The title of the play is “Macbeth”. It was written by William Shakespeare around 1606 for King James I. This is a play of many opposites, especially good versus evil. Meaning that through this play there is always good opposing evil. In the period that Shakespere lived and King James reigned, there were people (Jacobeans) who believed in the existence of witches. Witch craft was very important in the days the play was witten because people strongly belived in witches and believed in their “powers”. These people hated witches and could accuse anybody of being one just because they were different or had a mark on their body: this mark was seen as the devil’s mark.
When Lady Macbeth receives the letter at the beginning of the play her reaction when she reads her husband’s letter is powerful and dramatic. As soon as she’s finished reading, she has decided she will make sure Macbeth is king
“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised.”
It’s as if she and her husband are thinking exactly the same thing. She does not hesitate for a moment. Lady Macbeth does for her husband what he cannot do for himself: she encourages him to take chances, to further his ambitions at any cost, to do things no other man would dare. And he follows, spurred on by her sheer enthusiasm and daring.
In the early scenes we see her in action. She is always in charge. She takes control. She acts in a practical manner when Macbeth expresses doubts about murdering the king, organising and planning the deed with precision. She appears to be absolutely secure in her belief in her husband’s claim to the throne and her own position at his side as queen. So she supports him and, when he can do no more, she herself gilds the faces of the grooms with blood. When he is doubtful she comes to the rescue:
“Macbeth: If we should fail?”
Lady Macbeth:We fail?But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.”
In a sense, Lady Macbeth shares the same characteristics as her husband, but in her the reader sees an excess that Macbeth would like to control until convinced by her that success is within their grasp. So, like Macbeth, the reader sees her as ambitious, proud, ruthless, and manipulative. Her belief in their great venture overrides all else. It becomes an obsession with her, as it must with her husband. We watch with admiration as she manipulates Macbeth, using all her feminine wiles to achieve her purpose. How well she understands her husband and his needs. She knows immediately that murdering Duncan is the only way of quickly achieving her goal
“He that’s coming,
Must be provided for.” (I, v)
When Macbeth brings further news that Duncan is actually coming to spend that night with them, it becomes clear that her role is to seize the moment and facilitate her husband’s rise to kingship.
Later in the play she acts out the role of accomplished hostess and wife when, at the banquet, Macbeth gives in to his fears, caught up in doubt and dismay. Earlier in the play she used guile when dealing with Duncan, making him believe she welcomed him as king and kinsman. We cannot but note the irony as she speaks to Duncan with such apparent sincerity and respect:
“All our service
In every point twice done and then done double,
Were poor and single business to contend
Against those honours deep and broad wherewith
Your majesty loads our house.”
Her ability for deception also comes to the fore when she faints at the news of Duncan’s death a clever move to detract attention at a key and tense moment.
In public she relies on the appearance of normality, of being in control. In private she drops the role, allowing her truly devious ideas full flight. At this time we see her as a vicious and driven woman. We watch in awe as she goes about achieving her aims, using her powers and wiles as a woman to win over her husband: Lady Macbeth uses different methods to persuade Macbeth to change his mind.
She says he has already promised to do it.
“What beast was’t then
That made you break your enterprise to me?”
She taunts Macbeth’s masculinity by calling him a coward
“Art thou afeared
to be the same in thine own act and valour
as thou art in desire?”
This is an important part of her approach. Macbeth’s rank and fame depend on his courage and bravery.
She says he cannot love her. This personal taunt really hits home for Macbeth. It is unexpected because their relationship is so intense.
“From this time
such I account thy love.”
Lady Macbeth is really shocking when she says she would have smashed her own baby to the floor rather than go back on a promise. This is good because it shows how dedicated she is to Macbeth
This would be the ultimate sacrifice she makes the point that she knew the joy of being a mother, and would have given that up for Macbeth to be king. She uses terrible, violent imagery as a shock tactic
“I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.” (I, vii)
She realises that Macbeth’s doubt needs to be overcome quickly and this needs extreme measures. If they delay one night, the chance is gone.
