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Supernatural elements in Shakespeare's plays

William Shakespeare is regarded to be the most influential and genius playwright in history. With his plays and sonnets incorporated in classroom curriculum worldwide, billions of copies of his works sold around the world, and movie after movie produced in adaptation of his work, the affect Shakespeare had on the literary world is simply unbeatable.

Additionally, his works have been instrumental in opening people’s perceptions of the world to new levels. His presentation of fantastic characters could be attributed to his obsession with all things mystical and mythical, but also to his business savvy. His plays took off and became incredibly popular because he understood the way people thought and stretched to the supernatural during his lifetime.

The Elizabethan period was one filled with magic and wonder, and sometimes terror. Witch trials were held during this period, and a good bit of the superstitions that carried through the Elizabethan period were based around assumptions that surrounded the trials. Pagan influence still shuddered through the “common” folk, and many of the superstitions outlasted the century and still exist today. Shakespeare wisely capitalized on these many superstitions, but also deviated from the demands of the people in that he created a full and diverse range of characters in worlds that the play-goer could envision and identify with.

Focusing on what may be considered his greatest works featuring supernatural forces, this article will explore the themes and influences in the following plays from two very opposite themes and moods:

  • Hamlet
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Hamlet kills Claudius

Hamlet kills Claudius

Hamlet

Hamlet is a play by William Shakespeare telling the story of Prince Hamlet of Denmark, where the play is set.  Hamlet’s father is killed, and his father’s brother, Claudius, is the murderer.  Claudius then marries Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.   The ghost of Hamlet’s father is haunting the area, and after numerous sightings, Hamlet finally learns that Claudius poured poison in his brother’s ear, killing him.  The ghost of his father demands revenge, to which Hamlet agrees.   While the only supernatural element in the play, the ghost plays a pivotal role in the underlying story, which leads Hamlet down an emotional road between unwavering belief in the spirit of his father, to doubt, and finally to resolve.

One could argue that the ghost was a metaphor for the memory of Hamlet’s father, and a sign of the effects of loss and depression on Hamlet.  One could also argue that the spirits of murder victims cling angrily and spitefully to this world, awaiting their vengeance as a method of releasing them to the afterlife.

Nick Bottom, with the head of an ass, fawned over by the Queen of the Fairies

Nick Bottom, with the head of an ass, fawned over by the Queen of the Fairies

A Midsummer Night's Dream

From beginning to end, A Midsummer Night's Dream is filled with supernatural themes. The primary plotline involves Hermia and Lysander, two lovers who have decided to elope to be married, though Hermia's father has chosen a husband for her already. Meanwhile, the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, are out in the forest, quarreling because Titania will not give over her favorite Indian boy.

As the play goes on, the fairies become involved in the love story, as well as creating their own mischief, going so far as to bespell a number of the characters in the play in humorous and endearing ways.

The play ends with all the enchantments being removed from the characters, with one exception - Demetrius, previously in love with Hermia, is still enchanted to be in love with Helena.  The two couples are married in a group wedding, and the fairies come to bless the house with prosperity and good luck.

Conclusion

As seen in the two plays above, Shakespeare included a range of supernatural influences in his plays. Some of them are light-hearted, like the love spells from fairies, and others are not so joyful, like the ghost of Hamlet's father.

A skillful wordsmith, Shakespeare played off of the superstitions of his time, weaving epic tales remembered and revered throughout his lifetime and continuing into modern day.  Even in modern times these plays are identified with, beloved and watched time and time again by millions of people.

Which of these plays was your favorite? What do you think of the use of supernatural elements in these plays?

rosy on December 26, 2012:

not bad

Patrick Bernauw from Flanders (Belgium) on October 08, 2012:

I love this kind of articles! Well written!

SEEMASHARMA_84@YAHOO.COM on May 30, 2012:

HAI, OF COURSE THAT'S A VERY INTERESTING PLAY.CHARACTERS ARE VERY POSSESSIVE,AGGRESSIVE.SPECIALLY THIS HAD BECOME A GREAT EPIC.....

hama on March 07, 2012:

thank you very much I'll use this idea in my research!!!

RAMYA on March 04, 2011:

ITS NICE

Danielle Farrow from Scotland, UK on February 04, 2011:

Nice hub and interesting choice re. plays. Have been asked to write along a similar theme, so will be back (and mention you of course, when time comes!).

Maddy on December 01, 2010:

Hey that pritty was good, I liked that you actually thought insted of just writing stuff out cha butt, i like that you cought his obsession thing, that was good, keep at it girl... and yah that one guy who was hitting on her defently does need to be pimp slapped cuz thats just lame. But nice hub and the pics were really nice.

ayesha on October 21, 2010:

amazing i needed help with my homework and was sick and tired trying to find it and finally i jumped to your thing and....VOILA i got it thank u soooooooooooooooo much

Randy Ray from Texas on October 18, 2010:

Great idea for a hub. Could easily be expanded, since Shakespeare wrote 40 or so plays.

artimis on October 11, 2010:

personally, i think the person who previously commented deserves a good thorough beating with a large, blunt object. you sir, need to stop hitting on people who write shakespearean hub pages.

good day.

epigramman on September 12, 2010:

...you're the kind of girl that I'm game for - you're savvy, witty, astute, perceptive, brave, daring with plenty of verve and nerve and panache too!

And supernatural elements and Shakespeare - as written by you - what a supremely unbeatable combination!

theirishobserver. from Ireland on May 28, 2010:

Great Hub - I worte and published my first play on hubpages this week - not Shakespearian but thought I would give it a shot....Irish

Jane Bovary from The Fatal Shore on April 18, 2010:

Hi gamergirl,

I enjoyed this very much....both the images and the text. The Elizabethan period was so vibrant,...notwithstanding the witch trials, which carried on until a mere 300 years or so ago.

Cheers

Beth Morey from Montana on April 15, 2010:

Well written!

thevoice from carthage ill on April 14, 2010:

great write hes artist thanks

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