Frankenstein and Macbeth

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"We can have some more, nature is a whore, bruises on the fruit, tender age in bloom:" Nirvana sings about the paradoxical entanglement between nature and human beings. Throughout the ages, in their respective works, writers have chimed in. Shakespeare sets his Tragedy of Macbeth in a Scotland where nature is dark and disordered. In contrast, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is set in a natural world that is beautiful, divine, imposing, and cathartic. In Macbeth, a human being has the power to create chaos in nature from a single action; the murder of Duncan creates a break in the chain of nature. Moreover, evil forces such as the witches can also disturb natural order. On the other hand, in Frankenstein, even the ultimate violation of natural norms - the regeneration of dead tissue - does not have the power to create a single ripple effect. In fact, just the opposite; despite Victor’s abuse of science, nature maintains its power to soothe and inspire. Thus by analyzing seed and plant imagery, the magic of the witches, and the disruption of nature in Macbeth, and the impact of natural beauty on the characterizations in Captain Walton, Victor and the Creature/Monster, the reader sees the differences in the respective authors views about the power of nature.

Seed and plant imagery in Macbeth shows how Macbeth's infertility is an effect of a dark universe. When Duncan greets Macbeth and Banquo in the ceremony at Fife, the king says to Banquo, "I have begun to plant thee and will labor to make thee full of growing.--Noble Banquo..." (1.4.32-36). Despite the lack on monetary reward like the one given to Macbeth, Duncan uses plant imagery to articulate the gratitude he feels towards Banquo. Despite Banquo's envy, the reader remembers that the witches prophesied that Banquo will beget kings. The word "plant" suggests the roots of the family tree. Though unlike Frankenstein, where nature can soothe, this fact has no power to console Banquo. Later, he concedes to Macbeth, "Yet it was said/ It should not stand in thy posterity,/ But that myself should be the root." (3.1.3-5). Solidifying the connection between Banquo and trees. It is poetic justice then, that "Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsibane Hill / Shall come against him." (4.1.105-7). Revenge of the trees might be the beginning of the restoration of order in Scotland, but the puzzling and ambiguous nature of the riddle is sufficiently menacing to leave the reader wary of the forces of nature.

The magic of the witches also suggests that nature is weaker than they are. The opening lines of the play convey how they are able to infect the very air. That they plan to meet again in thunder and lightening suggests that they somehow tap into the atmospheric current itself; that they release something that can "hover though the filthy air" (1.1.11) reinforces this. Thus nature appears fragile or at least mutable, vulnerable, or exposed. In contrast, Romantic thinkers find nature powerful and beautiful. Later, when the witches meet again, they discuss wreaking vengeance in the form of a storm. and "in a sieve I'll tither sail" (1.3.8) implying that the witches can ride across the waves without a boat and a pilot's ship will be "tempest-tost" (1.3.25). Thus the "Posters of the sea and land" seem to have quite the facility in manipulating natural facts. Another instance where they manipulate natural facts is when they disappear after prophesying to Macbeth and Banquo: "The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, / And these are of them. - whither are they vanished? (1.3.80). In other words, the witches can turn solids into liquids or gasses. That they are novices, as indicated by Hecate's screed later in the play, suggests that even weaker witches can manipulate nature. In contrast in Frankenstein, a genius has to toil for years and abuse science to create a change in nature.

Macbeth, once inculcated in evil by resolving to murder Duncan likewise...
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