In Shakespeare’s time, many were toying with the ideas of superstition and reality and exploring the stage as a place of fantasy. Because of this we can see a lot of supernatural elements appearing in Shakespeare’s plays, like witches, ghosts, and fairies. Shakespeare’s ideas of what these creatures act like have resonated with us all. They have carried to our present day interpretations of the same beings in literature, film, and even our Halloween décor.
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Macbeth features three witches who seem to drive the entire plot of the play. Shakespeare’s images of the witches show them as three “weird sisters” who stand around a bubbling cauldron chanting creepy things in unison, which we all know makes it even creepier. They tell prophecies of Macbeth’s future. I hope I wasn’t the only one completely frustrated with the story because Macbeth wouldn’t have ever killed Duncan if he hadn’t met the witches and none of those prophecies would have come true and just…ugh.
Now, what I’m interested in is that the images we get of the witches in act one resemble the main things we expect from witches today. Witches in literature and film are often depicted as sisters making potions in a creepy cauldron. Their most powerful spells are always chanted in unison just like the prophetic sisters that Shakespeare created. The cauldron, specifically, has made its way into witchy décor around the globe, including some of my own childhood Halloween costumes.
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Before Shakespeare, fairies were seen as dark and evil creatures that were often associated with black colors, as opposed to the bright colors we see in fairies today. Shakespeare changed how we depict fairies with A Midsummer’s Night Dream into creatures that only did mischievous things as something funny as opposed to evil, and who are small, forest-dwelling creatures that are not to be feared. The presence of fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are basically the only reason my ten-year-old self enjoyed watching the play with family as their light-hearted, mischievous behavior made a Shakespeare play something entertaining and funny to watch. I’ve learned to love you, Shakespeare, but back in the day, I couldn’t stand ya. I would now like to thank Shakespeare for his genius brain because without him would we really have Tinker Bell? I think not.
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In Hamlet, when Horatio and Barnardo are investing the ghost of King Hamlet, they explain many things that we associate with ghosts today. They describe an apparition of the fallen king who is dressed in armor from an important event in the king’s life, as you see in many shows today like Ghost Whisperer when the ghosts would always appear in a spooky outfit and then, once they’ve come to terms with their death, are instantly comfy in jeans and a tee.
It is also mentioned that the ghost would only appear in the dark and not in well-lit places (do I need to explain this one?) Lastly, an intense cold falls over the boys when the ghost appears. Now, either Shakespeare had a lot of experience with real life ghosts or his imagination dives into the subconscious of people today because most ghost reports today talk about that chilling cold that falls over the room (and my spine right now).
There you have it, folks. Shakespeare was far too good for us all. When you inevitably see tons of witches, fairies and ghosts this Halloween, be sure to thank the playwright god himself.
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