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. ShakespeareÂ¹s 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
A ghost, appearing in the form of HamletÂ¹s 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, Â³It harrows me with fear and wonderÂ². 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, Â³What 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 HamletÂ¹s later actions and provides insight into HamletÂ¹s
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, Â³The spirit
that I have seen may be a devil... and perhaps out of my weakness and
my melancholy..abuses me to damn meÂ², and thus an aspect of HamletÂ¹s
character is revealed. Hamlet, having no suspicion of the ghost after
the production by the players, encounters the ghost next in his
motherÂ¹s room. In this scene the ghost makes an appearance to Â³whetÂ²
HamletÂ¹s Â³almost blunted purposeÂ². Hamlet is now convinced of the
ghost and he no longer harbors any suspicion. He now listens to it,
Â³Speak to her, HamletÂ².
In Hamlet, the supernatural is the guiding force behind
Hamlet. The ghost ask Hamlet to seek revenge for the KingÂ¹s death and
Hamlet is thus propelled to set into action a series of events that
ends in HamletÂ¹s death.
The supernatural occurs four times during the course of
Macbeth. It occurs in all the appearances of the witches, in the
appearance of BanquoÂ¹s ghost, in the apparitions with their
prophesies, and in the Â³air-drawnÂ² dagger that guides Macbeth towards
Of the supernatural phenomenon evident in Macbeth the witches
are perhaps the most important. The witches represent MacbethÂ¹s evil
ambitions. They are the catalyst which unleash MacbethÂ¹s 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 MacbethÂ¹s 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 MacbethÂ¹s
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 MacbethÂ¹s downfall. A child with a crown on his
head, the third apparition, represents Malcolm, DuncanÂ¹s son. This
apparition also gives Macbeth a false sense of security because of the
Birnam Wood prophesy.
The appearance of BanquoÂ¹s ghost provides insight into
MacbethÂ¹s character. It shows the level that MacbethÂ¹s 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 -Â²statute purged the gentle
wealÂ²- and yet the dead are coming back.
The final form of the supernatural is the Â³air-drawnÂ² 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 DuncanÂ¹s 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 audienceÂ¹s curiosity
of the mysterious and thus strengthens their interest.