Supernatural plays, this paper will highlight how

Supernatural Elements in
Sophocles’ King Oedipus and Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Asmaa Barakat


This paper compares how Sophocles and
Shakespeare employ supernatural elements in their plays. Particularly, this
paper investigates the signification of supernatural elements in Sophocles’ King
Oedipus and Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1603). Through a close reading of
the two plays, this paper will highlight how the supernatural elements play
important roles in the development of the action. 

Sophocles is a
Greek drama dramatist and one of the three greatest Greek tree tragedies whose
plays have survived. He was born in Athens 497-496 BC Colonus, Attica. In
addition, died 406-405 BC Athens (aged 90-92), Greece. His son, Iophon, and a
grandson, also called Sophocles, followed his example to become playwrights
themselves. Sophocles was the most celebrated playwright in the dramatic
competitions of the City-State of Athens that took place during the religions
festivals of the Lenaea and Dionysia. He competed in 30 competions, won
24.  He wrote about one hundred and
twenty three plays but only seven have survived. The most famous works are
Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Electra, and Oedipus at Colonus.

Shakespeare is considering one of the most famous literary figures in the
western world. It was during the region of Elizabeth Anne in England and during
that period, he wrote many plays that are still in effect after more than four
hundred years. Shakespeare wrote more than thirty plays. In his writing,
Shakespeare has dealt with both romantic and tragic drama. He was born in 26
April 1564 Stratford -upon-Avon. At age 18 he married the daughter of a farmer
her named Ann Hathaway. Hey had a daughter named Susanna, who is baptize on May
26 and have two twins, Hamnet and Judith. His father, John, was a maker of
gloves and a trader in farm produce, was an upward merchant and his mother,
Mary Arden, and was one of the daughters of one of the farmer’s owners.

Sophocles’ King
Oedipus begins with the oracles that have good news and bad news. The
oracle tells that the king of Thebes have a baby who is destined to kill him
and sleep with his mother, Jokesta. They name him Oedipus that means
“swollen ankles.” Then the parents decided to get rid of the child
and entrusted him to a shepherd to take him after the puncture of his feet. The
shepherd left him on the top of the mountain, later kindly shepherd come by and
finds the baby boy. He takes him to the king and queen of the Corinth who did
not have a child. The child grows up; he did not know the real fact. He
thinking that the royal couple his real parents. Then one of his friends tells
him that he is not the son of the king, but a bustard found by one of the
shepherds. Oedipus goes directly to the temple of Apollo to know the truth of his
relationship. The god tells him that he is a traitor who wrote to kill his
father and marry his mother. Oedipus cries to people he thought where his
parents. Then the prince decides never return home to Corinth. Fearing of that,
he will kill Polypus and sleep with Morope, to escape his fate.

On his way, he
meets his barber and has a great master surrounded by his servants. In
addition, he is expecting to ask this man to give him the way. Oedipus is all
like “No way, you get out the way” and a fight breaks out. He spends
on all the knees with the exception of one man. He did not know that this man
is the king Laius, the king of Thebes and his real father. When he arrives, he
found a big strange animal resembling a Sphinx. He did not want to kill him but
wanted to solve the mystery. He solving a puzzle that the whole city was unable
to solve and thus deserved the award and become the king of the country.
Moreover, married the queen and had children. Then the plague spread in the
country. The god told him that this plague would not being lift from the city
until the king’s murder was killed. He heard that there was priest named
Tricia’s who knew a lot about secrets of things. This priest is call who tried
to evade the answer. However, the king is insisted on him. The fact is that he
fought the king. Who is known the father of his brothers from his mother? He
did not believe that and tried to explore things more and more. The server is
called, which handed him as a child to the servant of polypus. After his question,
the governor of Corinth He cut himself off with his eyes in his own hands, and
Joksta killed herself by hanging.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth
begins when the commander Macbeth and his friend’s commander Banquo return from
one of the battles they won. Then the three wearied women, three witches
blocked their way. They are old woman; poor .There clothes were pale and full
of vulgar spite. They tell prophecy that Macbeth will become thane of Chowder
and king of Scotland. Then they turn to commander Banquo and tell him in vague
words “you will be less than Macbeth and will not take throne like him,
but your children will become kings on the throne of Scotland. Then messenger
from the king Duncan arrived to take down Macbeth title and name of Duchy of
Kaudur. Macbeth become very happy and tells his friend’s banquo that one of the
prophecies has been achieved. In addition, told him that you do not wish your
children to be kings, banquo said that these prophecies may lead you to ascend
the throne specially that these witches are the messenger of darkness. In
addition, when Macbeth told his wife about what happened to him. She was filled
with happiness. She decides her husband is too kind to follow his ambitions to
be queen, and vows to push him to murder Duncan and take crown. A few days
later, the king arrived to the castle where Macbeth and his wife lived. The
king came to congratulate him on the victory he had achieved in the battle; his
son Malcolm and Donalphin, a group of lords and courtiers accompanied him. In the
middle of night, Lady Macbeth was awake and planning to kill the king. However,
the sense of good took hold in the heart of Macbeth and made him reluctant to
commit the crime.

