Consider two of Macbeth’s soliloquies and deal with how they influence the audience’s interpretation of character and action
“Macbeth” is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, containing a tragic hero. A tragic hero is someone with a fatal flaw to their personality, which will eventually cause that character’s downfall. Macbeth was written for King James I, and was first performed in 1606. I will be studying two soliloquies made by Macbeth, firstly Act I Scene VII line 1-28, secondly Act V Act V line 17-28. A soliloquy is a speech made by one of the main characters as if he were alone, and so it may reveal innermost thoughts and feelings.
Before the soliloquy in Act I Scene VII, the three witches prophesise that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland. Macbeth is given the title of Thane of Cawdor and writes to his wife telling her about the prophecies. Lady Macbeth feels that for Macbeth to become King he needs to aid the process in someway. When she finds out that King Duncan is to stay in their castle she thinks that Macbeth should kill him. And so, Macbeth is faced with the dilemma of whether to kill Duncan or not. By now the audience has already got a good idea of Macbeth’s character; he has been described as ‘brave’, ‘Like Valour’s minion’, ‘valiant’ and a ‘worthy gentleman’. He is shown to be a noble and honourable soldier, which results in the audience expecting Macbeth to be heroic. It is as if Macbeth must at first be raised up so high so that his eventual downfall seems greater.
As soon as the witches appear in the play Macbeth becomes anxious. This point is like the turning point in the play, when Macbeth realises his deepest ambitions. The witches address Macbeth’s ambitious nature. Immediately after Macbeths meeting with the witches, he can not stop thinking about his possible kingship, he is very curious and questions the witches: ‘tell me more’. The witches are like a trigger in his mind that once triggered will not let his mind rest. This soliloquy is full of uncertainty and dilemma which Macbeth is going through. In the first seven lines there is already ten words such as ‘if’, ‘might’, ‘could’ and ‘but’, which all suggest doubt.
Macbeth also uses many very strong words in this soliloquy such as ‘assassination’, ‘bloody’ and ‘poison’, which conjures up horrible images and suggests that Macbeth knows how evil the act is that he is contemplating doing. Also the sibilance of ‘assassination’ sounds evil and almost luring. The audience is shown that Macbeth has a very strong grasp of justice and an equally strong conscience. He describes ‘even-handed Justice’ and believes that if he uses bloodshed others are likely to use violence towards him. He also talks about ‘judgement’ and is aware of the afterlife.
In the middle of the soliloquy Macbeth is quite rational and sensible and lists the reasons why he shouldn’t kill Duncan: for example ‘First, as I am his kinsman and his subject’. Nearer the end of the soliloquy Macbeth’s imagination runs away with him. He imagines Duncan being a very good man that his virtues ‘plead like angels’ and he uses lots of other religious imagery such as ‘cherubins’ and ‘damnation’. Macbeth refers to heaven and hell showing his moral awareness and Christian idea that if you willingly and knowingly commit a terrible deed you will go to hell. He seems to be getting more and more frightened, about what will happen if Duncan dies, as the pace of the soliloquy speeds up towards the end. I feel his feverish tone disappear when he says ‘ I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition’ and is replaced by his solemn realisation of his true nature.
At the time when this play was written God and the afterlife were strongly believed in, so I think the references to these would have had a more profound effect on the people who watched it. Kingship was also a big issue to the Jacobians and they believed in ‘the divine right of kings’; this is the belief that God chooses who to put on the throne. Therefore the thought of Macbeth killing the king to become king himself would be outrageous because this would mean that he would become king without God’s approval.
Killing King Duncan would be like committing a sin not only against Duncan but also against God and the country. I think a modern audience is more interested in the mind and how it works, Macbeth’s change in personality, and the dilemmas he goes through . The modern productions of Macbeth may be different to the productions in Shakespeare’s time in this way; the actors may emphasize different lines and words within the play to suit the interests of the time.
It is interesting which words Shakespeare has chosen to give a capital letter; these words include ‘Pity’ which is used as an abstract noun as Macbeth personifies Duncan’s character. Pity is personified as a ‘naked new-born babe’, this shows Macbeth’s compassion for the vulnerable and weak. These compassionate words contrast with the strong, murderous words used earlier in the soliloquy. Although they are also connected to the rest of the play because the ‘new-born babe’ also refers to the murder of Macduff’s children, so in this way these words are prophesising terrible deeds to come. He understands that murder is unnatural to innocent humanity. Macbeth understands goodness and becomes so emotional about it that it seems as if he yearns to be as good as Duncan. Shakespeare uses alliteration; ‘trumpet tongu’d’ resulting in a solid, loud, harsh sounding word.
After all the reasons Macbeth has given not to kill Duncan it seems as though he is not going to go through with it, but when he describes his ‘Vaulting ambition’ it presents the audience with reason to doubt this, resulting in a very dramatic tension.
