In the time of William Shakespeare there was a strong belief in the existence of the supernatural. Thus, the supernatural is a recurring aspect in many of Mr. Shakespeare’s plays. In two such plays, Hamlet and Macbeth, the supernatural is an integral part of the structure of the plot. It provides a catalyst for action, an insight into character, and augments the impact of many key scenes. The supernatural appears to the audience in many varied forms. In Hamlet there appears perhaps the most notable of the supernatural forms, the ghost. However, in Macbeth, not only does a ghost appear but a floating dagger, witches, and prophetic apparitions make appearances. The role of the supernatural is very important in Hamlet and Macbeth.
A ghost, appearing in the form of Hamlet’s father, makes several appearances in the play. It first appears to the watchmen, Marcellus and Bernardo, along with Horatio near the guardsmens’ post. The ghost says nothing to them and is perceived with fear and apprehension, “It harrows me with fear and wonder”. It is not until the appearance of Hamlet that the ghost speaks, and only then after Horatio has expressed his fears about Hamlet following it, “What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord, or to the dreadful summit of the cliff”. / The conversation between the ghost and Hamlet serves as a catalyst for Hamlet’s later actions and provides insight into Hamlet’s character. The information the ghost reveals incites Hamlet into action against a situation he was already uncomfortable with, and now even more so. Hamlet is not quick to believe the ghost, “The spirit that I have seen may be a devil… and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy..abuses me to damn me”, and thus an aspect of Hamlet’s character is revealed. Hamlet, having no suspicion of the ghost after the production by the players, encounters the ghost next in his mother’s room. In this scene the ghost makes an appearance to “whet” Hamlet’s “almost blunted purpose”. Hamlet is now convinced of the ghost and he no longer harbors any suspicion. He now listens to it, “Speak to her, Hamlet”. In Hamlet, the supernatural is the guiding force behind Hamlet. The ghost ask Hamlet to seek revenge for the King’s death and Hamlet is thus propelled to set into action a series of events that ends in Hamlet’s death. The supernatural occurs four times during the course of Macbeth. It occurs in all the appearances of the witches, in the appearance of Banquo’s ghost, in the apparitions with their prophesies, and in the “air-drawn” dagger that guides Macbeth towards his victim. Of the supernatural phenomenon evident in Macbeth the witches are perhaps the most important. The witches represent Macbeth’s evil ambitions.
They are the catalyst which unleash Macbeth’s evil aspirations. Macbeth believes the witches and wishes to know more about the future so after the banquet he seeks them out at their cave. He wants to know the answers to his questions regardless of whether the consequence is violent and destructive to nature. The witches promise to answer and at Macbeth’s choice they add further unnatural ingredients to the cauldron and call up their masters. This is where the prophetic apparitions appear. The first apparition is Macbeth’s own head (later to be cut off by Macduff) confirming his fears of Macduff. The second apparition tells Macbeth that he cannot be harmed by no one born of woman. This knowledge gives Macbeth a false sense of security because he believes that he cannot be harmed, yet Macduff was not of woman born, his mother was dead and a corpse when Macduff was born. This leads to Macbeth’s downfall. A child with a crown on his head, the third apparition, represents Malcolm, Duncan’s son. This apparition also gives Macbeth a false sense of security because of the Birnam Wood prophesy. The appearance of Banquo’s ghost provides insight into Macbeth’s character. It shows the level that Macbeth’s mind has recessed to. When he sees the ghost he reacts with horror and upsets the guests. Macbeth wonders why murder had taken place many times in the past before it was prevented by law -”statute purged the gentle weal”- and yet the dead are coming back. The final form of the supernatural is the “air-drawn” dagger which leads Macbeth to his victim. When the dagger appears to him, Macbeth finally becomes victim to the delusions of his fevered brain. The dagger points to Duncan’s room and appears to be covered in blood. The dagger buttresses the impact of this key scene in which Macbeth slays King Duncan.
The supernatural is a recurring aspect in many of the plays by William Shakespeare. In Hamlet and Macbeth the supernatural is an integral part of the structure of the plot. In these plays the supernatural provides a catalyst for action by the characters. It supplies insight into the major players and it augments the impact of many key scenes. The supernatural appeals to the audience’s curiosity of the mysterious and thus strengthens their interest.