Almost inevitably, once they find themselves so caught up in evil that they cannot escape, the relationship begins to break up. Macbeth no longer relies on his wife. The strength she once showed has been passed on to him. He is now in control. Her support is no longer necessary. In a sense, she has fulfilled her role and is in danger of being left behind, lonely and neglected, while her husband goes about the business of making war and defending his position. Lady Macbeth does not appear in Act IV she is then seen as an isolated, broken and mentally disturbed woman, no longer the “partner in greatness” that was seen earlier in the play.
Lady Macbeth seems totally devoted to evil. She calls upon the forces of evil to unsex her, taking away the very compassion that is usually associated with the female sex – a truly frightening thing for a Jacobean audience whose image of womanhood was one of compassion and meekness. There is a dreadful destructiveness in her words, a fervour and commitment that is truly frightening:
“Come, you Spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty.”
There is only one aim in life to achieve the goal of kingship for Macbeth, with her at his side. In the pursuit of this aim it becomes necessary to put aside any semblance of weakness or tenderness. She relies solely on her strength of will, made greater by the forces of evil upon which she calls. She becomes the essence of evil: cruel, heartless, free of the morality of mankind, taking events into her own hands to create her own reality. Yet it is this denial of reality that will finally be her downfall. She is awesome in her commitment, yet pathetic in her belief in herself and the powers of darkness.
From her first appearance we are made aware of the enormity of her desire to succeed at all costs – in spite of her husband’s apparent virtuous and compassionate nature
“Come thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
To cry, ‘Hold, hold!”
Lady Macbeth seems inherently evil, but we should consider that she is trapped by the very same device that leads to her husband’s downfall. Her dark and evil thoughts are prompted by Macbeth’s letter. If he had not met the Witches, her ambition might also have lain dormant.
As mentioned, it is necessary for Lady Macbeth to deny reality. She ignores the rules of humanity and organised (Christian) society, pursuing her own ruthless motives. In the process she reject even her own femininity. However, there are flaws in her control. Repeatedly Lady Macbeth gives the appearance of being in control but like so much else in the play this comes at a price. Lady Macbeth cannot simply create her own reality, cut off from society and humanity. What we see in the latter part of the play is a woman who must accept the rules of civilised people, the reality that she too is part of humanity, even though it is too late for change.
Earlier in the play Lady Macbeth was unable to kill the king herself, claiming he looked too much like her. Not much later she advises her husband: “These deeds must not be thought / After these ways: so, it will make us mad.” Now this is exactly what we see at the end of the play: a woman driven to madness and eventual self-destruction by her guilt and despair, yet still unwilling to accept reality and her own weakness. There is a marked frailty and vulnerability about her final appearance in the play. We see a woman out of control. Filled with guilt and fear she re-enacts past happenings, her mind wandering from one event to another:
“Out, damed spot! Out, I say! – One; two, why then
’tis time to do’t – Hell is murky! – Fie, my Lord, fie!
A soldier and afeard? – What need we fear who know
it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who
would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”
At the beginning of the play Macbeth is the “bravest” soldier and the honourable Thane of Glamis. His rank and nobility are of great value, and he seems to be fit for his status. But his encounter with the witches awakens in him a deep impatient ambition. Immediately after the first prophecy of being Thane of Cawdor becomes true the “horrid image” of the murder of King Duncan in order to become king himself crosses his mind. He is not totally cold and solely ambitious as shown by his terror of the murder image, which thoroughly defies his loyalty. There is love in Macbeth as shown by his letter to Lady Macbeth in which he calls her his “dearest partner of greatness.” Macbeth is already thinking about being king but he is undecided about whether it is better to succumb to the temptation presented by the witches or to wait for Fate to crown him. Banquo warns him that at times evil forces “tell us truths . . . to betray’s in deepest consequence.”
Even though he does not state it out loud, Macbeth does care about morality and religion, as demonstrated in his soliloquy where he lists the three reasons why he should not kill Duncan: he is “his kinsman,” “his subject” and “his host.” Macbeth adds that “Duncan hath born his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead like angels.” Lady Macbeth knows her husband and feels that he is “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness.” To counter this she accuses Macbeth of being a coward if he does not kill Duncan. Macbeth does not want to be a coward, either as soldier or as husband, so he accepts to murder Duncan. His ambition and self-image of bravery win over his virtues. Nevertheless he is remorseful after murdering Duncan, and he masks his fear of being found with rage against the supposed murderers and thus kills the drunken guards.