This tension is created to grip the audience and it is vital for Shakespeare to be able to do this. The play needs to be a gripping and entertaining as possible because when the play was shown, if the audience got bored or did not enjoy the play they would be prepared to tell the actors exactly what they thought. Also Shakespeare had competition because in London at that time there was plenty of other entertainment for the people to enjoy such as bear-baiting and cock-fightingThe second soliloquy to be studied, Act V SceneV, is immediately after Macbeth has been told of his wife’s death. By now Macbeth has ordered his best friend, Banquo, as well as Macduff’s family and children to be killed. Macbeth has also killed King Duncan; he has turned into a murdering tyrant.
This soliloquy is carefully placed immediately in a very dramatic context. This makes the audience aware of the change in Macbeth immediately which emphasizes the contrast. Macbeth opens this soliloquy by saying that Lady Macbeth should have died at a time when Macbeth would have felt sad and cared about it. This starts the soliloquy off in an unhappy and pessimistic way. Following this, there is some effective repetition used; ‘tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’, this sounds extremely plodding and boring, as if Macbeth has lost interest in life.
In the next line alliteration is used; ‘petty pace’ these two words are made to sound uninteresting and he seems to be mocking life and all that he is. The vocabulary in this soliloquy reflects Macbeth’s unenthusiastic mood. He describes people as ‘fools’ and ‘idiots’ to even think that they matter. He also describes a person as ‘a poor player’, I think this means one who is pitied because his life/time on the stage is so brief. This could also be referring to the many people he has had killed, and so made their lives so much shorter.
The first soliloquy studied was full of his values of justice and compassion and how important they are to him, but this soliloquy abandons all compassionate imagery and hope. Macbeth no longer cares about life and has nothing to look forward to or to be proud of. He even says that he wants to die; ‘Out, out brief candle’. Here he uses the metaphor of light as if it were life. This soliloquy shows the audience that he feels he has ruined his life and is feeling very depressed about it.
In this soliloquy there are lots of time phrases describing past and present but there is no future: ‘struts and frets’, ‘the time has been’, ‘I have supp’d’. Everything is generalized which increases Macbeth’s mood of indifference. He talks about himself in the past but not in the present or future, I think this shows that Macbeth has almost taken on board what he has done and has nothing to look forward to in the future. He only talks about mankind as a whole in the present.
Macbeth describes people as players and mocks humankind and how we think we are powerful and meaningful but really we are not and once we die we are completely forgotten. Macbeth also uses a metaphor; ‘Life’s but a walking shadow’; meaning that life is only a shadow which is meaningless and not real or material.
The rhythm of this soliloquy is very slow and plodding compared to the fast pace of the other soliloquy. The other soliloquy contains much more reasoning of good and bad but this soliloquy shows that Macbeth doesn’t care what happens anymore. Although this soliloquy does show evidence that Macbeth still has moral awareness. This soliloquy is much more abstract and subdued than the other soliloquy. He was fretting over what to do before but now he feels that whatever he has done and will do, none of it will mean anything. He has a manner of resignation, as if he is backing down. This is a big contrast to my first soliloquy.
If I was directing a play of “Macbeth”, I think I would have Macbeth looking tired, uninterested, and drained sitting slumped on a chair speaking slowly. I think I would have him sigh, and rub his head as if he had a headache. I would also have him say ‘signifying nothing’ with his head leaning on the back of his chair looking up into the heavens. I think this body language would help to exaggerate his feelings and contrasts with the youthful and excited feelings shown at the beginning of the play, for example the letter he writes to Lady Macbeth about the prophesies: ‘I burn’d in desire to question them further’, ‘rejoicing, ‘what greatness is promis’d thee’.
This soliloquy shows Macbeth’s change in attitude towards Lady Macbeth. He refers to her as ‘she’ and continues to explain that life doesn’t mean anything anyway. This contrasts with how he used to refer to her as; ‘my dearest partner of greatness’ and ‘my dearest chuck’. These two compassionate quotes were used in the letter he wrote to her informing her of the witches’ prophecies near the beginning of the play. As the time passed from this point in the play the two grew further and further apart, which gives the audience a sense of loss and increases the tragedy of the play. Their feelings for each other were very strong but in this soliloquy Macbeth’s lack of interest towards her is shown.
There is also contrast with Act I Scene VII lines 30-34 in which Macbeth explains to Lady Macbeth that he has earned the respect of many people which he doesn’t want to ruin. But in this soliloquy he talks about how humans fret about their lives so dramatically yet none of their lives matter to anyone.
In “Macbeth”, the soliloquies are an insight into Macbeth’s mind and his inner thoughts. They turn the story into a tragedy because through the soliloquies you are shown that Macbeth is not a natural tyrant but a sensitive and potentially moral man. By comparing soliloquies throughout the play we are able to see how Macbeth’s character and outlook on life changes so dramatically. The play begins with you expecting Macbeth to be a hero but he ends up killing whoever he feels is a threat to him. He begins as a hero and dies a murderer.