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Supernatural Elements in Shakespeare

In this media collection, students explore the use of supernatural elements within William Shakespeare’s plays, focusing particularly on Macbeth, Hamlet, and The Tempest. Students examine supernatural beliefs during the 16th and 17th centuries, and they also identify how supernatural elements drive the plot of many of Shakespeare’s plays.

Witchcraft in Shakespeare's Time

This video segment introduces the idea that, in Shakespeare’s time, many people believed in the existence of supernatural elements and witchcraft. The dominant fear of kings and queens in the 16th and 17th centuries was that the devil or antichrist, through the agency of the Pope, would topple the English monarchy.

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A Force of Evil: The Witches and Macbeth

In this video segment, the witches from <em>Macbeth</em> are introduced. The segment features a rehearsal of the scene where Macbeth meets the witches and hears their prophecy, and questions what role the prophecy has on Macbeth’s subsequent actions.

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The Driving Force

This segment explores the source of Macbeth’s evil. It questions whether the witches merely predict what is going to happen or whether they influence Macbeth’s actions – is Macbeth himself evil, or are external, supernatural forces making him commit evil acts?

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The Ghost of Hamlet

This segment from Shakespeare Uncovered explores the relationship between the spirit and human worlds in Elizabethan England. The video also discusses how an audience watching Hamlet during Shakespeare’s time would have reacted differently to the ghost of Hamlet than audiences today.

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The Betrayed Duke Prospero

This segment describes the character Prospero and highlights the way he uses magic in The Tempest. The video introduces the fact that the play hinges on the moral question of whether or not Prospero will seek revenge against the people who have hurt him, given his human desire for vengeance and his supernatural powers.

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Ariel

This video segment introduces the character of Ariel from <em>The Tempest</em>. The segment discusses Ariel’s relationship with Prospero and his role in Prospero’s plan. The video also notes the limitations of Ariel’s powers. While he can bring together Miranda and Ferdinand, he cannot make them fall in love.

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Prospero’s Power

In this video segment, historian Justin Champion discusses the study and practice of magic in the 17th century – magic was not inherently bad, but if it was handled improperly, it could be used for evil. The segment notes the timeless question of how exceptional power should be used, and the responsibility Prospero has because of his powers.

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I'll Drown My Book

This video segment discusses the turning point of <em>The Tempest</em>, when Prospero’s spirit Ariel urges Prospero to practice forgiveness. As a result, Prospero decides to surrender his magical powers. The segment features the famous scene in which Prospero vows to drown his magical book. Host Trevor Nunn also discusses his belief that <em>The Tempest</em> was Shakespeare’s farewell to the theater.

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Funder: Shakespeare Uncovered is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the generous support of the project’s lead foundation sponsor, the Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation. Major funding is also provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Polonsky Foundation, Virginia and Dana Randt, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, and PBS.
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