Already being King Macbeth is troubled by remorse and cannot sleep easily. Also, Macbeth is fearful of Banquo because he knows what the witches prophesied and may suspect Macbeth. Another thing that bothers him is that he has the demeanor of a king and that the witches promised Banquo a lineage of kings while they only promised him to be king. He refuses to accept that he turned evil just for Banquo’s lineage to be kings and so decides to challenge Fate by killing Banquo and his descendants. Once he does he is haunted by Banquo’s death and troubled because his son Fleance escaped. He is also worried about the loyalty of other lords, like Macduff. Overall, Macbeth exchanged his peace of mind and virtues for a troublesome crown by allowing his impatient passion for desire of power to overcome his senses. This clearly illustrates that “foul is fair and fair is foul.”
As time advances Macbeth is more and more unsure about his security as king. To know the best or worst the future holds for him, Macbeth visits the witches. The witches reassure him that he will reign. Through apparitions he is told that he will not be defeated until the Wood of Birnam comes to Dunsinane and that anybody born of woman cannot harm him. Both of these seem impossible events to Macbeth. The images of a line of kings in Banquo’s likeness does torment him, though. The magnitude of his relentless and now evil morality shows through his orders to assassinate all of Macduff’s family when he finds out that Macduff has fled to England.
The news that Malcolm and his troop come to Dunsinane annoy him, but he rests on the promises of the witches and refuses to be afraid. By this time Macbeth is wary of all the trouble being king has brought him. He laments that even if he prevails he will not have honour, love , and obedience in old age. He fully laments that being king is not worth the peace of mind he and Lady Macbeth enjoyed before. Also the health of Lady Macbeth worries him. Her suicide does not strike him so much with grief but rather unleashes his disenchantment and pessimistic view of life. He bitterly reflects: “[Life] is tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” And when he discovers that Birnam Wood apparently moves toward Dunsinane he realises that the witches cheated him. Nevertheless, he decides to die honourably in battle. On seeing that he will lose the war, he considers but then dismisses suicide. He still clings to the second prophecy of the witches that nobody born of woman can hurt him.
When Macduff encounters Macbeth the small but still present moral consciousness of Macbeth is shown through his refusal to fight Macduff because his is already too guilty with the blood of Macduff’s family. Macbeth is sure he will kill Macduff too because he is born of a woman. But when Macduff declares that he was “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb Macbeth is afraid and still refuses to fight. Only when Macduff threatens to tie him to a pole and make of him a public spectacle does Macbeth fight Macduff. Macbeth still has dignity at the end and proves not to be a coward by perishing in battle.
Macbeth was tempted and cheated by the witches. His own ambitions and passions deceived him into changing his virtues for unrest and immorality. At the end he is wary of life and fully aware of his deception. He pays all the consequences of his betrayal but still dies like a brave soldier.
The witches or “weird sisters” as agents rather than characters. They serve a very definite purpose and play an important role in the play. It is on their instigation that Macbeth is tempted to kill the king in order to gain the throne. The limits to their power are clearly expressed in the opening of the play when the First Witch determines to revenge herself upon the sailor and, by association, his wife. He will waste away, unable to sleep. However, “Though his bark cannot be lost, / Yet shall it be tempest-tossed” Their power is limited. They cannot alter fate. The association with Macbeth is important. Macbeth is lost not because he cannot resist their temptations but because he gives in to his own unrestricted ambition. What they do is make statements about the future. It is Macbeth who chooses to follow up on what they have to say, making the decision to act upon their suggestions once he is proclaimed Thane of Cawdor, an indication that there might be truth in their prophecies.
The witches represent all that is uncreative in the play, an inversion of the natural order. Macbeth, very much under their spell, speaks of his life having “fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf” a reference to the degeneration that has taken place in the character. Their weirdness is reinforced by their appearance: as woman with beards they appear loathsome and repellent.