Therefore, she
began to pour in his ears words loads his head in her point of view. Moreover,
took the progress justified by justification to not retreat from achieving what
the wizards promised. Macbeth fell into the clutches of evil completely,
approached the sleeping king, and gathered his strength fully and with one
stroke; he stabbed the dagger into the heart of the king. The crime has been
discovering that will not hide. Macbeth and his wife showed great sadness, and
evidence the servants was strong enough to condemn them. The son of Duncan
Malcolm, the eldest, fled to England and Donalphin the Ireland.
Moreover, the escape of the king son’s, who were to leave him in the king,
becomes the throne empty. In addition, crown Macbeth king. Thus, fulfill the
prophecy of witchcraft completely. Macbeth returns to visit the magicians
again, he is afraid of the throne now more than ever before. But they tell him
three things: First: that he must fear (McDuff) Prince of the province (Fife),
Second: that (Macbeth) will not hurt every woman born, Thirdly, it will not be
defeated until the Birnam forest passes to Tel Densnan. The Macbeth gave
precious advice about what McDuff, the Prince of County (Fife), had done to
him, and gave himself a sense of deceptive reassurance. How could he say that
there was a man whom his mother had not given birth to? And how does a forest
move from place to place? MacDuff went to England to interview Malcolm, the
legitimate king, and they began to plan revenge. Macbeth learns that his
revolution has broken out and kills the wife of McDuff and his children. When
MacDuff hears the bad news, his anger and anger intensify and he decides with
Malcolm to take over the throne and leave England with 10,000 fighters. In
Scotland, everything Macbeth begins to crack and fall, his followers abandon,
and his wife gets mad, leaving only those old witches. (Malcolm) to Macbeth
Castle in Densnan, Malcolm ordered his soldiers to cut off tree branches from
the Pernam forest and carry them for camouflage. While Macbeth waits for the
attack in Densnan, his wife’s suicide story comes to him, but some of his
soldiers soon tell him that the Densenan forest seems to be moving towards the
castle area! Moreover, his anger and confusion and frustration and starts
shouting among his soldiers. When Malcolm’s army arrives, the soldiers will aim
the branches of the trees. The battle will be fought, protected, and cover with
Macbeth. Then his army will begin to disintegrate, but he will fight like a
wild beast. Macbeth meets MacDev, who was looking for him on the battlefield.
They meet face to face. Macbeth warns his opponent that he should know that he
will not be hurt by his mother’s mother. Nevertheless, McDuff makes fun of him,
saying that his mother did not give him a normal birth, but took her out of her
stomach after his apartment. Although Macbeth was convinced that he was still
fighting, he was still fighting his last murder, cutting off his head and
raising him in front of the army, which turned on Malcolm and sold him to the

