The Shakespearean Tragedy Macbeth
When Mary Tudor died in 1558, her sister Elizabeth became the Queen of England. During her reign Mary sought to make a primarily Catholic England, persecuting and executing Protestants. Elizabeth made it her goal to reverse this National transformation. During this time England was under constant threat of invasion by France or Spain who both aimed to restore Bloody Mary’s vision of England. There was also much friction between England, Scotland and Ireland. Elizabeth never even married creating a risk of a civil war as there was no bloodline heir to the throne.
Despite all of this England thrived, changing from a medieval society to a modern one. Discoveries in both science and exploration made it an exciting time when England was beginning to flourish.
By the 16th Century there were very few large towns outside of London which itself was characterised by narrow streets and abysmal sanitation habits. The River Thames was practically an open sewer resulting in frequent serious outbreaks throughout Britain.
The Elizabethan Theatre:
In spite of the grim conditions of the Capital, culture thrived in England as the popularity of plays led to the construction of theatres around the nation. The original of these was constructed near Bishopgate, deconstructed, and rebuilt next to the Thames being renamed as ‘The Globe’. These theatres, although split into sections for the different classes, were open to all. They were especially popular amongst the lower classes. Queen Elizabeth saw plays as a perfect means of propaganda as they connected to and were enjoyed by most of the English public. King James of Scotland carried on this support for the theatre.
Mary Queen of Scots:
While Elizabeth was still the Queen of England, Mary the Queen of Scots claimed her right to the English throne because her Grandmother was the sister of Henry VIII. Returning from France to Scotland it came as a surprise to her that she wasn’t more welcomed by the noblemen of Scotland, although this probably had something to do with her Catholic beliefs. After a confrontation with the Protestant leaders in Scotland she was imprisoned in her own country.
When she fled to England she was imprisoned and soon caught sending letters involving her plot to overtake the English throne. Queen Elizabeth was left with no choice but to sign her death warrant.
Mary’s own son who became King James VI of Scotland in her absence was invited to become the King of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth. He was very keen on the development of the arts in England. He adopted Shakespeare’s theatre group, which was at the time known as The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and renamed them as The King’s Men. Previously The Lord Chamberlain’s men performed for Queen Elizabeth around three times per year, The King’s men performed for King James about twenty times per year. This shows the explosion in popularity of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare wisely chose to avoid the topic of Religion, explicitly at least. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth Shakespeare’s plays were mostly comedies or historical stories, but when King James came to rule, as society was becoming somewhat more introspective, the plays in turn became deeper.
Superstition and Witchcraft:
King James was strangely afraid of Witches and never took a bath, he was even said to have preferred the company of young men to women. Obviously the Gunpowder plot of 1605 did nothing but encourage his paranoia. Although well educated and incredibly intelligent, King James was constantly in fear of his life. He oversawWitch trials such as those in North Berwick were innocent women were rounded up and executed because of suspicion, King James even went as far as to write a book titled Daemonologie. Shakespeare followed suit in his plays in the way in which they began to include alot more of the dark and mysterious, the weird sisters of Macbeth being a prime example.
With King James’ support of the theatre special effects began to be produced and used for shows in the evening, adding to the supernatural atmosphere.
Historical background of Macbeth:
Macbeth, perhaps Shakespeare’s most gruesome play, was first performed in front of King James himself, it was a perfect example of the change in time and attitude.
According to historical records not only did Macbeth face King Duncan on the battlefield and win the crown of Scotland from him fair and square. But apparently Banquo, Macbeth’s friend fought alongside him. There is still much discussion as to whether Banquo ever truly existed or whether he was simply created in historical records to please King James. This is because many claimed and suggested that Banquo was King James’ ancestor, putting Shakespeare in a difficult situation. He did not want to risk upsetting King James and place Banquo as a co-conspirator, so he changed ‘history’.
Shakespeare even wrote in the joining of the English and Scottish forces, echoing the joining of the two nations under the reign of King James himself. Shakespeare’s source for the historical events mentioned ‘three women in strange and wild apparel’ predicting Macbeth’s kingship, this gave Shakespeare a perfect opportunity to include witches. The reality is that Shakespeare’s source Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles were mere storytelling and that Macbeth was a good king. Macbeth not only ruled for seventeen years, but was also buried on the Holy Island of Iona alongside other Scottish Kings. It’s important to remember that the real Macbeth did not murder Duncan in cold blood, it was on the battlefield and historically this was quite normal.