The witches challenge the forces of virtue and order in the universe. By having sold their souls to the devil they are able to challenge moral order. They use apparitions in order to perform the devil’s work: “Say, if thou’dst hear it from our mouths, / Or from our masters”
The purpose of the witches is to kindle the evil ambition they know Macbeth will find hard to resist. Thus they betray the Thane by deceiving him into believing the truth of their prophecies, drawing him into their world of evil. By gaining the trust and confidence of Macbeth they are able to bring about political and social disorder. The very state of Scotland and its people are at risk as Macbeth moves deeper into evil. They provide the false courage and perverted values that will betray the better half of Macbeth by appealing to the worst in the man. What they do in the play is tempt the Thane with ambiguous words. It is still Macbeth who makes the choices. They are linked to the major imagery and themes of the play, not least the examination of appearance and reality.
The play is entitled The Tragedy of Macbeth. This suggests that the main character is a tragic hero. This implies the downfall of a man of great standing, intelligence and personal power someone respected for his courageous deeds. Because of a fatal flaw in his character, we watch his decline and inevitable death. During the course of the play we are encouraged to feel terror and pity as we watch the tragic consequences of his behaviour.
The point has been made repeatedly that Macbeth is first portrayed as a great man. We also watch his decline into evil as a result of his ambition, encouraged all the way by his wife. We are fearful as we watch his evil deeds and the way in which he copes with important decisions. We are even impressed at the end of the play that he chooses to fight instead of just giving in. However, it is too late. The evil deeds committed by Macbeth far outweigh any true feelings if sympathy we might have for the man. So at the end of the play Malcolm speaks of Macbeth as a “dead butcher”..
The way in which the playwright presents the character, allowing us to share in his most intimate thoughts, certainly encourages pity. Also, Shakespeare gives Macbeth some of the most stirring poetry to speak so that his words and the skilful images he uses move us. But then Macbeth is a tyrant, a vicious and thoughtless killer who allows nothing to stand in his way. Perhaps the tragedy is that we see the decline of a man who had so much in his favour: he has all the potential for success. It is not his death that moves us then but rather the realisation that here we see a man who has given in to his inherent weakness. As traitor, tyrant and murderer he deserves to be punished by death. Yet we cannot help but feel a sense of loss that comes with the destruction of a great man.
Before judging too harshly, look again at how the man struggles with life and the choice he has to make in the great soliloquies Shakespeare gives this character to speak:
This play is a tragedy because of all the pointless killings that take place in the story of Macbeth. Duncan was an innocent man who was killed because of Macbeth’s greediness to become king. Banquo was another innocent man who was murdered because of Macbeth’s fear of what might happen to him if Banquo told everyone who really killed Duncan. Lady Macduff and her son were two very insignificant characters in the play and did not deserve to die because they were not at fault. The killings that take place in the play, with a doubt, were entirely unnecessary. Therefore making Macbeth a tragedy. Nevertheless, if this play was not to have these, redundant killings take place; Macbeth would have been a very boring play that the people in Shakespeare’s time would have not enjoyed. So Shakespeare included these killings into the play for a reason, and that was to make this one of the greatest tragic plays ever written.
Lady Macbeth fulfils her role among the nobility and is well respected like Macbeth. King Duncan calls her “our honoured hostess.” She is loving to her husband but at the same time very ambitious, as shown by her immediate determination for Macbeth to be king. This outcome will benefit her and her husband equally. She immediately concludes that “the fastest way” for Macbeth to become king is by murdering King Duncan.
Lady Macbeth’s immediate thoughts may make her appear as thoroughly irreligiously cold and ambitious, but this is not so. To prepare for what she feels must be done she calls on evil spirits to “stop up th’ access and passage to remorse” in order to be relentless. Otherwise her conscience would not allow her to act. Lady Macbeth knows her husband well. She thinks he may be too kind in order to murder King Duncan. This is why she represses her conscience so she can later usher Macbeth into committing the deed. At first Macbeth agrees. But later Macbeth wavers in his decision. But Lady Macbeth is sure that being king is what Macbeth really wants and that this is the best for both of them. So, in response to Macbeth’s uncertainty, Lady Macbeth manipulates him by questioning his manhood and his love for her. She is successful because regardless of his own conscience Macbeth carries out their plan of murder.
The almost superhuman strength Lady Macbeth rallies for the occasion and her artful and sly ability are shown through her meticulous attention to detail regarding the murder. When Macbeth returns to their chamber she goes back to the murder scene and cleverly smears the grooms with Duncan’s blood. However, her morals had prevailed just a while before as revealed through her comment that she would have killed Duncan herself had he not “resembled [her] father as he slept.”
