During the reign of James I witchcraft was strongly believed in by many people, and an Act was drafted by the Parliament in 1563, saying that murdering by witchcraft was punishable by death, therefore the public believed strongly that witches had magical powers and accepting that they existed. In 1604 another Act, similar to the first, was drafted declaring that anybody found guilty of practising witchcraft was to be executed, so the laws against witchcraft became stronger and the belief also grew stronger.
There are many interesting sections in Macbeth which could be concentrated on, due to the suspense and the involvement of the supernatural. The use of the supernatural in the witches, the visions, the ghost, and the apparitions is a key element in making the concept of the play work and in making the play interesting
In the first scene of Macbeth, the three witches or the weird sisters are waiting on a heath for Macbeth.
It opens with thunder and lightning in the background instantly creating an atmosphere of evil, and that something interesting or scary is about to happen.
The first characters that the audience encounter are the three witches, this is a very strange opening scene as it is probably not what the audience expect, it is called known as The Scottish play and not The supernatural play so seeing witches as the first part of the play instead of, the Scottish army for example would be surprising, to say the least, for the audience The appearance of the witches on stage could be portrayed as very evil by their clothes, make-up, special effects, etc. And also by their speech as their speech is full of paradoxes and confusion.
The first witch begins to speak, When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning or in rain? This would make the audience think about why these disfigured women are speaking in rhyme. Rhyme is not normally used when people are just talking so using it, suggest that these three witches are either casting a spell, summoning evil or just talking evil, either way the audience can relate to it and tell that they are not up to good.
Rhyme is used again with the second witch, once again suggesting that the witches are evil.
When the hurlyburlys done, When the battles lost and won. (Act I, Scene I, l.4) This line may seem peculiar to the audience mainly because it is a paradox, When the battles lost and won The battle cannot be lost and won for the same side or army, so the witches are speaking in riddles, also suggesting that they are evil and do not want to give out too much information. This line could also be interpreted as to say that every battle is lost and won but Macbeths fate, which the witches tell, is that he will win the battle but lose the fight for his soul which eventually throughout the play the witches seem to control, or it seems that way.
The second witch later says that they shall meet Macbeth Upon the heath Heaths were thought of as evil places in the time of Macbeth as mentioned by Macbeth in Act 1 Scene 3, blasted heath So encountering Macbeth on the heath would show that the witches are evil as no non-evil being would dare to walk across it, for fear of dying.
The witches chant at the end of this scene, Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air. Yet again the witches use a paradox, this line means to turn all that is good bad and all that is good into bad. Lines like these, make the audience think about what the witches are saying more. When the witches use the words, Hover, Fog and Filthy air in their rhyme or chant at the end of the scene. The whole audience could sense the evil about the witches as all these words can be used to suggest things that are evil. Hover suggests that the evil is stirring up or hovering around them, Fog is usually think and hard to see in and you dont know what lurks in it, so hovering through the Fog and the filthy air you could encounter many types of evil. When this line is said in an incantation, it can almost immediately be described as evil.
This whole scene builds a lot of dramatic tension as the audience is think very hard about the paradoxes and wondering why the three witches want to meet Macbeth, even though Macbeth has just come back from Norway and he is a brave soldier, so the audience wants to know why evil, in this case the witches, wants him.
Shakespeare kept the first scene very brief, this brevity of the scene makes a big impact on the audience as they probably have belief in witchcraft, so starting off a play with a thing that can be punishable by death for practising would surprise them very much so, and the short time that it is performed in would make the audience pay more attention to the details as if they so much a blink they may miss a vital piece of the play.
Scene 2 is a breath of fresh air as it opens the play more officially as it holds the plot of Macbeth soon to come back from war, and has no reference to the supernatural.
Scene 3 opens with thunder, as does scene 1, so the audience can foresee what is coming up, which is the three witches. The three witches open the scene with them arguing, creating an atmosphere of hostility and angst around them, just like the stereotypical witch.
The three witches soon hear that Macbeth is coming by the sound of drums, the three witches all hold hands and begin to chant, and dance in a ring, this would, once again sending out messages of incantation to the audience, who would be familiar with the acts of witches. Macbeth enters and immediately outsets his speech with So foul and fair a day I have not seen These are the words that the witches had used at the end of the first scene Fair is foul and foul is fair It is at this point that the audience would detect the witches entire role in the play is ambiguous, you can see this in the prophecies of the three witches, as their speech is full of paradoxes and confusion starting with their first statement that Fair is foul and foul is fair which Macbeth then says something similar, this leaves the audience to wonder whether the witches can just predict the future or alter the course of the future.
