Supernatural Elements in Macbeth Film Adaptations

the role of evil in Macbeth

The tragedy Macbeth by William Shakespeare was created in 1606. It was three years after the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession to the throne of the son of executed Mary Stuart Queen of Scots – James I. The tragedy is based on the plot of Scottish history. William Shakespeare tried to emphasize the historical friendship of England and Scotland and describe the popular of that time witches and witchcraft. The tragedy Macbeth is probably the only Shakespeare’s play, where evil is universal. Evil prevails over good. It seems that good is deprived of its all-conquering function while evil loses its relativity and approaches to absolute. Evil is the most important theme of the tragedy.

William Shakespeare introduces fantastic images in the tragedy Macbeth. In the book Witch Hunts in Europe and America: An Encyclopedia, it is stated that “Although William Shakespeare used witch characters and witch imaginary in many of his plays, the one most associated with witches is unquestionably Macbeth” (Burns 181). These images are represented not only by the ghost of murdered Banquo, which Macbeth sees at the feast but also by fabulous witches. Shakespeare does not have another tragedy that contains the phenomenon of supernatural beings. In Macbeth, fantastic images play a significant plot-compositional role. In the tragedy, all kinds of fantastic creatures become a method that allows visualizing the inner world of a person and his/her psychological metaphor. On the one hand, William Shakespeare shows fantastic characters. However, on the other hand, with the help of them, the author depicts evil passions and selfish desires of people.

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The witches play an extremely important role in the tragedy. From my perspective , the scene of the meeting of Macbeth with the witches is a crucial moment in the work. It is the turning point of the tragedy. “The witches open the play in its first scene, and by suggesting to Macbeth that he will one day the king of Scotland, they precipitate its action” (Burns 181). The third scene of the first act begins with the words of Macbeth: “I have never seen such a horrible and beautiful day” (Act 1, scene 3). It means a combination of terrible and beautiful – horror of battle and beauty of victory. However, in a broader sense, a combination of beautiful and terrible is hidden in the entirely different meaning; therefore, Macbeth embodies this combination. The play reveals the tragedy of a majestic warrior, who sinks to murder and the destruction of innocent children and women. The motive of visibility and essence is necessary to emphasize the contradictions of the human nature. The witches can be considered an antagonist in only some general metaphysical sense, as some otherworldly forces, who decided to prove the relativity of moral criteria in a person’s life. They wanted to blur the line between the vile and beautiful, good and evil in the human soul. Macbeth becomes the object of their influence. In my opinion, the meeting of Macbeth with the witches helped reveal all the dark traits of the character.

The meeting of Macbeth with the witches can be seen as a metaphor of the deeply affected unconscious (Shakespeare, ‎ Bate, and Rasmussen 8). The witches discovered Macbeth’s dark nature and his shadows – selfishness, cruelty, and ambition. This meeting as an internal event indicates a conflict of Macbeth with his mental content. It is unrecognized and rejected part of the “I”, which manifests itself as an aggressor and another person within the different psyche. Three witches symbolize primitive and uncultivated instincts. They are feminine and, thus, skillful temptresses. The witches embody the duality and the discrepancy between appearance and reality. Finally, they have personified symbols of human’s terror before the unknown. The meeting of Macbeth with the witches symbolizes the initiation into the unconscious state, which contains both the seeds of evil and the will of God or the momentum of the internal transformation. The witches speak with Macbeth in plain terms. However, their conversion with Banquo is full of mysteries: “You are lesser than Macbeth but also greater” (Act 1, Scene 3) or “You are not as happy as Macbeth, yet much happier” (Act 1, Scene 3). For Macbeth, the witches’ speeches sound like the internal voice, while for Banquo, they are vague as the voice of the oracle. A call of Macbeth’s inner voice can be viewed as a call of destiny. The meeting of Macbeth with the witches is the inner experience of the psyche as an objective fact. Macbeth’s mistake lies in the fact that he interprets the witches’ words literally and perceives them through the lens of ordinary human notions of what is possible and what is not. In fact, when Macbeth understands the figurative meaning of the warnings of ghosts, he resigns with his fate and prefers to die rather than represent himself as a tyrant to the public shame.

