“The Supernatural in Shakespeare’s Macbeth”

Frag, Amal Nasser

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“The Supernatural in Shakespeare’s Macbeth” begins by providing context with regards to belief in the supernatural in the Elizabethan period and by evaluating the various functions played by supernatural elements in Shakespeare’s dramas. This essay then moves into a more developed examination of functions and meanings ascribed to supernatural elements of “Macbeth.” Frag explains that Shakespeare’s witches, ghosts, and fairies, have a variety of simultaneous uses. The supernatural elements advance Shakespeare’s plots, embody aspects his characters’ psychologies, and enhance his dramas’ atmospheres.

The witches in “Macbeth” serve several purposes, claims Fag. She argues that, while the witches may have been included in order to exploit the tastes of Shakespeare’s public, Shakespeare also used these characters to explore moral and spiritual themes. Frag describes how the witches both activate the conflict and reveal the contrasted inner character qualities of Macbeth and Banquo. Additionally, Frag also argues that the ghost of Banquo expresses Macbeth’s guilt over the murder of the innocent.


“The Supernatural in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’” is a greater reach than some of the other texts included. On one hand, this essay sticks to the primary subject of the supernatural in the works of Shakespeare. The text also moves from the general to the specific in a way that is easy to follow. However, some students might be overwhelmed by all the references to other Shakespeare plays, including Hamlet, the Tempest, and Midsummer Night’s Dream. The argument that Frag makes around the role of the supernatural in “Macbeth” is also highly abstract. Readers will have to grabble with what the essay means when its claims that the supernatural both carries psychological meaning and operates as a plot device. How can the witches be symbolic of Macbeth’s temptation and guilt, personifications of evil, and at the same time ‘real beings’ visible to both Macbeth and Banquo? This complexity may confuse some readers, but could provide others with a greater amount of substance to consider.

Use in Class

Readers can select this text to use in discussion of Act 1 Scene 3 of “Macbeth.” This text makes strong claims that some readers might agree with and some readers might disagree with. I want readers to critically examine some of the claims Frag makes. Is it really so clear that the witches have an objective existence? Is it true that the “actions of Macbeth are not forced upon him by any external power”? (Hag 29).

Unit Focus

Language Arts

Submitted by Julia Katz

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