How is the belief in the supernatural (such as the witches in Macbeth) different today from that of Elizabethan times?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Elizabethan Age, fear of the unknown led to a belief that an unrelated object, action, or circumstance could influence the outcome of events.  This fear of the unknown, then, led to many superstitions, many of which arose as a fear of witchcraft.  In fact, during the Elizabethan Age, there were nearly 300 witchcraft trials as witches were thought to be responsible for such things as the Bubonic Plague, unexplained fires, bad harvests, inexplicable deaths of animals and children.  Thus, the fear of supernatural forces was subsumed in the lives of Elizabethans whereas for people of the modern age the phantasmorphic bears little relevance in their lives.

For the Elizabethans, the manifestations of elements of the supernatural in plays such as Macbeth and Richard III are not merely dramatic devices, but genuine phenomena that lend objective reality to the plays.  Macbeth's and Richard's characters are comprehensible as men who were profoundly influenced by evil.  So, by investing his historical drams with supernatural elements, Shakespeare appealed to his audiences' moral conceptions.  This contrasts greatly to an audience's perception today whenever a ghost or supernatural forces are part of a drama. 


jessrobertson | Student

Simply put, today people often see supernatural beings as a smoky mist that suddenly disapears when you look up or a cold presnence that enters the room, no one is certain what supernatural beings are lingering around us but they are certainly differnet now to how Macbeth saw them in Elizabethan times. He saw them as A witch that brews up smelly substances in a big black couldren in the middle of a dark misty forrest with her black cat following her every step. Today we don't really see them, but some people have claimed to have seen them before. Religous beliefs contribute to these sightings also as past lifes may not be relevant in some peoples lives.