Explain in detail the role of supernatural in Medea by Euripides and Macbeth by Shakespeare.

Expert Answers
noahvox2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Euripides' play, first staged in 431 BCE, the playwright makes a "witch" his title character. Medea is a sorceress of the highest caliber. Most of the supernatural aspects of the play occur near the conclusion as she creates a poisoned robe and diadem that causes the death of Creon's daughter and even Creon himself, who also becomes stuck to the robe when he touches it in an effort to save his daughter. Both Creon and his daughter are, it seems, melted to death. Another significant supernatural element occurs at the very end of the play as Medea flies away from Corinth in a serpent-drawn chariot that she borrowed from Helios (the Sun), who was her grandfather. Before Medea flies away, she predicts how Jason will be killed.

Shakespeare also interweaves the supernatural into his tragedy, but his witches are not the central character. Also, whereas the power of Medea's magic is left completely to the audience's imagination, Shakespeare has his audience on stage concocting their hideous potions.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Shakespeare's witches are, however, far more prophetic and cryptic than Euripides' Medea. In this sense, they function like a hideous-looking oracle that Macbeth consults to learn the future. Their prophecies, delivered by the apparitions they conjure up, give both Macbeth and Shakespeare's audience "food for thought," as they try to figure out how the prophecies could come true. For example, the Third Apparition declares:

Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.

So, whereas both plays contain elements of the supernatural and both plays bring "witches" onto stage, Medea's power literally brings about the death of two people and helps her escape from Jason. In contrast, Shakespeare's witches are certainly not the play's central characters, although the prophetic utterances connected with them do affect the title character.