Perhaps Lady Macbeth felt that suppressing her conscience for the deed was enough and that later the thought of the deed would just dissipate. The outcome is not this way, though, because Macbeth and Lady Macbeth often cannot go to sleep, and if they do, they experience terrifying dreams. But still, Lady Macbeth is able to maintain her sanity and composure during the day, even more than her husband is. She urges him to be light hearted and merry. Once she practically rescues Macbeth from the frailty of his own conscience. When Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost she creates an excuse to explain his odd behaviour. She attempts to chasten Macbeth by again questioning his manhood. When the situation grows worse though, she takes charge once more and promptly dismisses the lords from the feast.
Later, though, the burden of Lady Macbeth’s conscience becomes too great for her and her mental and physical condition deteriorates. A gentlewoman observes her sleepwalking and consults a doctor. The doctor and the lady observe Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, madly trying to cleanse her hands of the blood of Duncan and Macduff’s family. Still in her sleep, Lady Macbeth asks, “what, will these hands ne’re be clean?” foreseeing that she will never have peace of mind. She also retells events of the day Duncan was murdered. The doctor tells the gentlewoman that what Lady Macbeth needs is spiritual and not physical help.
The three witches in the tragedy Macbeth are introduced right at the beginning of the play. They recount to Macbeth three prophecies. That Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glamis and King. These prophecies introduce Macbeth to ideas of greatness. Macbeth will eventually follow through on killing king Duncan, a destruction of the natural order it was sometimes thought that the witches had the ability to reverse the natural order of things.
This brings into the play idea of fate and the role with which it has in the play. One can wonder if Macbeth ever had a chance of doing what was right after he met with the witches. It is however more realistic to believe that Macbeth was responsible for his own actions throughout the play as in the end it was he who made the final decisions. Banquo says, “The instruments of darkness tell us truths, / Win us with honest trifles, to betray ‘s / In deepest consequence.” He thinks and says bad things of the witches. He calls them instruments of darkness and the devil. He might believe that these prophecies will only bring harm even before anything begins to happen. So his best friend warns Macbeth before he makes any decisions that the witches are evil, and what they suggest is evil. The witches could foretell the future, they can add temptation, and influence Macbeth, because they had told Macbeth that he would be King he became impatient and tried to hurry it as quickly as he could. But they can not control his destiny.
Macbeth creates his own misery when he is driven by his own sense of guilt. This causes him to become insecure as to the reasons for his actions which in turn causes him to commit more murders. The witches offer great enticement, but it is in the end, each individual decision to fall for the temptation or to be strong enough to resist their captivation. The three Witches are only responsible for the introduction of these ideas and for further forming ideas in Macbeth head, but they are not responsible for his actions throughout the play. Lady Macbeth is shown early in the play as an ambitious woman with a single purpose. She can manipulate Macbeth easily. This is shown in the line “That I may pour my spirits in thine ear”. She is selfless, and wants what is best for her husband. It is Lady Macbeth who states “Thou wouldst be great/ Art not without ambition.” Macbeth states that it is “his besetting sin: I have no spur/ To prick the sides of my intent, but only/ Vaulting ambition.” Macbeth’s continued ambition is present in his wanting to have a succession of kings after him. Macbeth’s ambition is deep within him and because of this, both the witches and Lady Macbeth are able to sway him to evil.
FIRST WITCH: All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Glamis
SECOND WITCH: All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Cawdor.
THIRD WITCH: All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter.
Macbeth is startled when he hears this prophecy. He believes that his title is still Thane of Glamis; yet here he has just been told that he shall be King. He does not know Macdonwald who has been sentenced to death for betraying his country. The witches’ plant the idea of being King into Macbeth’s mind, which has encourages Macbeth to consider his future.
In his soliloquy, the audience learns about Macbeth’s initial plan to murder Duncan so that he shall have power and position earlier, thus destroying the natural order.
‘My thought, whose murther is yet but fantastical.’
Macbeth sent a letter to Lady Macbeth outlining the witches’ prophecy. He also consults her concerning his plans. This is how Macbeth reduces some of the responsibility of the incident of the murder by accepting her guidance and advice.
