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Supernatural in Shakespeare's Plays

        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 


        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 be 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 can not 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.

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