Witchcraft and Supernatural Themes Present in Macbeth

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During these modern times, with movies such as “Harry Potter” and “The Covenant” (both movies are based upon groups of children being cast into the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry) we see witches as magical beings with spells, potions, wands and regular quidditch matches. We do not see these individuals as the awful and disgusting creatures that were exiled in the sixteenth century. Throughout the Elizabethan Era more than sixteen thousand men and women were prosecuted under the belief that they were practicing witchcraft or associating/worshiping the devil. William Shakespeare knew of the hysteria upon the subject during this time and he recognized the fascination King James 1st had with the paranormal and mystical aspects of the world, and with that knowledge he composed the play “The Tragedy of Macbeth”. Throughout The Tragedy of Macbeth, there are many themes present. One of the most significant of the themes displayed would be that of witchcraft and the supernatural. This can be verified by exploring what exactly caused the witch hunts and when they began, who was accused of witchcraft and the punishments that followed as well as the relevance of these factors within the play itself.

The first of the witch hunts in Europe were held at the beginning of the fifteenth century. The problems stemming towards the witch hunts had been brewing since the end of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In which, the Catholic and Christian Churches began prosecuting members of their diocese to the regard that they were thought to be sorcerers, worshipers of Satan as well as accused of sodomy. The prosecutions continued, and branched out to homosexuals, those of Jewish faith, lepers and heretics (heretics were persons who had beliefs or theories that were strongly at variance with those of the mainstream church). This was only the beginning of what was soon to be one of the largest exterminations during the Elizabethan Era. Throughout the first prosecutions of the Catholic Church, witchcraft was not considered a heretic act. It was during 1320 when Pope John XXII declared that witchcraft was to be persecuted as a heretic deed that the witch hunts slowly began. Although it was during the fourteenth century that the inquisition regarding witchcraft as a heretic act was announced, it wasn’t until the fifteenth century that the witch hunts became a phenomenon. The hunts launched in Switzerland and France, but soon spread throughout all of Europe. During this time, countless authors began publishing books based upon anti-witchcraft opinions and ideas as to how to identify and prosecute witches. The peak of the trials was through the years 1580-1630, which included the Trier Witch Trials, Bamberg Witch Trials as well as the Fulda Witch Trials. These hunts were notably some of the most influential and prominent pursuits held in Europe during the century. It was during the year of 1590, when the king of Scotland, James the Fourth (later James First of England), was traveling to claim his bride Anne in Denmark, while getting stranded in Norway for a period of time, that he acquired a phobia of witches, suspecting they were plotting to murder him. He then accused one of his servants of heresy and that sparked an entirely new cluster of hunts throughout Scotland. He also published a book called Daemonology which was based upon his fear and fascination with demons and friends. There was then a decline in the hunts afterwards, until the notorious Salem Witch Hunt in Massachusetts, U.S.A, in 1692 which sparked a new flame for the hysteria worldwide. Wilfred King was the last person to be tried for witchcraft in New England. There have since been occasional trials regarding witchcraft, but none as horrific as those of the fifteenth century.

For the duration of this time, the European society was being faced with many prominent issues. They were dealing with the Bubonic Plague and common everyday concerns such as bad crops, dying farm...
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