Natural vs. Unnatural in Macbeth

Blog: What do you think Macbeth is suggesting about what’s natural and what’s unnatural? For a starting point, use the disruptions in nature in the final scenes of Act II: consider their implications, and any other ways in which you think the play has touched on natural versus unnatural.

In Macbeth, when characters do something considered evil, unnatural things happen. For example, when Macbeth kills Duncan, Ross and an old man converse about unnatural, strange things happening, which seem to coincide with what Macbeth did. The old man says, “‘Tis unnatural,/Even like the deed that’s done” (II.iv.13-14). He is referring to the skies storming, as the “dark night strangles the traveling lamp,” (II.iv.9) as well as an owl killing a falcon that usually kills mice. The last one in this scene is Duncan’s horses acting wildly and eating each other. All of these occurrences are unnatural, and therefore drag attention away from normality. Towards the beginning of the play, a major controversy between natural and unnatural occurrences arose from the witches. Usually speaking in paradoxes, the witches confuse the characters and even the audience into thinking that whatever is unnatural is natural and vice versa. Macbeth calls them “imperfect speakers” (I.iii.73), referring to their paradoxical words. In the witches’ first appearance (Act 1, Scene 1), the witches end their meeting with the words (in unison), “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,/Hover through the fog and filthy air” (I.i.12-13). This basically says that right is wrong and wrong is right, right being natural and wrong being unnatural. Everything natural is good and everything evil and bad is associated with being unnatural. Also, to stay on the topic of the witches, when Banquo meets the witches, he connotes that they are unnatural: “What are these,/So withered, and so wild in their attire,/That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth/And yet are on ‘t? (I.iii.40-43). He confusedly notices their beards, knowing that they are women. Behind his speech lies a suspicion of unnaturalness, especially in the previous quote saying that they do not look like inhabitants of earth, but are on it (earth). Another example is towards the end of Act 1, Scene 3, right after Macbeth was named Thane of Cawdor, he speaks his feeling to himself: “Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair/And make my seated heart knock at my ribs/Against the use of nature?” (I.iii.48-50). This shows that Macbeth, in a way shocked and rushed, mentions that his “seated heart knock at my ribs” is unnatural, maybe suggesting that what he is doing is wrong. My last example is when Lady Macbeth is anxiously awaiting Macbeth from killing Duncan, and says, “I have drugged/their possets,/That death and nature do contend about them/Whether they live or die” (II.ii.8-11). This states that Lady Macbeth drugged the chamberlains’ glasses, and does not know whether they are dead or not, as “death and nature” conflict with each other.


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