In this play,many different aspects of Macbeths character are revealed.He is portrayed as a soldier,a subject,a husband,a potential murderer and someone sought out by the witches.
Macbeth is a basically good man who is troubled by his conscience and loyalty though at the same time ambitious and murderous. He is led to evil initially by the witches’ predictions and then by his wife’s goading, which he succumbs to because he loves her so. His obsession over the kingship shows a certain kind of egotism.Lady Macbeth is a good wife who loves her husband. She is also ambitious but lacks the morals of her husband.
Act 1 Scene 1 opens with the three witches or ‘wierd sisters’ as they are otherwise called,whose predictions are the prompters of Macbeth’s evil deed and all the evils which follow it.
We first hear of Macbeth in this scene from the third witch.
‘There to meet with Macbeth’ (line 8)
This establishes mystery,suspense and that something is meddling with Macbeth.The witches final words of the scene
‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’ (line 10)
sets the theme of the play.The reversal of normal moral values.The difference between appearance and reality.
It is a very short but dramatic opening.The thunder and lightning.The wild open place.The witches.They are really meant to scare us.Of course in todays society, witchcraft is very deminished and has no power over us,but in Shakespeares day,most people believed and were afraid of witches so much so as to have them burned at the stake.
The next scene is set at a camp near Forres.King Duncan and some of his nobles are eagerly awaiting news of the important battle between Macdonwald and Sweyn of Norway on the one side,against his army,under Macbeth and Banquo on the other.
A sergeant,tired and bleeding from his labour in the battle tells them his tales.
‘For brave Macbeth,well he desevrves that name
Disdaining fortune’ (line 16)
He gives an account of Macbeths bravery.
‘Till he unseam`d him from the nave to the chaps'(line 22)
He shows his violent nature,fearless for a good cause,his king and country.
‘Like valours minion carv`d out his passage’ (line 19)
and describes Macbeths courage.
‘doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe’
Showing Macbeth (and Banquo) fighting extra valiently.
Over and Over again in this scene Macbeth is pictured to us of a victorious general,meeting with the greatest bravery the enemies of his country and seeking to gain nothing for himself in the battle with sweno reckless of himself,he has roused his men,tired after their struggle with Macdonwald,and
‘Point against point rebelious,arm against arm’ (line 56)
has won a second victory over the Norweyan king.
King Duncan is impressed.
‘O valient cousin! worthy gentleman!’ (line 24)
Macbeth has savend his throne,Duncan sentences the Thane of Cawdor to treason and rewards Macbeth with the title.
‘What he has lost noble Macbeth has won’ (line 67)
Scene three opens on the heath with the witches who await Macbeth.Thunder again resounds.The witches evil and malice show in the way they slaughter pigs and treat the salior. Because his wife refused the first witch chestnuts,they used their power over the winds to make his life miserable.
‘I will drain him dry as hay
Sleep shall neither night or day’ (line 18-19)
They are vicious and vindictive.
‘Macbeth doth come’ (line 31)
Macbeth then enters the scene,his first words eerily echo the witches
‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’ (line 38)
Macbeth is,of course,wholly unconscious of any relation with these supernatural agents of evil.He means mearly that this day of foulest weather is at the same time the day of his greatest victory.The audience,however,are always omniscient so far as Shakespeare can make them,they,are always in the secret.They know that the charm is wound up,and that the witches are ready for the meeting;and they instantly recall their words ‘Fair is foul’.
There is sharp contrast between Banquo and Macbeth reaction to the witches.
To Banquo their ‘wither`d’ looks and ‘wild’ and ‘beards’ garments make them seem supernatural.He comments
‘That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth’ (line 41)
He questions them but they reply only by placing their ‘choppy finger’ ‘upon her skinny lips’.
Macbeth demands they speak and they give their prediction:
‘Hail to thee,thane of Cawdor!
That shalt be king hereafter!’ (line 49-50)
Banquo notices Macbeth`s supprise at these predictions.
‘Why do you start;and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair?’ (line 51-52)
Macbeth`s reaction perhaps indicated that he has had a secret ambition and yearing to be king but never discussed it because it would be treason.
(The witches have spoken his darkest thoughts)
Banquo questions the witches as to his own future.To Banquo they speak in riddles.They are able to disguise the difference between appearance and reality.
