drawn” dagger that guides Macbeth toward’s his victim.
The apparitions in Act four scene one have special meaning. Their three
prophecies parallel the three of the first of the play. The first apparition,
the helmeted head, represents Macbeth himself and echoes the fears of his mind
concerning Macduff. The second, the bloody child, represent Macduff – no man
born of women would eve conquer him. Macduff’s birth was unnatural. The third
apparition, a crowned child bearing a tree, represents Malcolm. The apparition
told Macbeth that he would never be harmed until Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane
The prophecies at the beginning of the play led him to his success, and
those at the end just led to his death.
In addition to the apparitions, Banquo’s ghost also makes an appearance
with his show of kings. Ghosts is a form of superstition since it cannot be
explained. A ghost might of even possessed Lady Macbeth when she went crazy and
seen blood on her hands.
Witches are regarded as old women who have supernatural powers by the
devil himself, to whom they had sold their souls and assumed the bodies of old
women for their evil purposes. Witches in Shakespeare times were also classified
as being goddesses of punishment, and with fairies and elves, creatures of
folklore who were more sinister than we think of them today. The witches in
Macbeth were closely associated with the number three were suppose to have
magical significance. Their powers were in part to tell future events, to create
evil and destruction. The witches could not however do fatal harm to their
victims. In appearance they were sexless. Banquo says that they should be women
but they have a beard. The witches relation to Macbeth is that they represent
Macbeth’s evil ambition, only Macbeth can see the witches and no one else. Later
in the play they lead him to his destruction. They do not guide Macbeth but they
only represent his own wishes and thoughts.
Shakespeare’s witches are a compound of native folklore and classical
mythology. They serve demons, for they are summoned by the devil and predict
apparitions. They are associated with Hecate, the Greek goddesses of sorcery.
Although the witches can foretell the future, the main idea of the play
is that Macbeth bears responsibility for his own actions. The witches, and
ghosts influence him but do not control his destiny.
Superstitions were often believed by many Elizabethans in Shakespeare’s
time but how are these superstitions used in the play. Superstitions are the
unnatural unseen of the universe. Witches were one of these superstitions.
Witches are no longer a big thing in today’s society but it was a different
story for Elizabethans in Shakespeare’s time. The witches and other
superstitions in the play which include ghosts, destiny and apparitions all have
a role in the play about Macbeth. These superstitions were used to entertain the
people of Shakespeare’s time. Today, we still read his books, for a source of
humour or for a sad tragedy. These superstitions are not often believed for the
occurrences happening today but we can still relate to them. In the play the
superstitions are put into play with ghosts: Banquo’s ghosts with the kings,
witches: three which they led Macbeth to his death, the devil: witches possessed
by the devil, apparitions: the foretelling of Macbeth’s future and destiny: the
future told by the witches but not entirely true. i.e They told him that he
would be king but not how he would become king. The witches told Macbeth who,
what, why, where but they did not tell him how and when.
So as you can see superstitions were greatly believed and related to in
Elizabethan time and the same superstitions were used in the play with a bit of
imagination a great play writer and book was written.