It seems like Macbeth and Banquo have not walked across the heath before as they ask how far it is to Forres, therefore there fear would probably increase as they meet creatures So withered, and so wild in their attire while crossing the blasted heath. Banquo enhances the disfigurement and hideousness of the three witches by saying that they look not like thinhabitants o th earth meaning that they look like extraterrestrial beings and not from earth and then saying that You should be women. And your beards forbid to interpret that you are so.
Macbeth asks the three witches to speak and then asks What are you? The first witch replies with All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis! At this point Macbeth is probably thinking about how the witch knows his name, this builds a lot of tension with the audience because they are probably considering this as well, but the tension grows even more as the second witch say All hail Macbeth, hail to thee , Thane of Cawdor! Now Macbeth wonders why the witch is calling him the Thane of Cawdor, as Macbeth does not know that the Thane of Cawdor has be a traitor and stripped of his title and even if he did know this would still leave him wondering about why they should call him this. This is dramatic irony as the audience knows that the Thane of Cawdor has be stripped of his title, but Macbeth doesnt.
The third witch speaks All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter! This is what drives Macbeth to gain power of the throne. Here is where the tension really builds up, either the witches control him to fell like he needs to gain power of the throne or, he feels like he is labelled or told what he is to do, and in his subconscious he wants to fulfil his prophecy.
So for the audience, they have to chose between supernatural ie. The witches, controlling Macbeth, or mind games.
Later in Act I Scene III, Macbeth is made Thane of Cawdor, this is when the question of whether the witches prophecies were correct, as one said hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor Macbeth describes how shocked he is as the fact that he is now Thane of Cawdor in the soliloquy as he says asks Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair, And make my seated heart knock at my ribs this lets the audience feel how shocked Macbeth is.
In Act I scene 5 Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth about his meeting with the three witches. In Lady Macbeths Soliloquy she says It is too full o th milk of human kindness meaning she fears Macbeth is not ruthless enough to murder Duncan and fulfil the witches prophecy for Macbeth to be king. Could this mean that the supernatural is slowly turning Lady Macbeth evil, or is she already evil? This leaves the audience wondering in suspense, of why she wants her husband to become king so much. The witches are capable of leading people into danger leading to death, such as the sailor who never slept (Act I, Scene III, .1-37)
After Lady Macbeth is told that the king is coming she begins to pray to evil, and in this praying or summoning of evil spirits many evil things are mention. Lady Macbeths first words of her supernatural soliloquy are The raven himself is hoarse That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan Not only does this mean that the Raven, that foretells death with its voice, is going to croak itself hoarse for such an intense murder, but she uses the words raven and croak, In the time of Shakespeare the word raven would be instantly associated with death mainly because it is black and is foretells death according to superstition, as in would be if were performed today, but today the word croak is often used for somebody dying so in the first line of he supernatural soliloquy she mentions two words which would instantly show that the following speech is related to evil or even death. She then asks Come you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts In the time of Shakespeare this would petrify the audience, for them to think that she is calling the evil spirits toward her is quite frightening but the fact that spirits are already tending on mortal thoughts or their own thoughts would be enhance the horror for the audience.
Lady Macbeth goes on in her summoning of evil spirits and asks them to unsex me here or to take her way all her womanly and loving properties to make pure evil, this would have a tremendous effect on the audience, mainly in horror, as the thought of removing or abolishing your sex just for the sake of evil and ruthlessness is not in human interest to do so normally, so the audience, at this point in the play, would certainly notice supernatural and unnatural things taking place.
The audience would find the fact that Lady Macbeth is happy with evil entering her, unnatural or even twisted, when she says: And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty, especially if this was being performed in the time of Shakespeare, with all the belief in witches and the supernatural that the audience possessed.
Make thick my blood This, in my opinion, is one of the most effective and clever lines in Lady Macbeths soliloquy, it could be interpreted in many ways but only definitely in one. It could mean that, she wants her blood to be thick and just make her merciless, but that is quite vague and simple, but the other way that the audience could interpret it is very interesting; The audience know that when milk goes thick and curdled, it turns, disgusting or even repulsive, so to make her blood thick or curdled would be to make it sour and repulsive, also to make her ruthless.
