Other than the witches, what are two other elements that help make this work sinister and dark?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth is a dark and sinister work. Shakespeare does a wonderful job, and, as mentioned, begins with the "Weird Sisters."

There are several other elements that lend themselves to the mood of the play.

First, there is a war going on. While Macbeth and Banquo have proven themselves worthy on the battlefield, we learn that one of their own, the Thane of Cawdor, is a traitor. This is very distressing to the King, even though they have "won the day."

Characterization of Lady Macbeth, and later Macbeth himself, also lends itself to the sinister mood of the play. Lady Macbeth states that had she promised her husband to do it, she would have dashed a her child's brains out, while it nursed at her breast, and not thought twice, had she promised to do so.

Macbeth murders Duncan (his King, his guest, and his cousin), then Banquo—his close friend—and finally, Macduff's innocent wife and children. His obsessive need to gain power and keep it drive him over the edge, as his paranoia rises.

Shakespeare adds other elements of the supernatural to draw the dark mood throughout the play. When the King is murdered, this is considered a sin against God, as the Elizabethans believed that God ordained who should be king, and not man. The murder disrupts the Chain of Being, the natural order of the universe. And until the natural order is restored, strange things occur in nature.

For example, on the night Duncan is murdered...

The night has been unruly. Where we lay,   (55)
Our chimneys were blown down, and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’ the air, strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch'd to the woeful time. The obscure bird (60)
Clamor'd the livelong night. Some say the earth
Was feverous and did shake.  (Act II, scene iii)

Besides the earthquake in scene iii, later, in Act Two, scene iv, an eclipse is reported:

By the clock ’tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp. (7-8)

And then, prey turns on predator, killing the more powerful animal:

On Tuesday last
A falcon towering in her pride of place
Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd...   (15)

Next, Duncan's horses go mad:

And Duncan's horses—a thing most strange and
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending ’gainst obedience, as they would make   (20)
War with mankind...

...’Tis said they eat each other.    (7-22)

Whereas at the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth had been so bloodthirsty, by the end she is not only haunted by their dark deeds, but obsesses in her sleep—reliving the events in her dreams. Very soon thereafter, Lady Macbeth takes her own life.

Shakespeare artfully uses all these elements to provide a sinister and dark mood that weaves its way throughout the play, from start to finish.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth's remarks in the first act--"So foul and fair a day I have not seen" and "nothing is/But what is not"--indicate the preternatural state and darkness of the atmosphere of the world in which Macbeth operates.

  • This unnatural condition of life becomes evident in the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who are doppelgangers. Having unsexed herself in order to fill herself with "direst cruelty" to "shake her fell purpose," Lady Macbeth calls upon the powers of darkness and influences Macbeth against his conscience to murder Duncan.  He, too, then dons a "False face" to hide his evil intents.  The bloody path of the Macbeths continues as Macbeth finds himself killing others with daggers "breeched with gore" in his "vaulting ambition." However, Macbeth, whose conscience comes to haunt him, sees the ghost of Banquo and becomes paranoiac about anyone who may present him from remaining as king; in her guilt, his wife loses her mind. Later, Macbeth imagines that the very forest moves in upon him as Macduff and Malcolm camouflage themselves as they before the castle as Sunsinane. Thus, blood and insanity add to the sinister and preternatural atmosphere of the play.
  • In addition to the prevalence of blood, insomnia, and madness, there are many images of darkness accompanying the presence of evil. In fact, the entire play is predicated on dark imagery. Often Macbeth himself refers to the "dark hour" and night's "black agents." In Scene 3 of Act II, at Macbeth's castle, it is as though the devil himself as porter opens the door.  For, he himself speaks as though he is opening the gates of Hell,

Knock, knock, knock!  Who's there i' th'name of Beezebub?  Here's a farmer...Faith, here's an equivocator [the treasonous Father Henry Garnet]...here's an English tailor...(2.3)

As the play progresses, Macbeth becomes more evil    and tyrannical having "supped full with horrors." (4.5)

Certainly, abnormality, insanity, and evil contribute much to the horror and sinister atmosphere that accompanies the presence of the supernatural in the witches of Macbeth.