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Explore the way the theme of the supernatural is presented in Macbeth and The Withered Arm

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Introduction

´╗┐Explore the way the theme of the supernatural is presented and developed in the texts you have studied. The play, ?Macbeth? was written by William Shakespeare in the early 1600?s and is a gothic tragedy filled with elements of the supernatural. Shakespeare was an extremely popular playwright of the day and was part owner of the Globe Theatre. King James I loved the theatre and adopted the Globe Theatre; the players became known as the King?s Men. Shakespeare wrote ?Macbeth? with James I in mind as James was terrified of assassination attempts and was also intrigued by the supernatural and witchcraft and had written a book about the supernatural called ?Demonology.? James I interest in witchcraft was not unusual; during Shakespeare?s time, there was a powerful belief in the supernatural and its ability to turn events on their head. ?Macbeth? would have appealed to a large audience. The theatre in Shakespeare?s day was like a courtyard. At the back of the courtyard was a stage with curtains for the actors and a trap door for ghosts to emerge and the dead to disappear. Most of the lighting was natural as the plays took place outside. Theatre was extremely popular in Shakespeare?s day and was a fun-filled, rowdy experience which spoke about issues of the day. ?The Withered Arm?, a short story, was written by Thomas Hardy in 1888 but is set earlier in the decade. Hardy wrote about life in rural South-West England. Two hundred years after Shakespeare, the belief in the supernatural was beginning to abate but in pockets of rural England, superstition remained very powerful and shaped the destinies of the community. It is this rural community and its working people which interested Thomas Hardy. He believed in the supernatural, as did his family who sought advice regularly from a fortune teller they called The Planet Ruler. In the opening scene of Macbeth, the audience witness a desolate scene with three witches huddled together. ...read more.

Middle

Farmer Lodge assumes that only a witch could have such supernatural power to destroy Gertrude?s arm. Gertrude, unlike Rhoda then, is quite happy, at least initially, to seek much more logical explanations for her ?withered arm? and can brush off suggestions that the supernatural was involved. Macbeth?s desire is to be King but Duncan is in the way. Rhoda?s desire is to be with Farmer Lodge but Gertrude is in the way. Macbeth kills Duncan and Rhoda becomes obsessed with Gertrude: ?Rhoda Brook could raise a mental image of the unconscious Mrs Lodge that was as realistic as a photograph.? It is this obsession with Gertrude and her fully realised mental image of her that leads to the dream: ?Gertrude Lodge visited the supplanted woman in her dreams.? Yet Hardy suggests to the reader that this is more than just a dream; she has conjured Gertrude?s presence who sits on her heavily and mocks her making the wedding ring ?glitter in Rhoda?s eyes.? Gertrude is wearing the same ?silk dress and white bonnet? but her ?features? are ?shockingly distorted, and wrinkled as by age.? In retaliation Rhoda ?seized the confronting spectre by its obtrusive left arm, and whirled it backward to the floor?. There is a contrast between Gertrude?s clothes and her face. Gertrude?s wedding ring is glittering and her silk dress is almost heavenly. However her face is ?wrinkled? and ?shockingly distorted?, making her appearance more ghostly and otherworldly. This is the primal moment of the story. Rhoda cannot comprehend the thought that it was only a dream: ?that was not a dream ? she was here?. In fact, Rhoda is tortured throughout the story that she has ?malignant powers? and is responsible for Gertrude?s suffering. Like Macbeth, there is confusion over dreams and reality and like Macbeth, communities really believed in the power of the supernatural to upturn the natural order of things. ...read more.

Conclusion

Macbeth does not see this and will later order the murder of Macduff and his family. The third Witch shows ?a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand?. The child represents the son of King Duncan whose army will camouflage themselves with branches of trees as they approach Macbeth?s castle. This is, the audience can decipher, how the wood will move. The witches vanish in a puff of smoke and, on the stage, would disappear through the trap door. Macbeth remains convinced that he is safe; Macduff is born of woman and a wood cannot walk. Macbeth?s naked ambition becomes his undoing. The Witches never make Macbeth do anything; his interpretation of their prophecies leads to the bloodbath and his ultimate down. To conclude, ?Macbeth? and ?The Withered Arm? both use the supernatural as the driver behind their stories. Both stories are interested in the relationship between the supernatural and fate and the choices that characters make. Macbeth turns to the supernatural because the Witch?s flatter him and he is eager to be King. Macbeth turns from a noble soldier into an evil murderer and tyrannical King simply because he chose to act on the Witch?s prophecies. Rhoda is a pitiful character; life has been unkind to her and she is demonised by her community. With no other outlet, Rhoda cannot help but believe the gossip and fears she may indeed be a witch. Gertrude, like Macbeth turns to the supernatural through desperation. Her withered arm is affecting her relationship with Farmer Lodge and she demonstrates that she will do anything to save her marriage to him. The rubbing of her arm on a freshly hanged young man?s neck is a truly macabre act. The act is so shocking that it leads to her untimely death. In the same way that Macbeth acts on the Witch?s words, Gertrude acts on Conjuror Trendle?s words. In both cases, following the path of the supernatural leads to misery and death. ...read more.

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