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Imagery has been used throughout the history of literature to create different effects in various writings. One author who was a master of imagery is William Shakespeare. This imagery is vividly displayed in his classic tragedy, Macbeth. One image that is used throughout Macbeth is the supernatural. It is used to create an eerie mood, to show evil, and to illustrate a sense of guilt.
Beginning in the first act, the witches rely on supernatural powers to aid themselves. In the third scene of that act, they are casting an evil spell on a sailor whose wife has wronged them. They speak in rhymes and use magic words such as,”Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,/And thrice again, to make up nine.” (I.iii.36-37) Also, the witches are depicted casting a spell to see Macbeth’s future. During the casting of the spell, the witches are described with many traditional elements of witchery, such as a cauldron. (i.e.,”Round about the cauldron go;/ In the poisoned entrails throw.”(IV.i.4-5)) These uses of the supernatural by the witches help to add an eerie mood throughout the play.
However, the witches are not the only ones who believe in using the supernatural for their own gains. Lady Macbeth also calls on the spirits, but she calls on them purely for evil. During the first act and before the plot to murder Duncan was definite, Lady Macbeth says in her soliloquy, “Hie thee hither/ That I may pour my spirits in thine ear”(I.v.25-26). This statement is aimed toward Macbeth. She wants the evil spirits of her thoughts of the murder to go into Macbeth’s head so that he will not hesitate to kill Duncan. Also, Right before Macbeth returns, she calls the spirits by saying, “Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/ And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full/ Of direst cruelty!”(I.v.44-47). She is trying to make the spirits fill her with evil because she knows that Macbeth is apprehensive about Duncan’s murder and she has to be the strong one.
Another instance of the supernatural appearing in Macbeth is one which is not superimposed by any of the characters of the play. This instance is when Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost at the banquet. The first sighting of the ghost immediately signifies Macbeth’s guilt of his crimes. He is so frightened and intimidated by the ghost of Banquo, that he begins to panic and says things directed towards the ghost such as, “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake/ Thy gory locks at me.” (III.iv.64-65) All this commotion makes the guests of the banquet suspicious of something strange, since none of them can see the ghost. Lady Macbeth has to convince them that her husband is not well. When everything settles down, the ghost reappears and Macbeth goes ballistic, saying, “Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!/ Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;/ Thou hast no speculation in those eyes/ Which thou dost glare with!”(III.iv.114-118) Lady Macbeth again says that Macbeth is ill, so the guests leave the banquet. Little do they know, Macbeth is not ill, just ridden with guilt, which is shown to the audience through images of the supernatural.
Imagery is a very important aspect in Shakespearean literature, particularly in Macbeth. The supernatural proves to be a strong image throughout the entire play. It helped to set the mood of the play, highlight the play’s themes, and illustrate the thoughts and frustrations of the characters.