In Macbeth, look at the following scenes: Act one, scenes one, two and three, Act two, scene two, Act four, scene one and Act five, scenes three, six and seven.
What did Macbeth’s character, words and actions show about changes in his character? Why are these scenes important to the plot and structure of the play and how the themes are presented?
The play Macbeth is about a man whose rise to power and fall are influenced by his own ambitions, with help from the supernatural.
In the beginning of the play, Macbeth started off as a brave man, because he fought well in battles, even the King praised him for his courage. This is shown when the sergeant was explaining what was going on the battle. He explained that Macbeth had fought well
“For brave Macbeth, well he deserves that name”
They know that he is brave and loyal. However, in the scene before, three withes were planning to use him to do evil. They must have known that there was something else to Macbeth than bravery and loyalty; there was a strong ambitious side that they could prey off.
Those two sides of Macbeth were shown together, the witches’ scene (scene one) was hinting Macbeth’s dark ambitious side and his vulnerability. Straight after that scene was the scene with King Duncan saying how brave he was. The audience would get mixed messages there and wouldn’t know what to think about Macbeth.
The audience learn more about Macbeth in scene three because he actually appears in the scene.
It started with the witches telling each other about how they are going to kill someone’s husband because she didn’t give her any food. This shows that the witches are evil beings and shouldn’t be trusted, yet Macbeth trusts them. This shows that Macbeth actually has got a dark side.
The witches posses great power. This was shown when one of the witches say that she is going to go to sea in a sieve to follow a man in a boat. It isn’t humanly possible to go to sea in a sieve, but Shakespeare uses this imagery to show the audience how powerful the witches are. The other witches say they would give her a wind, this proves that they can control the weather. In the Elizabethan times, this would be shocking because they were firm believers in witchcraft, and all the things that went wrong in the world was blamed on witches.
When the witches hear Macbeth coming, it seems like they cast a spell on him
“…Thrice to thine and thrice to mine
and thrice again to make up nine.
Peace! The charms wound up!”
Just after the “spell”, Macbeth says “so foul and fair a day I have not seen”. The weather was reflecting what was going on in the play. From the moment Macbeth meets the witches on the heath, Scotland is doomed. I think this because when the witches told Macbeth the prophecies, his ambitious side kicked in and then one event led to another and he became king, a bad king. The weather might have been there to show that was a significantly important part of the play.
I think that the prophecies were the things that changed Macbeth. If the witches didn’t tell him that he could become king, he wouldn’t have killed Duncan. He might have stayed the way he was before the witches had told him.
The witches had successfully changed Macbeth by giving him small hints about what was going to happen. At one point, Macbeth asks Banquo if he hopes his children will be kings, yet he doesn’t say anything about himself becoming king. It seems to me like he is planning something. I think this because just before he talked to Banquo, he said ‘the greatest is behind’ and ‘my thought, whose murder is yet fantastical’. He is thinking about murdering the king at that point, or thinking about what would happen if he did kill him. In that one scene, Macbeth has gone from being loyal, to being deceitful, just because of what the witches had told him.
It didn’t seem to have affected Banquo in the same way. He knew that the witches were evil and that they can’t be trusted. He tried to warn Macbeth by saying:
“And oftentimes, to win us to our harms, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence”
That roughly means ‘sometimes, to tempt us to evil, the devil wins our confidence with small bits of truth, then betrays us with the big things that really matter.’ That’s what the witches had done to Macbeth. They had told Macbeth that he was going to be king, but they didn’t tell him how or why, so he believes that he has to kill the king so that he can become the king himself. Later in the play, Macbeth goes back to the witches and asks for help from them, they again only tell him half-truths and ‘betrays him with the big things that really matter’. The information that the witches give him leads towards his death in the end.
In Act two, scene one, Banquo shows signs that the witches have affected him, he said
‘Merciful powers, restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose!’
Banquo is having nightmares about the witches, yet Macbeth said he doesn’t think about them, even though he is thinking about them all the time.
In scene two, after the murder of Duncan, Macbeth changed from being brave into being a coward. He starts rambling on about how he isn’t going to be able to sleep anymore, he said ‘Macbeth does murder sleep’ and ‘Macbeth shall sleep no more.’ Macbeth was a soldier, so he wouldn’t usually lose sleep over killing someone, so his character changed there as well. When he washed his hands, he made a big deal of it; he shouldn’t be bothered by blood, because in battle he would be seeing blood all the time. At that point, he might have realised how serious his actions are and started to feel guilty or start to worry about the way this was going to affect the country.
It seems like Lady Macbeth is braver than Macbeth at that point because she mocks him for being afraid. She says things like ‘My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white.’ She wasn’t bothered about the blood, unlike Macbeth. This might have been done to make Macbeth seem more innocent, because he appears to be weaker than a woman.
Macbeth seems on edge in that scene, he kept rambling on about things and Lady Macbeth tried to calm him down.
