Superstition In Macbeth

How does Shakespeare convey the theme of Superstition vs supernatural ?

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth conveys the theme of superstition and the supernatural along with the associated ominous mood with such phenomenons. Shakespeare portrays such a theme of superstition vs supernatural through the effective use of soliloquy and characterisation of Macbeth throughout the course of the play. Macbeth witnesses an event of the supernatural and the idea of superstition is conveyed as he interprets such an event as a sign to undertake the evil doing of murdering Duncan.  “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?” is the phrase Macbeth quotes within Act 2, Scene 1 shortly before murdering Duncan in which he visions a bloody “dagger” before him. Here, the effective use of soliloquy by Shakespeare further reinforces the theme of supernatural and the superstition as Macbeth interprets the unnatural and ominous like event of the appearing of a bloody dagger as a sign of fate for him to murder Duncan which supports superstition and the belief in such ideas. Furthermore, the appearance of the ghost of Banquo within Act 3, Scene 4 in which Macbeth states “Thou canst say I did it” further depicts such a theme. Here, Macbeth quotes that Banquo’s ghost cannot claim Macbeth ordered his murder suggesting Macbeth’s torment by such an event of the supernatural as Macbeth believed Banquo will never be able to haunt him after he commanded his murder. Banquo’s ghost is seen as such a supernatural and unusual event by Macbeth and many at the banquet suggesting an ominous like mood and hence such an illusion or mere hallucination which is taken so seriously by Macbeth suggests the superstition and belief in such events. Shakespeare conveys the theme of superstition and the supernatural through the effective use of soliloquy and various events which tie in to the characterisation of the protagonist Macbeth.

Is this a good paragraph answering thew above question, please be very honest and suggest amendments

2 Answers

jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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To answer the question of how Shakespeare conveys the theme of superstition versus the supernatural, it might be helpful to first decide what these ideas mean and how they are connected or opposed to each other. For example, superstition refers to a belief that certain events are omens, and the supernatural refers to the working of events outside the laws of science as we understand it. Essentially, superstition refers to internal beliefs, while the supernatural refers to external events. 

You choose some very good examples that give you ample opportunity to explore the differences and connections between superstition and the supernatural. Does, for example, Macbeth's superstition about what will happen to him after he kills Duncan lead him to image events such as the dagger appearing before him, or does the dagger appear on its own through the forces of the supernatural? When Banquo's ghost appears, it the ghost a figment of Macbeth's fevered imagination, arising out of his superstitions about the evil that will befall him after he kills Banquo, or does Banquo emanate from supernatural forces?

Your answers to these questions will determine the thesis of your paragraph. For example, if you believe the events arise from Macbeth's superstitious beliefs, you might want to start with a statement along the lines of, "Macbeth's superstitions about the evil and ominous events he will face after killing Duncan and Banquo cause him to imagine events that are supernatural in nature." Your paragraph will flow more smoothly if you start with a specific thesis statement about how the ideas of superstition and the supernatural are related or opposed to each other.

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thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

You have some good ideas in this paragraph, but it still needs some work. The major problem with the paragraph is that it does not actually address its title. The words "superstition vs. supernatural" in your title signal that you will be contrasting superstitions with supernatural phenomena, and yet this is not what the paper actually does. Also, you do not define clearly what you mean by the terms. As many superstitions are concerned with supernatural interpretation of ordinary phenomena (e.g. a black cat crossing your path meaning bad luck), more conceptual clarity is needed.

Next, you need a clear and concise thesis statement at the beginning of the text. You set out a general subject area, but could focus your opening into an actual claim by rephrasing, e.g.

Supernatural phenomena and superstitious beliefs are invoked in Macbeth to create an ominous atmosphere and to signal the presence of evil.

After your thesis, you need a transitional statement listing the particular supernatural phenomena or superstitions your paragraph will cover. You probably should include some discussion of the three weird sisters. The connection between supernatural and soliloquy needs to be further developed. Are you claiming that we only encounter superstitions and the supernatural in soliloquies? If so, how would you account for the witches?

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