The supernatural is big these days. The Harry Potter film franchise just wrapped up, Twilight is still on the boy-crazed minds of adolescent girls (and a handful of older woman), while the ever popular True Blood book and TV show series is satisfying the grown-up purveyors of the magical and superhuman persuasion.
Vampires, wizards, witches, werewolves: they’ve completely saturated film and books the past few years, reawaking the popular mainstream desire for the fantastical.
Yet, those who’d like to indulge in some classic supernatural fun have plenty of options. One excellent option, especially if you’re into witches and prophecies of power, is the William Shakespeare’s famous cautionary drama Macbeth. It has spooky spells, bubbling cauldrons, haunting ghosts, eerie hallucinations, and a pack of mysterious women with beards to boot. What’s not to love?
The play’s opening is the real cincher. It’s a dark and stormy night—always a good sign for some kooky stuff, not unlike another good classic supernatural option Edgar Allan Poe’s equally blustery and creepy poem The Raven about a grieving man who encounters an otherworldly and knowing raven with a vocabulary of only one word. Talking birds? Spooky.
Back to the Macbeth summary. An eerie fog is rolling in on the night-covered plain of Scotland, where three witches—or weird sisters, as the play calls them—are planning something mysterious to do with Macbeth, speaking in rhymes and using nutty words like “hurly-burly,” “eye of newt” and “toe of frog.”
In fact, the Macbeth quotes are what really drive the supernatural fun, originating the famous couplet “Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” Coincidently, that was the name of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Halloween movie. Equally spooky.
Later in the play, when Macbeth stumbles across these lovely ladies following an epically violent battle in which Macbeth kicked major, they snare him in a strange prophecy. They call him the future king of Scotland, just to pique his egotistical and ambitious tendencies, and then vanish into thin air like all good evil witches do. The seed has been planted, and thus begins Macbeth on his bloodthirsty path to the Scottish throne.
It is important to note, however, that the witches do little in terms of action to aid Macbeth in this so-called prophecy, leaving readers to assume that what is at work here is not supernatural forces of fate, but rather supernatural elements preying upon the egos of man in a game of sport. Macbeth himself comes up with the whole murder-everyone-in-my-way plan, with a little goading from Lady Macbeth, of course.
Harry Potter fans may see some commonalities between Macbeth and Lord Voldemort, where a single prophecy about an infant adversary sets the dark wizard off on a years-long path of supernatural destruction, only to end up missing the larger picture and getting Avada Kedavra-ed to death in the end.
Such commonalities, though few, are prompted by supernatural elements and are efforts of both Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling who comment on the dangers of ambition and power being in the wrong hands. It’s the classic good-versus-evil theme, amplified by creepy women who speak in rhymes and say enigmatic things like “fair is foul, and foul is fair.” But that’s usually the goal of most supernatural and fantastical literature: to reflect and comment on what brings out the worst or the best in humanity. Macbeth certainly positions itself as a cautionary tale about the uncontrollable ego, ambition, and evil inside man and how we can conquer it. And it takes only a few meddling witches to show us.