‘Macbeth: I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’ stuck in my throat.
Lady Macbeth: These deeds must not be thought after these ways; so, it will make us mad’
That may also show that Lady Macbeth is stronger than Macbeth.
That scene is important to the development of the play because that’s where you actually see the changes developing in Macbeth. You can see how scared and vulnerable he is, so you can see why the witches chose to use him. It also seems like he is going mad, as he keeps hearing noises.
In scene three, Lennox says it was an unruly’, the weather was reflecting what had happened in the scene, this is called pathetic fallacy. It might have also showed Macbeth’s unruly nature at that point. Lennox also said that ‘the earth was feverous and did shake’. Macbeth had shook up the natural order of events. He had killed the king, in the Elizabethan times, the king was thought to be only one step below God, and so killing the king was like going against God. To make it worse, Macbeth had been influenced by witches, so it was partly the witches fault that the king was dead. The Elizabethan audience may have found that shocking, because witches would have been burned in those days.
In scene three, Macbeth was trying to act surprised when he ‘found out’ about Duncan’s death. He was saying things like ‘I’d rather be dead than live without serving the king’. He said:
‘Had I but died an hour before this chance, I had lived a blessed time’
If he had died an hour before the events had happened, the king wouldn’t be dead, so Macbeth would not have become king. That was another point when Macbeth changed. He stopped being loyal and started only thinking about himself for himself for his personal gain.
Macbeth might not have killed the king if it wasn’t for his wife, Lady Macbeth. She manipulated Macbeth by calling him a coward and teasing him.
“Act 1 scene 7: Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem, letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, like the poor cat i’th’adage?”
That means something like ‘can you want the crown, the thing you want more than anything else, yet be a self-confessed coward saying I’d like to, but I daren’t, like the cat in the proverb that wanted fish but wouldn’t get its feet wet?’ Before she said this, Macbeth had told her that he doesn’t want to kill the king because he had been honoured and got respect from other people. He wanted to enjoy the praise instead of casting it aside, but Lady Macbeth soon persuaded him to forget about that and aim for the big things like being king.
In act two scene three, Macbeth killed the guards so that it looked like they had killed Duncan. When Macduff asked why Macbeth said something like ‘I couldn’t control myself, I saw Duncan lying dead covered in blood, I knew the guards had done it because they were covered in blood and holding the daggers that killed him. Who could hold back, that had a loving heart and the courage to show it?’ Macbeth was being two faced and a liar then because he was pretending to still be loyal to the king when he was the one who killed him. Also, Lady Macbeth pretended to faint, that is very unlikely considering she smeared blood on the guards and thought nothing of washing it off, unlike her husband, who said that there isn’t enough water to wash the blood from his hands.
‘Act 2 scene2: Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.’
That could mean even though the blood will be washed away with a bit of water, nothing will be able to rid him of his guilt. Macbeth might have killed the king, but I don’t think that makes him a bad person, because he did feel guilty about killing the king. That shows he must have a conscience.
Macbeth did have an evil side though. He must have thought the witch’s prophecies were a good omen, because he got away with killing Duncan very easily. To make things go even easier for him, the king’s two sons, Donalbain and Malcolm, leave the country so they don’t get murdered themselves. If they didn’t, Macbeth would have to kill them too because they were the next in line to the throne.
In act three Macbeth had got Banquo murdered because he was afraid of what would happen in the future. The witches had prophesised that Banquo’s children would be kings; Macbeth saw this as a threat, because it means that his own children won’t be kings, so he felt he had to eradicate that problem by killing Banquo and his son Fleance. Banquo supposed to be Macbeth’s friend, but Macbeth still wants to get him killed. He must Have been really scared of Banquo, or afraid that Banquo or Fleance would do what he had done to Duncan.
Once Banquo was murdered, Macbeth might have thought that everything was going to be fine, and he had nothing to worry about. When he was talking to the murderer who killed Banquo, Macbeth said he had blood on his face, the murderer said ‘Tis Banquo’s then’. Then Macbeth replies with ‘Tis better thee without than he within’. He’s saying that Banquo’s blood is better on the murderer than inside him. What Macbeth did then was different to the way he reacted when he saw Duncan’s blood, this might be because he’s getting stronger and braver because he thinks he has got over the worst bit, killing the king.
When the murderer told him that Fleance hadn’t been killed, his mood changed, he seemed to become angry and frightened. If they (Banquo and Fleance) had both been killed, Macbeth would have had nothing to worry about. Macbeth said this about Fleance.
‘There the grown serpent lies; the worm that’s fled
Hath nature that in time will venom breed,
No teeth for th’ present.’
He’s saying: ‘The adult’s (Banquo) is dead, but the younger one has escaped. He will be a threat in the future, but he is harmless for now.’
Macbeth seemed to make the decision to kill Banquo by himself; he didn’t need Lady Macbeth to nag him. You see Macbeth becoming a bit stronger there.