Macbeth always had free will from his first encounter with the witches. He independently decides to believe the supernatural powers of the witches will help him; and it is him and Lady Macbeth that make the witches prophecy come true. There is no evidence to suggest that the witches made the future even though Macbeth could have waited for natural order to proceed; but he couldn’t wait.
The witches and evil can play a small part in the final conclusion. Their prophecies encouraged Macbeth’s ambition to be king. The witches told him he had nothing to fear because he could not be killed by a man born from a woman.
‘The power of man: for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.’
There is plenty of evidence in the early scenes of the play that Macbeth is a valiant soldier and a noble Thane. He is well respected by the other Thanes, who speak highly of his performance in battle. He is a soldier of note, a worthy opponent in battle. He kills Macdonwald and helps defeats the Norwegian forces. He is, in fact, crucial to the army, his king and country – “Bellona’s bridegroom”, as Ross describes him. Macbeth is a loyal friend to the king and his fellow Thanes, and a worthy kinsman. His courage is admired, his loyalty beyond question. In all, he appears to be a man very much in control of himself and his emotions. However, it is in this early section of the play that Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches. Immediately a new element is introduced, as Macbeth appears very disturbed by their words. Banquo says: “Good Sir, why do you start, and seem to fear / Things that do sound so fair?”.
The idea of kingship suddenly seems within his grasp, especially once he is declared Thane of Cawdor. From this time onwards we share in the slow decline of a great hero in his own right, until finally we see only the sad and lonely man who anticipates the meaninglessness of his future. Although it is very necessary for Shakespeare to show the heroic Thane in action, it also adds to our sense of loss as we watch Macbeth’s descent into evil, prompted by personal ambition and the prophecy of the forces of darkness. Only at the end of the play, as he puts on his armour to fight, is there a glimmer of the old fearless warrior Macbeth.Or could it be fear that prompts Macbeth to face Macduff? Or is he still so sure of the witches’ prophecies that he is prepared to fight the very man against whom he has been warned? Does Macbeth regain something of our respect or does he die a coward? This is an issue about which you must think very carefully. The text suggests he would rather face death than suffer the humiliation and degradation that would follow his capture.
” I will not yield
To kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet,
And be baited with the rabble’s curse.”
The greater part of the play is devoted to this aspect. We see Macbeth in action, we hear of his actions, others comment on his reign of terror.There can be no doubt that Macbeth is a wicked and corrupt monarch. In part this is necessary, for Shakespeare wants to show what happens when there is a disturbance in the legal succession of the monarchy. So Macbeth is the very opposite of Duncan and, later in the play, Edward the Confessor of England. Both stand out for their kindness and compassion, their care for their subjects and the honest manner in which they deal with life.
In comparison, from the moment he is crowned king at Scone, Macbeth executes a reign of terror that had already started with the killing of Duncan. Together with Lady Macbeth he is ruthless in pursuing his own selfish aims. He organises the death of those whom he sees as rivals and thus a threat to his safety. He is merciless in wiping out the Macduff family, an act of mindless horror. In every sense of the word, Macbeth may be termed a ‘tyrant’. We are reminded that this is the epitaph pronounced by Malcolm at the end of the play.
However, there is another side to Macbeth the king. Although we see him desperately trying to keep up appearances when in public in the banquet scene, we are also aware of the difficulty he has staying in control. We share in his indecision and anguish when he is faced with killing the king his much admired kinsman, monarch and guest. Later, once the deed is completed, Macbeth is obsessed with guilt. He cannot sleep, he has difficulty making decisions and he mistrusts all those around him. His conscience constantly reminds him of the enormity of the deed he has committed. Yet, in spite of all the guilt and remorse, Macbeth is unable to confess and give up his position. Instead he isolates himself from his fellow man, living instead in a twilight world of his own. Fearful, his last days are spent as a worn out and tired man who realises the uselessness of his ambition and bloody deeds. There is a world weariness about his speech after he has received the news of his wife’s death and the inevitability of an attack on his castle.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death …
Life’s but a walking shadow …
… it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
There is an aspect of Macbeth that we tend to forget in all the horror and fear with which we are faced. The above lines show another side of Macbeth: that of a man with a great deal of sensitivity and imagination. Shakespeare gives Macbeth some of the most moving and insightful lines to speak, particularly in the soliloquies creating an almost poetic side to the otherwise repulsive character. This in no way justifies his cruel and savage actions. Instead, it heightens our awareness of the unbearable situation in which the man finds himself. In a sense, we share in his guilt and fear, the great burden of weariness with which the play ends. We are also aware of the great loss that begins when Macbeth succumbs to the witches’ appeal to his darker side and his wife’s insistence that he carry through their decision to murder the king.In the end Macbeth the king is defeated and order is restored. He does not die a hero’s death but is rather slain in an act of revenge against the individual and the usurper king.