She asks the spirits to stop up th access and passage to remorse To kill somebody and not regret it is truly evil and frightening, having a great effect on the audience of disturbance, after this, she also asks That no compunctions visitings of nature shake my fell purpose showing that she has power, but this to audience would be unbelivable, for Lady Macbeth to think that she can have power of nature its self, which would also mean power over God and other spiritual elements. She also says that she want to block th access and passage to remorse creating an image for the audience that there is a passage to remorse and it can be directly blocked instantle.
Nearing the end of her supernatural prayer she brings the up the womanly points also refers to the milk curdling or making a pure substance rancid suggestion: Come to my womans breasts, And take my milk for gall Gall was thought of a promoting rage so, replacing a pure, white, thing that feeds delicate, newborn babies, and replacing it with something that was believed to promote rage would be twisted and definitely evil.
Throughout this whole soliloquy, the evil atmosphere has been building up very slowly but also building a lot of dramatic tension as the audience wonders what is so evil about what she is saying.
In Act 2 Scene 1 Macbeth has been convinced by Lady Macbeth to murder Duncan and gain the throne. Macbeth sees a dagger floating in front of him with the handle pointing towards him, and it leading to . This is where the supernatural is really directly dealt with outside the witches, as the audience wonders whether the dagger is actually there, the witches have sent it there to guide Macbeth to the murder site, or whether the dagger is just a figment of Macbeths imagination . If this were to be performed, there would be a different effect, by doing this part of the play in a different way.
If it was performed with a real dagger in front of Macbeth, it would portray the dagger as more supernatural, than visions or hallucinations in Macbeths mind. But if no dagger was to be used, and Macbeth, when trying to clutch the dagger, was clutching at thin air it would portray the dagger more as visions or hallucinations in Macbeths mind instead of the supernatural acting on the dagger. This would probably be more effective as Macbeth says; Come let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. So when Macbeth goes to clutch the dagger the audience can see that Macbeth is not actually able to hold it and being drawn in to the chamber for the murders to take place.
Macbeth asks art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation suggesting that Macbeth cant even control this dagger so, it may be more supernatural than a creation of his mind.
T the end of this scene, when he has been signalled by the bell rang be Lady Macbeth, Macbeth ends with rhyme, just as the witches have been talking in throughout the play:
I go, and it is done. The bell invites me.
Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.
The audience could see this as a sign of the witches controlling or possessing Macbeth or just a way of Macbeth to enhance his power, either way it shows that the supernatural in one way. Macbeth is either being controlled by the witches at this point, or that he is powerful and nothing can stop him from the murder he is about to commit.
After Macbeth has murdered King Duncan Lady Macbeth says that she heard a noise: I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. This would portray Lacy Macbeths paranoia and guilt of what she has pushed or forced her husband to do, she also uses alliteration when she says crickets cry enhancing the effect of cry in her sentence. She also mentions the two creatures, owl and crickets both of which are associated with night, and in modern times, like today, they could also be associated with horror movies and there fore putting it in that genre.
The use of supernatural, has increased the suspense though out the book, as it seems that Macbeth is relying on the prophecies of the three witches to live his life to the full and carry out his actions.
It seems that the supernatural has had a large effect on Macbeth, as he could not say Amen when he hears one of the bodyguards praying, this could be interpreted, that so much evil has entered him through the supernatural that all his holy beliefs have been banished, and pure evil has taken over his body and mind, perhaps why he saw the dagger guiding him to chamber.
After the murder had been committed, the audience would see that Macbeth was not under control of himself when it was being taken place as he mourns the fact that Neptunes great ocean cannot wash the blood from his hands, this would be seen as a huge amount of guilt and remorse upon him, whereas, Lady Macbeth, who never came directly in contact with the supernatural, has no remorse which she asked for when she prayed to evil: Stop up th access and passage to remorse.
Once the murder has been committed, eventually Banquo has his suspicions about Macbeth killing Duncan to have power of the throne. There is constantly more guilt and fear inside Macbeth and his wife that they decide to have Banquo killed. Once again paranoia is upon Macbeth , maybe not so obvious but the audience might interpret it as paranoia.
While Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are holding a banquet, one of the murderers who murdered Banquo comes in to the banquet room and informs Macbeth that Banquo is dead and has twenty trenched gashes on his head. The murderer describes the gashes as trenched which is a very effective way of describing the deepness of the gashes.