In scene four, Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost in a chair, but it wasn’t a ghost, it was just his imagination, like with the dagger in act two, scene one. The deaths are affecting him more, when Duncan was murdered, he didn’t see any ‘ghosts’. He thinks that even though he killed Banquo, he will still be around to haunt him.
‘the time has been, that when the brains were out the man would die, and there was an end; but now they rise again’
In act four scene one, Macbeth goes to see the witches to get more advice. It’s like the reverse of act one scene three, because in that scene evil was seeking Macbeth, now Macbeth is seeking evil. The witches had to give him tiny bits of information so that he would come back for more. Even when he was with the witches in act four, they still only tell him half-truths. They tell him ‘beware the thane of Fife’ (which is Macduff) ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’ and ‘Macbeth shall vanquished be until Great Birnam to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him’. When Macbeth was told that, he felt invincible. He thought that the forests at Birnam would never move, and all men were born from a woman, what he didn’t realise was that they was only half-truths.
The witches play an evil role in the play. Shakespeare showed this by making the witches use foul ingredients in their cauldron, like ‘finger of birth strangled babe’ and ‘eye of newt, toe of frog’. By doing this, Shakespeare can make the audience aware of the evil nature of the witches, so they could make their own assumptions about Macbeth. They could either think that Macbeth was led astray by evil forces, or seeked evil himself because he was an evil character.
The witches’ prophecies didn’t help Macbeth; it made things worse for him. What they told him wasn’t very clear. They told him that Macduff was a threat, and that made him go and kill Macduff’s Family. Ahh! This is the clever bit. Macduff wouldn’t have been a threat to Macbeth if he didn’t kill his wife and children. By doing that, Macbeth had given Macduff a reason to hate him.
The witches had made Macbeth do what they wanted him to do, just by telling half-truths. Shakespeare might have been trying to show that we can be controlled by evil if it promises good things, in Macbeth’s case, the witches had helped him become king. To get these rewards that evil promises, you have to have ambition. Banquo didn’t follow what the witches had told him because he didn’t have the ambition like Macbeth, and he knew that the witches were evil and not to be trusted.
The witches told Macbeth the prophecies to make him feel safe. In act three scene five, the witches said:
‘And that distilled by magic sleights
Shall raise such artificial sprites
As by the strength of their illusion
Shall draw him on to his confusion
He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear
His hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace, and fear
And you all know security
Is mortals’ chiefest enemy.’
If Macbeth thought nothing could harm him, he would feel safe and secure. He would be more vulnerable if he felt secure. It’s like when we sleep, we feel at our safest when we are in bed, but we are more open to attack because we are not expecting it. Macbeth killed Duncan when he was in bed asleep, he would only kill him when he was at his most vulnerable. That’s what the witches are doing to Macbeth.
In act five scene one, the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had reversed. Lady Macbeth had become weak and had become mad. She had become more like what Macbeth was like in the beginning of the play. At one point, she said something similar to what Macbeth had said:
‘Here’s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.’
It’s similar to what Macbeth had said about ‘Great Neptune’s oceans wash this blood clean from my hand?’ This shows that Lady Macbeth is in fact weaker than Macbeth, or Macbeth had become stronger than Lady Macbeth.
In scene three, Macbeth seems to be getting overconfident because of what the witches told him previously. He was mocking his servant for being afraid. He was calling him a ‘lily-livered boy’ and ‘whey-face’. He might have felt like that if he hadn’t seen the witches earlier. He wasn’t afraid because the witches had made him feel more secure because of the prophecies.
At that point, I think Macbeth knew that he was going to be killed, but he wanted to die because he knew that nobody really like or respected him. This was shown when he said ‘As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have; but, in their stead, curses, not loud but deep’. This could mean that he knew that people were plotting behind his back, hence ‘curses, not loud but deep.’
In scene seven, the audience would see Macbeth being brave again, like he was in act one scene two. In act one, he was fighting because he was being loyal to King Duncan, in act five, and he was fighting because he would prefer to die. This shows that he was originally a brave man when he was loyal to the king because he was willing to die for him. When Macbeth became king, he was always worried about people plotting behind his back so he became less brave.
In the end of the play, Macduff kills Macbeth, in most stories, the ‘baddy’ always gets their comeuppance, and Macbeth gets his. Shakespeare might have been showing the audience that if they meddle with witches they will get killed, because in Elizabethan times witches were blamed for all the bad things in the world, like famine and illness.
There was also a moral to the story. I think it was ‘Don’t have ideas above your status’ or something like that, or ‘don’t trust the devil because bad things will happen’.
The play ‘Macbeth’ is believed to be cursed. They might think this because if the theme of the play happened in real life, it would be very bad and shocking. They might want to stop the play from being performed so they don’t give any psychotic nutters any ideas to kill the king (I know that has nothing to do with the essay question, but I thought I would add it anyway…sorry)
Shakespeare was a brilliant play writer and I thoroughly enjoyed Macbeth.