‘Lesser than Macbeth,and greater
Not so happy,yet much happier
Thou shalt get kings,though thou be none’ (line 65-67)
Macbeth is desperate to hear more but they vanish.
‘Stay you imperfect speakes;tell me more’ (line 70)
‘Speak I charge you’ (line 78)
While Macbeth and Banquo muse over this strange event,the jelousy of Macbeth against Banquo seems first to grow.
‘Your children shall be kings’ (line 86)
This shows Macbeth envy.
Macbeth is thinking ahead.His ambition is stirring.Ross enters and announces that Macbeth shall be given his new title ‘Thane of Cawdor’.Banquo immediately realises the witches are evil.
‘What,can the devil speak true?’
Macbeths thoughts are conveyed to the audience.
‘Glamis,and Thand of Cawdor
The greatest is behind’
The ‘best’ of the prophecies is yet to haoppen.He is clearly thinking about becoming king. Macbeth teases Banquo.
‘Do you not hope that your children shall be kings?’ (line 110)
He now believes the prophecy and gives the second reference to this point.Banquo warns Macbeth not to trust the witches.
‘And often times to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths’ (line 123-124)
‘Two truths are told’ (line126)
The process into evil decline starts here.
He battles with his concience,struggles with his desire to do good against his ambition for power.
Are less than horrible imaginings’ (line 137-138)
The thought of murder disturbs and horrifies him.Eventually Macbeth is resigned-he will do nothing.
‘If chance will have me king,why,chance
May crown me
Without my stir’ (line 144-146)
The audience has finally met Macbeth.They realise that he is ambitious.He has considered murdering Duncan but he has chosen good,by leaving it to chance and the future.He will do nothing to aid the prophecy.
In scene four,Duncan awaits the news of the execution of the Thane of Cawdor who died confessing his treason.
Duncan comments on how he was decieved by the Thane of Cawdor:
‘Theres no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
He was a gentleman or whom I built
An absolute trust’ (line 12-15)
The audience will see the irony in these words.The ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ theme is further verified in Duncans statement.Although Macbeth has the sentence of the amicable and dutiful host (“fair”) he has considered plotting Duncans death (“foul”).Macbeth and banquo enter.Duncan greets Macbeth as
‘O worthiest cousin!’
This shows his grattitude for leading his country to victory.The king informs Macbeth that he deserves greater payment than he is able to offer.Macbeths response is revealing when he says it is no more than our duty to do everything we can to ensure the safety of
‘your love and honour’ (line 27)
This speech of loyalty has the ring of insincerity now.He is maybe expecting Duncan to name him as heir.Duncan then makes a very important announcement he nominates his son Malcom as heir to the throne.This again awakiens Macbeths black thoughts.
‘The prince of Cumberland! that is a step
On which I must fall down,or else o’erleaf,
For in my way it lies’.
Macbeth seems now to be harbouring thoughts of ambition which are evil.He’s frightened of his own thoughts.He controls himself again-he doesnt want others or himself to acknowledge these thoughts.There is an ironic end to the scene in which Duncan praises Macbeth.
‘He is full so valient
It is a peerless kinsman’
It is within scene 5 that we are introduced to Lady Macbeth.The scene opens in Macbeths Castle at Inverness with Lady Macbeth reading a letter from her husband.He informs her of the ‘success’ in battle and the wierd sisters prophecies.The letter reveals their relationship-they have no secrets,Macbeth trusts his wife and tells her everything.
‘My dearest partner of Greatness’ (line 9)
He loves her and treats her as his equal.This would have been unusual in Shakespeares day. Women had no power or legal rights and were basically their husbands property.
After reading the letter Lady Macbeth without any hesitation decides that he will be king :
‘Glamis thou art,and Cawdor ; and shalt be
What thou art promised’ (line13-14)
She knows him well,and undersands him.She knows he has great ambitions but
‘Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way:then wouldst be great:
Art not without ambition,but without
The illness should attend it’ (line 14-18)
She believes he lacks evil,cruelty,or ruthlessness to assassignate Duncan.This confims Macbeth character so far.He is not prepared to do anything,especially wrong,to further his ambition.Lady Macbeth knows she will have to persuade him to become king,making him great by her efforts.
