In Shakespeares Macbeth supernatural forces create a suspenseful
atmosphere. The use of the supernatural in the witches, the visions, the ghost
and the apparitions provides the backbone of the climax and excuses for
Macbeths change of character. Because conscience plays such a central role in
Macbeths tragic struggle, many critics use spiritual and supernatural
theories to illuminate the dramas character development. The play opens with
the use of the supernatural when three witches encounter Macbeth on his way home
from a battle and proceed to predict his fate. This gives the audience a glimpse
of the path the play will follow. The witches plan to meet again, When the
battles (battle is) lost and won (I. I. 1-4). This theme becomes recurring
throughout the play. It can be noted that the witches meet after every battle is
lost and won, and every battle, whether man against man, man against nature or
man against himself it will always be lost by one side and won by another.
Eventually Macbeth will lose the battle for his soul. Literary critic, Charles
Lamb quotes, When we read the incantations of the Witches in Macbeth, though
some of the ingredients of their hellish composition savour of the grotesque,
yet is the effect upon us other than the most serious and appalling that can be
imagined? Do we not feel spell-bound as Macbeth was? (Lamb). After the
witches reveal the fate of Macbeth becoming king, he begins to develop an
immoral plan to carry out the prophecy. The only way for Macbeth to have the
throne will be to wait or to kill King Duncan. Macbeth already knew of his
future as king due to the witches forecast of his future, so how he went
about getting there did not concern Macbeth. Had the three sisters not
confronted Macbeth with the news of his possible future would he have thought of
a deviant plan to murder King Duncan, and better yet, would he have had a future
as a king at all? Another critic of Shakespearean Literature believes Their
(the witches) two appearances divide the tragedy in two movements, the one of
which unfolds the crime, and other as punishment. (Snider 289) If you refer
back to the text you will find just as the witches appear before Macbeth the
first time, the plot to murder King Duncan begins and immediately after the
second visitation, the events leading to Macbeths death take place. Had the
three witches not encountered Macbeth that day, would Duncan still be alive? The
three sisters held the power of motivating Macbeth to kill Duncan by planting
the idea in his head that he could be king. The ghostly dagger, which led
Macbeth to Duncans chamber, also represents the supernatural forces that
cause the fall of Macbeth. His benumbed isolation before, during and right
after Duncans murder is one of the most vivid memories, and we can see him in
the same abstraction again among the mourners after Duncan is found. (Manyard
62) Macbeths memories of the murder of King Duncan were too cloudy for him to
remember because the disillusionment and distraction of the knife influenced him
to go through with killing Duncan. Macbeth followed the bloody dagger to
Duncans room and even thought twice about murdering the king. Manyard also
states Shakespeare emphasizes the visibility of the dagger, partly, I
suppose, because it is an instrument of powers that will repeatedly – with
blood, daggers, ghosts, and every insidious form of apparition- work on
Macbeths sight and partly too because its appearance at this moment defines
with characteristic ambiguity the complex kinds of sources of experience to
which Macbeth as a tragic hero is sensitive. (Manyard 70) Macbeth exhibits
sensitivity towards what he does not understand or comprehend. These strange
occurrences bring forth Macbeths uncertainty of the unnatural, causing his
character to have two paths to travel down: the right one or the wrong one. The
floating dagger along with emotions and adrenaline coaxed Macbeth to the murder.
Had he not encountered dagger, he wouldnt have ever traveled up the stairs to
Duncans chamber. Banquos ghost is yet another paranormal experience
Macbeth encounters, and also the one that sent Macbeth over the edge. Author
Ludwig Jekels felt that the poet dramatizes, with wonderful clarity, the fear
of the son (Banquo) now the father, upon confronting, in his own son (Macbeth),
the same hostility that he (Macbeth) had harbored on his own father (Duncan).
(Jekels 227) Banquos ghost returned to torture Macbeth indefinitely.
Eventually, the ghost drives Macbeth to his own, unintended, self-destruction.
In act 3, scene 4, lines 112-115 Macbeth says to Lady Macbeth, Can such
things be and overcome us like a summers cloud, without our special wonder? You
make me strange even to the disposition that owe (my own nature).
(3.4.112-115) After all Macbeth has been through at this point, the witches and
apparitions, he still cant grasp his connection to the supernatural. This
proves that Macbeth fell under the influence of the supernatural without
knowing. Accredited author J. L. F. Flathe quotes, But we are constrained to
ask, what devil gives the devil such power over this poor devil Macbeth that he
is so immediately led astray, while we see, in the case of Banquo, that any man
who chooses can easily withstand the devil? (Flathe 200) Any given persons
human nature tempts them to take an easier path if shown the way. Some people
exhibit more hardworking and honest traits than others. Macbeth was deceitful
and dishonest, therefore following the path of the devil. Macbeth suffered the
consequences of his actions by death. Though Banquo also suffered consequences
of honesty, his heirs benefited in the long run by inheriting the crown.
Macbeths decisions were influenced by supernatural encounters, causing him to
tragically meet a doomed fate. These paranormal experiences and influences
caused Macbeth to choose certain paths, only to lead him to self-destruction.
Had the witches, ghosts, and visions not occurred throughout the play, what
other courses would have been walked to lead him to his ill-fated destiny?
Without the guidance of these forces, Macbeths fate would have been altered
and the plot would be non-existent.
Flathe, J. L. F. Banquo is Innocent. In Shakespearean Criticism. Vol.
3. 199-201. Jekels, Ludwig. Psychoanalytical Structure of Macbeth. In
Shakespearean Criticism. Vol. 3. 226-227. Lamb, Charles. The Tragedies of
Shakespeare. Electric Library @ AOL. Jan. 1992 Electric Library @ AOL. 1.
Maginn, William. The Gloomiest of Plays. In Shakespearean Criticism. Vol.
3. 193. Manyard, Mack Jr. The Voice in the Sword. Modern Critical
Interpretations of Macbeth . Ed. Harold Bloom. New York. Chelsea House
Publishers. 1987. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Snider, Denton.
Tragedy of the Imagination. In Shakespearean Criticism Vol. 3. 208-209.