At the beginning of the play Macbeth and his wife appear to have a good relationship. They depend on one another, planning and plotting the death of Duncan. However, at this stage it is Lady Macbeth who emerges as the stronger and more determined. She uses all her powers to convince her husband to kill the king. This includes her attempt to shame Macbeth into action and prompt him to assassinate Duncan:
” I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more, is none.”
“What beast was’t then
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be much more the man.”
We also learn much about the character of Macbeth from what his wife has to say in these early scenes. Perhaps she, better than anyone else – being closest to him – is able to understand the conflict he suffers in making decisions that involve death and destruction. Her words in Act 1 are important, showing her understanding of her husband and his shortcomings:
Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness that should attend it.
(Act 1, scene 5, line 17-19)
At first Macbeth resists, but after his wife’s forceful attack on his manhood he gives in. It is noticeable that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are equal partners in the killing of Duncan, but that after Macbeth becomes king he excludes her from his plans. When she asks about his plans for Banquo he replies:
Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed.
Yet Macbeth is always bothered by his conscience. This reaches a climax in the banquet scene when he sees the ghost of Banquo. Again it is Lady Macbeth who steps in to save the situation, keeping up appearances and encouraging the Thanes to leave. However, there are decided signs of strain in the relationship:
Macbeth: Why, so, being gone,
I am a man again. – Pray you sit still.
You have displaced the mirth, broke the
With most admired disorder.
The relationship between husband and wife is clearly becoming strained. Both move into their own worlds. They become distant and removed from one another. When the news finally comes that Lady Macbeth has died, Macbeth replies very strangely: “She should have died hereafter” . This response invites discussion. Is Macbeth genuinely moved to grief at the news, expressing the desire to have had time to mourn? Is he suggesting this is not the right time for such news and that had she lived she would have shared with him the success he anticipates in battle? Or is he just being dismissive, passing over her death as simply another in a series of disasters? Is he suggesting she would have died at some time or other in any case? Perhaps this is his way of dealing with the anguish of the death of his “dearest love” (Act 1, scene 5, line 58). Before you make a decision you will have to read the soliloquy that follows his initial remark about his wife’s death, one of the great speeches in the play: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow …” During the course of the play Shakespeare shows us the breakdown of what might have been a sound and fulfilled marriage – yet another price Macbeth has to pay for his “vaulting ambition”.
There seems to be strong evidence of the latter option, in terms of the themes of the play and Shakespeare’s ‘message’: that there is a price to pay for evil. We do see that once Macbeth is on his way, there is no ‘cure’. He goes on with a determination and resolve that knows no bounds. Although he frequently questions his own behaviour, he does nothing about changing. Instead, he goes back to the witches – and this time there is no doubt he makes the choice to consult them.
Macbeth puts his belief in what he hears from the witches and in this he has the backing of his wife. The witches, who speak in the passive voice, do not give instructions or tell Macbeth what to do. Instead, they tell him what he will be. Although he hesitates initially, he is quick to take action, making plans for the future so that the witches’ words can become reality. The audience is aware that, in the end, the equivocal nature of the witches’ predictions must lead to his downfall. It is suggested that Lady Macbeth takes her own life and is thus beyond the bounds of Christian redemption and salvation.
Shakespeare seems to imply that once we are committed to following a path of evil, it is very difficult to break away – even though there is always the chance of redemption. Macbeth chooses never to consider the alternative. Once he has made the decision to put into action the witches’ predictions he follows the path he has chosen with a bloody determination. In Act 3 he claims, “I am in blood / Stepp’d so far, that, should I wade no more / Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”