This paper
compares how Shakespeare and Sophocles employ supernatural elements in their
plays. Specially, in this paper I will examine how supernatural elements make
the literary work more enjoyable. They play a significant role in Shakespeare’s
Macbeth and Sophocles’ King Oedipus. In Macbeth, the three witches told Macbeth
that he would be the king of Scotland. Similarly in king Oedipus, a prophecy
reveals to king Laius and queen Jocasta that their son is destined to kill his
father and to marry his mother. In both plays, supernatural elements intervene
in humans, fate, set action in motion, and create a state of restlessness and

In “The
Oedipus Rex of Sophocles: and Psychoanalysis,” Patrick Mahoney argues that
King Oedipus is a drama of marvels .It’s also continues to be one of the
most read and examined works in history .In this reading, the writer represents
many psychological point of view, one of them about Sphinx’s riddle that no one
except Oedipus may solve. “The Sphinx’s question as to what walks on four legs
in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening, Oedipus correctly
replied “man.” Sophocles did not spell out the text of the riddle,
which was familiar to his contemporary’s .But typical of his poetic technique;
he did make several allusions to it and its link with Oedipus name (swollen
foot).” (292).Mahoney says that Oedipus’s solution of the riddle and
concomitant defeat of sphinx influenced his later claims of being superman
(294). According to Mahoney Oedipus REX is remarkable for its singular
presentation of the hero’s lasting blindness and insight (302).

According to Stacy
Hibbs and Thomas Hibbs “they explore nature of virtue, temptation and
evil, natural law and the relationship of the natural and supernatural of
Macbeth’s play.” (275) The play is not realistic but pictures the witches
and Macbeth’s opponents as tools of the supernatural. From the first Scene of
play, Macbeth is portrays at the same time as excessive bold, rash, and
merciless in his pursuit of the energy. The writers say that Macbeth stinks
from role the murder that will make him king. (275) They presents that the
natural law says the precepts necessary to achieve the ultimate conclusion of
human life, happiness .Two of the main elements of law are that it be
promulgated, sanctions accrue to the 
violation of its precepts. (286) According to Stacy and Thomas “the
play progress that the more Macbeth thinks he
understands and ignorant he is. In the end, all that Macbeth has left to defend
is his mere bodily existence. (288)

According to
Robert Fagles, he considers the play of Oedipus at a global dramatic model of
the Greek theater. Aristotle cites it as the most wonderful example of
theatrical plot. (131) He says that the Oedipus myth is an old legend in
Sophocles’ time and vary famous to his audience. It also presents example of
the tragedy of fate, to the rationalist critics of the eighteenth century to
the firm believers in human progress of the nineteenth. (131) The writers says
the voice of destiny in the play is the oracle of Apollo  through his
priests at Delphi Apollo told Laius that he would be killed by his son .and
later told Oedipus that he would be kill his father and marry his mother, At
the beginning of the play Apollo tells Creon that  Thebes will be saved
from the plague only when the murder of Laius is found expelled the
philosophical attack on it was more radical, the dictum of the measure of all
things of the existence of what exists and the none existence of what does not
, subjected prophecy, and for that matter the gods themselves, to a harsh
criterion that found them wanting. (136) Owen Davies argues The three witches
in Macbeth represent evil, darkness and chaos which is clear when they are
referred to as “instruments of darkness” or “midnight hags.”

But Shakespeare’s
play didn’t present them as one of the stenotype witches who be witch things
around them because of emotional reason with witchcraft instead they use
temptation to create chaos like by revealing the truth (or part of it) to
Macbeth they effectively guide him on the path to his own destruction and that
communicates their intention to increase trouble for mortals around them. 
(Shakespeare: living in a world of witches).

This study is
critical, analytical, and comparative. Specifically the purpose of this paper
to compere the way Shakespeare and Sophocles employ supernatural elements to
push forward the actions of their plays. In the other words these paper will
highlight the similarities between Sophocles and Shakespeare with regard to the
supernatural elements play key roles. By comparing king Oedipus and Macbeth,
this paper shows how the Delphi’s’ oracles and Teiresias’ prophecies on the one
hand and the witches on the other hand, are important elements and tools that
two dramatist employ skillfully employ to push events forward.