In the history of cinematography, there are many screen versions and theatrical performances of Macbeth. Many directors in various countries screened this tragedy. All of them have their peculiarities and differences. Undoubtedly, the United Kingdom shot the biggest amount of versions of this tragedy. “In accounting for the popularity of Macbeth on screen, its supernatural dimension is a significant factor” (Hatcheuel, Vienne-Guerrin, and Bladen 2). According to my opinion, the most successful screen version of Macbeth is the joined film of the United States that the Great Britain directed by Roman Polanski, in 1971 (Hatcheuel et al. 18). It is really a great film adaptation of the immortal work. Roman Polanski gave the tragedy certain sinister features. He struck out 60 percent of Shakespeare’s text. At the same time, he left the whole Shakespeare. Roman Polanski found a very right tone of the tragedy. He introduced the maximum realism into the film. The tone of the film is given with the first shots. I believe that  the biggest plus of this film is a very authentic and plausible description of medieval life. There is nothing demonic in three witches. Roman Polanski shows them as three ordinary village women. They are three village witches. The director perfectly conveys the atmosphere of evil and not only psychological aspects but also mystical ones. Actions of the witches, magic, and visions do not look as random attributes but as an essential element of the events. At the very beginning of the film, Macbeth is an ordinary and even a little cowardly soldier. However, a boundless faith in the prophecy of the witches opens and gives access to greed, callousness, and cruelty inherent in every human.

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Roman Polanski vividly depicted a medieval life of people. However, in contrast to this version, there is a modern screen version of the famous tragedy. Geoffrey Wright is a director of the film. It was shot in 2006 (Hatcheuel et al. 54). It is a modern version of the immortal Shakespeare’s tragedy. The evil in this movie is violent and bloody. However, at the same time, it is even attractive. The evil tempts the viewers luring to its side. The witches attract the viewers. They are depicted in the image of young and beautiful women. Their beauty conquers and charms the main hero. It seems that he is under their power. The director depicts the story in a completely unusual for the classical tragedy manner. In the film, there are cars, drugs, beautiful women, and money.

Another film adaptation of the famous tragedy by William Shakespeare is the film directed in 2013 (Hatcheuel et al. 89). Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh filmed the great Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth and put on the stage a theatrical production before a live audience. The production is excellent, as well as the acting. This play was smartly filmed at different angles. In the play, there is a dramatic and tragic story of the leader of the Scottish king troops – Macbeth. He had everything – power, strength, a loving wife, friends, and loyal subjects. Nevertheless, the thirst for power and advice of his wife led Macbeth to despair. He stopped to differentiate good and evil. The witches in the production are extremely persuasive. They play the roles of true evil in the film. The witches in the film are represented very sinister. The fact that people are present during the filming adds even a greater dramatic effect to all the events happening on the stage. The spirit of the darkest of Shakespeare’s tragedies is reproduced extremely successful. This film is a true story of the lust for power that pushes a hero for a crime. This crime draws Macbeth in madness.

In Macbeth, William Shakespeare made a great emphasis on the magical theme in the plot. Adding to the tragedy of the supernatural element in the form of three witches became the starting point for the ties of the internal conflict. It explains reasons for the sudden change in the Macbeth personality. The witches turn Macbeth’s intimate desires and passive in conscious, purposeful, and effective actions. Their participation in the mental and emotional crisis of Macbeth puts a grim stamp on his ambitious desires describing them as a dark and evil force – demonic and fatal for the consciousness and humanity. There are many screen versions of the Macbeth. However, according to my opinion, the version of Roman Polanski is the best one. The director has given me some new aspects of a great play.


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