After this, when Macbeth goes to sit down, he sees Banquo sitting on his seat, even though he has just been told that he is dead, Macbeth tells him that thou cannot say I did it Macbeth believes that Banquo is still alive, even though the murderer told Banquo that he had twenty trenched gashes on his head. If Macbeth were to be purely sane and not affected by the murder of Duncan and Banquo he would not question the reality of Banquo sitting on the chair, he would question, why they is a ghost sitting on his chair.
Macbeth also tells Banquo to never shake his gory locks at him, this is rather strange as the murderer just told Macbeth that he has twenty trenched gashes on his head. So when Macbeth sees Banquo he notices the gory locks so this could be Macbeth imagining Banquo as he may be subconsciously guilty of the murders or this could be acts of the supernatural taunting him. This would be very effective and disturbing to the audience, but there are two ways in which Banquos ghost could be done, it could be done with a ghost played by a person or without a ghost, and have Macbeth talking to the air.
If Banquo were to be visible to the audience, The audience would think that Banquo was actually placed there with help from the supernatural, and identify with the character of Banquo ghost. The audience would also be able to see the gory locks of Banquos to emphasise the gory murder, Also if the audience could see the look on Banquos face, while he is staring at Macbeth, they could see how terrifying it would be for Macbeth, to stare into the eyes of his best friend, how he just killed because he thought he knew too much.
If a real ghost was not to be used, the audience would come to the conclusion that Macbeth was imagining Banquos ghost and that nobody else in the banquet room could see him, This would bring out the conscience of Macbeths and Lady Macbeths.
The use of the supernatural in Macbeth is quite cleverly used, in the visions, the apparitions, and the ghost, without the supernatural it would make the play very dull and tiresome. Today, with science fiction programs, Macbeth wouldnt compete well, so the use of gore in the Banquos ghost scene would keep the audience paying attention, but in the time of Shakespeare the gore would not have been necessary as the belief in witches and the supernatural would have enhanced the play dramatically.
In different productions of Macbeth that I have seen, the supernatural has been shown differently, In the Roman Polanski production of Macbeth, the witches are shown to be nervous old women, they also seem to be in a rush, giving the message that they are busy witches and have more evil things to do. They are very like the stereo typical witch, the old woman, with tangled hair, unpretty, bad posture and old clothes, but somehow in this production it is very effective, the audience can identify them as witches and as evil, the nervousness that the witches possess, could show that they do not like being around mortals or normal human beings, unlike themselves, and could be interpreted as the witches wanting to hate mortals more. This nervousness could also show that they are intimidated by mortals and feel like they are ruled by them and have a reason to rebel and cause others pain, by leading them to death, as Macbeth was.
In this production, Lady Macbeths supernatural soliloquy, when she is summoning the spirits to turn her evil, is quite calm and not very dramatic, this would let the audience listen to what she is saying, and take in, the full effect of all the weird and disturbing things that she wants to happen to her, and show her calmness in letting these things enter her. It is also showing that she doesnt have to try hard to get the evil spirits to penetrate her and control her.
Another thing I found interesting about this production is the dagger scene, as in this production, the dagger is shown to the audience, but when Macbeth goes to grasp it becomes an illusion or a dagger of his mind. Doing this is kind of a medium between having a dagger and not having a dagger, so the audience can see it but can see that he is imagining it.
In another production that I have seen, it is much more basic and no special effects are used, apart from sound effects. It is filmed on a stage which I thought was quite obscure and peculiar as this is not normally done, but I does show the audience how stage productions are performed and how they can manage without all the props. I also noticed that, at the very beginning in Act I Scene I , when the three witches meet, they are rushing about and in hurry, as in the Polanski version, but they are being more energetic as if they were running from something, so the first scene is chaos and is hard to follow, but as soon as it comes to Scene two, everything is calm, this silence that is thrown though out the room suddenly as the film is being watched would give that calm easy and gentle feeling to it.
There is only one production of Macbeth that I, personally, did not like, this was the one with the darkness all the way through, this may prove to be effective to some audiences but, I think to make a film interesting, and keep the audience watching it, there has to be some excitement or change of scene every so often. The director of this film was probably trying to show that Macbeth is a sad, tragic play, so to some people, this may be better to watch for some audiences, as it shows the overall mood all the way through the film.