The supernatural
first used in 1520-1530 AD includes all that cannot be explain by laws of
nature, including things characteristic of or relating to ghosts, gods, or
other types of spirits and other non-material beings, or to things beyond
nature. In
both Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it is very
clear that supernatural elements, such as gods and witches, are a
driving and controlling force; however, both authors also make it perfectly
clear that, while these forces are catalysts, the characters make their own
decisions that lead to their own demises.
An underlying theme in Oedipus Rex is predestination. The gods
predetermine a person’s life and that person lives out the life that is plan
for him/her, even if it means sinning against the gods, and there is no way to
escape it. King Laius attempted to kill baby Oedipus because itis prophesy that
Oedipus would one day kill his own father and marry his own mother. However,
the servant responsible for killing the baby actually spared the baby, and King
Polybus and Queen Merope in Corinth raise Oedipus as an adopted child. All
seems to be well until someone accuses Oedipus of not being Polybius’s true
son. This news drives Oedipus to consult the oracle at Delphi. The oracle would
not confirm who his true father was but instead relayed the same prophecy that
he would murder his own father and sleep with his own mother. Coming out of
Delphi, he encounters who later turns out to be his own father; his own father
drives him off the road, and feeling angered from the prophecy and the
rudeness, Oedipus winds up striking out at his own father, killing him, as well
as most of his father’s traveling companions. But did Oedipus murder his own
father simply because, as he said, Zeus “willed him to do it”
(766)? It is very clear that Oedipus was guilty of having a very hot, fiery
temper, as well as of being arrogant and stubborn. Hence, Sophocles ultimately
wants to demonstrate that it was not the will of the gods, which led Oedipus
to commit his misdeeds; instead, it was Oedipus’s own temper, stubbornness,
and foolishness. Not only does the fact that Oedipus killed a man for
merely driving him off the road testify to Oedipus’s fiery temper, we further
see evidence of Oedipus’s foolish stubbornness in Tiresias’s statements that
Oedipus is blind to the things he has done, as we see in Tiresias’s lines:

I say that you secretly have lived most foully
with those who should be most dear, nor do you see
to what extent of evil you have come. (385-86)

We can similarly see that character flaws actually lead to Macbeth’s demise
as well, rather than the will of the Three Witches. The Three Witches prophesy
that Macbeth will become king and evidently very much want to set Macbeth’s
downfall in motion; however, the fact that Macbeth both becomes king and is
later killed actually stems from his and his wife’s character flaws, not just
from the witches’ prophecy. Macbeth is drive by ambition, and Macbeth’s wife is
especially drive by ambition to the point of insanity. It is their ambitious
natures that lead them to commit the murders they commit, ultimately leading to
their downfalls; it was not predestination prophesied by the Three Witches that
lead to their downfall.

To summarize, this paper has examined the works of Sophocles and William Shakespeare.
In particular, the paper has investigated how the two dramatists use
supernatural elements in their plays to push forward the plots. Macbeth meets
the witches and take their advice on what to do. Similarly, in King Oedipus,
oracles reveal to people the problems that they will encounter and prompt the
characters to take action.





Work citations

Brown, John Brown. Shakespeare: The Tragedy .London:
Palgrave, 2001. Print.

Stacey and Thomas Hibbs. “Virtue, Natural law, And Supernatural
Solicitation: A Thomistic Reading of Shakespeare’s Macbeth” Religion
and Arts 5.3 (2001): 273-296

Patrick. “THE Oedipus Rex of Sophocles and Psychoanalysis.” International
Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 7.4 (2010): 290-306

E.F. Sophocles the Theban Plays. London: Penguin Books, 1974. Print.

Robert .the three Theban plays .Antigone. Oedipus the king .Oedipus at Colonus.
New York: penguin books, 1984. Print

Dillon. Shakespeare’s tragedies. New York: Cambridge
university press, 2007. Print.

Owen. “Shakespeare: living in a world of witches.” Oupblog. Oxford
University press, 12th Jun 2016. Web. 4 Jan 2018. .