‘And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes tree from the golden round’ (line 25-26)
She will talk him into doing whats necessary-by nagging,taunting and telling him off.
She decides that Duncan will die :
‘The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements’ (line 37-39)
Lady Macbeth calls on evil spirits to help her :
That tend on mortal thoughts,unsex me here’ (line 39-40)
She wants to loose all those qualities associated with being a female.She is opening the channel to evuil .She wants to be cruel and to loose her concience.Macbeth enters and she greets him as the prophecy says.
‘Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor!
Greater than both,by the all hail hereafter’ (line 54-55)
‘My dearest love’ (line 57)
Their greeting confirm their love for each other.She respects and adores him. Macbeth informs her that
‘Duncan comes here tonight’ (line 58)
but he will leave the next day.Lady Macbeth immediately takes control and says she will sort everything out.
‘and you shall put
Tis nights great business into my dispatch;
Which shall to all our nights and days to come
Give solely soverign sway and masterdom’
Macbeths only reaction is to say they speak further later.He doesnt want to comment or commit himself at this stage.Lady Macbeth’s love and ambition for her husband is changing her into the dominant partner.He is listening to her reasoning and persuasion which in turn could be making him weak willed and being dominated by his wife.The audience may see it as a reversal of roles.
Scene seven opens with Macbeth soliloquy.He is thinking alound and struggling with his concience.It is not the deed,but the consequences that deters him.Firstly vengeance;the killer will be killed.
‘this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips’
Secondly,you do not kill your relatives or your king
‘He’s here in double trust;
First,as I am his kinsman and his subject’ (line 12-13)
A host doesnt kill his guest either.
‘Then as host’ (line 14)
He realises that ambition is his only motivation to kill:
‘I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent,but only
Vaulting ambition,which o’erleeps itself
And falls on the other’ (line 25-28)
His ambition is like a horse that tries to jump too high and falls on the other side of the fence.
Macbeth informs his wife
‘We will proceed no further in this business’
This represents a triumph of concience.He has talked himself out of killing Duncan.He has recognised what a great sin it would be.He can appriciate Duncans good qualities and recognise his on duty and the moral way.
He is not prepared for her rage and abuse.She will hear of no withdrawal.She taunts him.Was it but a drunken bravery? Are you green with fear?
‘Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress’d yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now,to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely?’ (line 35-38)
She insults him and calls him a coward.
‘Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire?’
She mocks,teases and puts him down
‘And live a coward in thine own esteem’ (line 43)
Macbeths pride is hurt;he tries to defend himself,
‘I dare do all that may become a man
Who dares do more is none’
Lady Macbeth then builds him up to be a great king.It is the most loving,supporting thing she does for him.Lady Macbeth hints that if this is an example of manly courage,he cannot have been himself when he first mentioned to her the projected murder of Duncan.
‘What beast was’t,then,
That made tou break this supprise to me?
When you durst do it,then you were a man’
She knows his weakness,uses her strong will to persuade him to carry out the murder.She fiercely attacks him and uses perocious power in her language.She declares she would have murdered her child whilst it was feeding at her breast rather than break such a promise that Macbeth has done.
‘I have given such,and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would,while it was smiling in my face ,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dashed the brains out,had I sworn as you
Have done to this’
Macbeth finally weakens and gives in to this strong powerful language.
‘If we should fail?’
He submits to his wife.
Lady Macbeth confirms that they are in it together.She has rekindelled his ambition and wants to be part of his success.Lady Macbeth explains her plan for the murder.
When Duncan is asleep and his two chamberlains asleep,the deed will be done and the blame will fall on his ‘spongy officers’ who will be framed with their own daggers.Macbeth accepts his wifes guidance and advice.She is in command.He is worried about being caught;
‘False face must hide what the false heart doth know’
He has been goaded and convinced by Lady Macbeth.
In conclusion,Macbeth is a tragic hero.A tragic hero is a character that the audience sympathises with despite his actions that would indicate the contrary.Macbeth,in spite of his horrible murders,is a pitiable man.His saving grace is that he did not initially want to kill Duncan but later changed his mind after listening to his wife.