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What do we learn from Macbeth about the contemporary attitudes to witchcraft and the supernatural and what are their functions in the play?

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Introduction

What do we learn from Macbeth about the contemporary attitudes to witchcraft and the supernatural and what are their functions in the play? During the Elizabethan era belief in the supernatural was not only commonplace but unconditional, although a fundamentally Christian society; people of the period were convinced that the actions of the paranormal had significant effects on their own existence. Macbeth itself is entangled with numerous mysterious endeavours, for example, the forebodings of the witches, Macbeth's hallucinations and the mystical healing powers of King Edward the Confessor all add to the play's abnormal yet, for the time, acceptable atmosphere. There are four powerful, unrelenting, incessant forces of witchcraft and the supernatural at work in the play. These paranormal influences have three main functions focused on achieving the writer's intent. They explain the transformation of Macbeth's character, showing his vulnerability without evoking pity, invent an atmosphere of exhilaration and agitation, similar to the car chase kitsch of modern cinema yet they also promote the deeper message Shakespeare wishes to convey, that 'if you dance with the devil' you will have to 'pay the piper'. ...read more.

Middle

There is a duality in the function of the hallucinations; they also help Shakespeare to develop the audiences understanding of his character transformation. Macbeth's conscience plays tricks upon his mind, the dagger and the visions of Banquo provide glimpses into the good hearted nature he once had. Macbeth is an anti-hero, he is presented in all his glory at the beginning of the play, he has been valiant in battle, drowned in noble titles, 'Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glamis' and a model servant to his king and country. Macbeth's almost super human powers are instantaneously placed along side the evil powers of the witches, 'So foul and fair a day I have not seen', one of their functions is to unravel the darker, dormant side of his true aspirations, he is mislead and as the witches reveal his own secret desires and dark ambition, he proves to be easily corrupted, 'My thought whose murder yet is but fantastical Shakes so my single state of man, that function Is smothered in surmise, and nothing is But what is not'. ...read more.

Conclusion

Witchcraft and the supernatural provide the basis of the play. Macbeth gives an insight into the effect and importance of the paranormal on Elizabethan society, illustrating how it not only satisfied a lot of questions that, to a world that had not yet truly discovered science, would have otherwise been left unanswered but acted as a form of social control, something to fear and respect, acting as an example of what will happen to you if you ensnare yourself with the dark forces. The 'Scottish Play' represents a complete upheaval of contemporary society. The very thought that a king should be murdered was taboo, but as these thoughts are given life,. As these actions unfold, the pyramid of life completely self destructs, Shakespeare draws out the iniquity in Macbeth through a number of different processes including both his own ambitions and those of his wife, yet it is the witches that represent the unquestionable evil in the play. To the audience, they symbolize a plausible explanation for Macbeth's plunge into darkness, their unearthly ability blinding him with the power of temptation and dragging him downwards. ...read more.

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