The Significance of the Natural-Supernatural Dichotomy in Macbeth
There is an apparent natural-supernatural conflict in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. The power of the supernatural is represented by the witches who act to seduce and cheat, and adds to the symbolic agents of evil dominating the play. The natural-supernatural dichotomy is one of the most conspicuous instances of imagery that Shakespeare uses as an indicator of the key theme in his work, goodness versus evil. He uses the imagery of natural versus supernatural to set the moral atmosphere, as well as, the mood of the play. The play starts with three characters, all of whom are witches, which to date are symbols of supernatural powers. The witches are portrayed as brewers of all sorts of troubles and chaos because of their clandestine actions. Throughout the play, the witches meet in dark hours or are either in dark caves. The association of witches with darkness emphasizes their supernatural disposition and influences the reader’s understanding of the play in a number of ways.
Throughout the play, the natural-supernatural dichotomy helps build the tragic destiny of the protagonists besides making the operative functions of the tragedy prominent. A critical analysis of the novel reveals that the natural-supernatural dichotomy is a fundamental component of plot development and that it is the dark presence of the supernatural that adds the essential element of suspense. The atmosphere created by the opposing forces of the natural and the supernatural is instrumental in bringing out revelations in character and the resentment that the society has towards forces and phenomenon which they do not understand (Campbell & Guinn, 71-73).
Undoubtedly, the underlining of the plot is highlighted in the interaction between the natural and supernatural forces. For instance, the bloody daggers that entice Macbeth into Duncan’s chamber and the ghost of Banqhuo that he sees later cannot be dismissed as mere illusions of his imagination. In the play, it is obvious that the three witches conjured up the images so as to fulfill the prophecies they gave Macbeth. After Duncan’s death, his horses eat each other, symbolizing an apparent disturbance in the natural order. This then shows that the supernatural forces had a stake in the murder of Duncan and conjures feelings of imbalances in nature.
Interestingly, the first set of prophecies precipitate the evil and the subsequent prophecies in the first half of the play. The prophecies keep the audience in suspense and make them feel that some actions should be taken to make the prophecies come true. In other parts of the play, there are a number of apparitions that give another set of prophecies. For instance, in Act IV, Scene I Lines 78, 85-86 and 100, it is prophesied that ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth…. Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill…’. When Macbeth learns this prophecy, he becomes confident and decides to kill Macduffy’s family. It is clear that he could not have made this gruesome mistake had he not visited the witches. Naturally, he could have been afraid and cautious of the consequences of his actions, but he was convinced by the improbable words of the witches. Nevertheless, the incident directly leads to his downfall. Although it was Macbeth who made the decision, there is no doubt that it was what the ‘weird sisters’ wished to happen (Campbell & Guinn, 83).
Clearly, Shakespeare’s portrayal of the opposing forces of natural and the supernatural helps reinforce the reader’s understanding of the plot, key themes and the destiny of the characters. Shakespeare portrays the witches as evil and malicious people, whose only means of amusement is to interfere in the normal lives of other people by causing chaos and troubles (Campbell & Guinn, 78). Unlike ordinary people, the witches have incredible powers, although the powers are flawed and incomplete. For instance, when one witch turns herself into a rat, she is conspicuously missing a tail. Moreover, the witches can not control people’s actions directly. They are only able to influence the actions of those with evil intentions or wicked motives. This reinforces the idea that God’s power is complete while that of the devil is not.
Shakespeare does not use the word witches directly and instead uses the word ‘hag’ to refer to the witches. However, during Macbeth’s time, he uses the word to refer to a wise woman. This was perhaps part of Shakespeare’s plan not to cause unnecessary tensions with the witches. There is no doubt that the power of the supernatural is extremely influential in the play as shown by the actions of the witches. As the representatives of the supernatural, the witches inspire more of the plot than merely their evil scenes (Campbell & Guinn, 78). As such, the unique role of the witches sheds light on the political, as well as, the social climate of the time. This makes the opposition created by the interaction between the natural and the supernatural define the various subplots in the story. For instance, the opposition serves as the silver lining, which distracts the reader’s awe in the midst of the endless river of blood and piling bodies.
In a way, the natural-supernatural dichotomy brings out the true nature of the play with regard to major characters such as Macbeth and the ‘weird sisters’. It is this existence that provides the charming under layer, which the play is famous for. Without the mysterious presence of witches and acts of supernatural forces, the play could not have been a classic tale about the greedy nature of mankind. This is well exemplified by the portrayal of witches as child eaters and blood drinking monsters. Essentially, the natural-supernatural dichotomy creates an inexplicable complication whose obvious effect is that the audience feels relieved and superior, while still not comprehending the power of the magic. The complication also adds to the mystique nature of the play and acts as a warning for impending evil (Campbell & Guinn, 74-76).
In conclusion, the natural-supernatural dichotomy is an integral part of plot and structure of the play Macbeth. The interaction of the two forces creates an eminent opposition that provides insight into the destiny of the characters and augments the impact of major scenes. All supernatural revelations in the play are symbolic of the characters’ evil intentions. The various apparitions which appear throughout the play are evident of the greedy nature of mankind and confirm people’s fear of the consequences of their actions. Essentially, the depiction of the supernatural forces and their interaction with natural forces not only makes the play captivating but also aids in understanding of the main themes.
Campbell, O. James and Guinn G. Edward, eds. The Readers Encyclopedia of Shakespeare. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1966.