Brief Plot summary:
In the beginning of the play we are introduced to three witches known as the Weird Sisters who intend to meet Macbeth. We then soon learn of Macbeth’s bravery on the battlefield and his role in defeating he enemies of Scotland. We are also told of two traitors to King Duncan of Scotland, Macdonwald and the Thane of Cawdor. Duncan sends Ross to inform Macbeth that has has been awarded the Thane of Cawdor’s title. Moments before he is able to do so the Weird Sisters confront Macbeth and Banquo, predicting their futures as a king and a father of kings. Macbeth comes to realise that the only way this would be possible is if he were to murder his King.
Although full of doubt Macbeth is finally persuaded to commit the deed by his wife. She gets him to murder Duncan and place the blame on the grooms. Now with a grip on the throne, Macbeth wants to make sure he is secure on the throne. Knowing that Banquo was predicted to be the father of kings he hires thugs to kill Banquo and his son Fleance, Banquo is run down but Fleance escapes.
Macbeth begins to see anyone who doesn’t fully support him as an enemy and has them killed. Being suspicious of Macduff who refused to attend his coronation, he has his family murdered. Meanwhile Lady Macbeth who was the stronger character in the start has become haunted in her role of Duncan’s murder. Macbeth turns to the advice as he no longer has anyone close to turn to. Their predictions are incredibly misleading and seemingly unrealistic fooling Macbeth into thinking himself safe. Lady Macbeth commits suicide soon afterwards.
Meanwhile in England plans are being made to restore Duncan’s son Malcolm to the throne. The English and Scottish forces join together to defeat Macbeth’s force. Macduff kills Macbeth and order is restored to Scotland.
Detailed Plot Summary:
As a storm occurs three witches named the Weird Sisters plan on meeting with Macbeth. Meanwhile at Macbeth’s camp King Duncan of Scotland hears of his bravery and skill on the battlefield. He is also informed of the treachery of on of his Thanes, to reward Macbeth, this title is bestowed upon him. Returning from the battlefield Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches. ‘wither’d and so wild in their attire’. The witches foretell that Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor and ‘King hereafter’, Banquo on the other hand they foretell will be the father of Kings. The witches vanish and Ross arrives that very moment to inform Macbeth of his good news. Macbeth, seeing part of the witches prediction come true begins to wonder if there is a chance that he ever really may get a grip on the Scottish Throne, soon however he hears that Duncan has announced his son Malcolm will take the throne.
Macbeth begins to think about murder but the concept repels him (despite his experience on the battlefield) it ‘Shakes…(his)…single state of man.’ Lady Macbeth, who learns of the prophecies sees Macbeth as ‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness’ to commit the act. She then strives to persuade him to do so.
After Duncan and his group arrive at Macbeth’s grounds, Macbeth makes his thoughts and doubts clear on the matter of the murder, it is only by ridiculing Macbeth’s masculinity that Lady Macbeth finally manages to persuade him to kill Duncan.
- Witches hold a strong link to the supernatural, an incredibly prominent Gothic theme present in Macbeth.
- The very idea of Macbeth murdering his king, particularly after receiving such kindness from the man seems preposterous for so many reasons. If not for the persuasion of Lady Macbeth the event would never have taken place.
- In Act 1 Macbeth is not yet evil, quite the opposite. He is not simply a callous warrior who thrives in violence either, Lady Macbeth even says in her soliloquy how nice he is:‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness’
- There’s reference to a raven in the beginning of the soliloquy is one of ill omen in Celtic Mythology. The Vikings took ravens along on raiding parties when they would rape and pillage.
- Lady Macbeth doesn’t necessarily follow the Gothic conventions of female characters, although like Catherine, she is very manipulative in her ways much like a femme-fatale.
- As we are introduced to the play by the witches they basically inform the audience that nothing is really what it seems:
‘Fair is foul and foul Is fair‘ – This theme of deception is onlyreinforced by the treachery suffered by King Duncan at the beginning of the play.
While preparing himself to murder Duncan Macbeth has further doubts and is hit by hallucinations. The midnight bell wakes him and drives him to action.
As Lady Macbeth informs the audience that she has drugged the grooms to make it easier for Macbeth, he returns stating that he has ‘done the deed’. Lady Macbeth sees that he has brought the murder weapon back with him and so urges him to return, Macbeth, already filled with regret and horror at his own actions refuses. She leaves to go do it herself, accusing him of cowardice. (‘My hands are of your colour but I shame to wear a heart so white’) She places the dagger in Duncan’s room and smears blood on the faces of the grooms.
There is a sudden knocking downstairs which begins to drive Macbeth insane, he becomes appalled with the blood covering his hands. Lady Macbeth dismisses his fears, reminding him how easily water will wash away the blood (‘a little water clears us of this deed’). A drunken porter admits Macduff into the castle. Macduff is in charge of King Duncan’s safety finds his body and declares ‘murder and treason’. Lady Macbeth pretends to be surprised while Macbeth informs the group how he killed the grooms in fit of rage.
Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain who fear for their lives flee to England and Ireland. They not only fear for their own lives, but also getting the blame placed upon them for the murder of Duncan, Macduff however, is already suspicious of Macbeth and states his refusal to attend his coronation.
- Macbeth’s actions finally put into motion by the midnight bell, reminiscent of a werewolf at full moon. – supernatural theme.
- Lady Macbeth shows her evil side this early into the play as she’s incredibly harsh on Macbeth. Accusing him of cowardice she goes ahead and places the dagger and smears blood on the faces of the grooms herself, showing her dominance.
- Lady Macbeth is the most practical party in the murder of Duncan, and (REMEMBER THIS FOR LATER) dismissive of how her hands are covered in blood:
‘A little water will clear us of this deed’
- Shakespeare focusses on the off stage murder of Duncan. Firstly because we can imagine it would be difficult to effectively stage such a scene and secondly it builds the tension, there is nothing more frightening to a human being than the fears our own imaginations is able to conjure up.
- The Drunken porter describes himself as the ‘porter of hell gate‘
- It’s worth noting that Macduff’s knocking is what causes perhaps the most distress to Macbeth, Macduff is the very man who finally defeats Macbeth in the conclusion of the play.
- The supernatural is strongly linked to the actions of Macbeth and his wife, their actions have turned the world to chaos, day is night, (‘by the clock, ’tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp‘) horses ‘made war with mankind’ – similar to how Frankenstein’s acts turned his whole world to chaos and unease.
- Macbeth’s actions even seem to have distorted what seems right and just as a noble and rewarding king has been replaced by a cruel dictator.
- The first indication of Macbeth’s guilt use the elements to show an extreme amount of remorse:
‘The multitudinous sees incarnadine making the green one red.’
- ‘gashed stabs look’d like a breach in nature‘ – emphasis on how unnatural and extreme these events are.
Banquo reveals his doubts about Macbeth’s part in the murder through a soliloquy, Macbeth reminds him ‘fail not our feast’. The reality is that Macbeth intends for Banquo to be absent anyway as he plans to have both Banquo and his son Fleance killed. This is because of the witches prophecy and so Macbeth sees Banquo and his son as a threat to his grip on the throne. As long as they live Macbeth believes that Duncan’s murder has merely ‘plac’d a fruitless crown’ upon his head.
Macbeth instructs the murderers on their task and sends them to get the job done. He then goes to meet Lady Macbeth who is quite concerned about his actions and how troubled he seems. She reminds him that ‘what’s done is done’. He on the other hand feels that they have ‘scorch’d the snake, not killed it.’ He reveals to Lady Macbeth that he has a plan but will not reveal it until it has been completed:
‘Be innocent of the knowledge dearest Chuck‘
Banquo is assassinated but Fleance escapes into the darkness of the night, Macbeth becomes unhinged at the sound of the news and sees Banquo’s ghost at the dinner table that night, his obscene behaviour disturbs all the guests and ruins the night. He informs Lady Macbeth of his suspicion of Macduff and states his intention to see the witches once again.
Hecate, leader of the witches chastises the sisters for not including her in the decision to reveal Macbeth’s future to him. She commands them to prepare for his upcoming visit where they they will ‘draw him on to his confusion‘. The Act ends with Lennox and a Lord discussing the recent events, they reveal that Macduff has not only displeased Macbeth by missing his Coronation celebration but has also gone to plead support from the King of England to restore stability to Scotland.
- Macbeth wishes to have Banquo and Fleance killed otherwise he may have ‘fil’d…(his)… eternal jewel‘ for nothing.
- ‘Let every man be the master of his time til seven at night’ – The celebration of Macbeth’s Coronation seems to mark the true beginning to his dictatorship.
- There appears to be a change of dynamic when Macbeth refuses to tell Lady Macbeth about his plans for Banquo, she is slowly becoming more timid and fearful while he is the one taking action. Macbeth has become accustomed to murder.
- We cannot tell whether Macbeth’s vision of Banquo’s ghost is supernatural or psychological. This kind of confusion of the mind is typical of the Gothic School of Terror.
- The fact that Macbeth saw Banquo’s ghost and not Duncan’s (who he also murdered) is a sign that he is still haunted by Banquo in the sense that his son still lives, his prophecy may still come true.
- Macbeth almost appears angry and jealous at Duncan as he is dead and can suffer no more. This shows a very warped way of thinking:
‘Nothing can touch him further.’
- ‘But now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d’ Macbeth feels claustraphobic in his guilt.
- Banquo is compared to a snake (again a warped frame of mind as Macbeth is the one who has acted ‘the serpent under’) and Fleance to a worm, one to be crushed.
- There is a strong sense of paranoia in Macbeth, a sense that heightens the theme of the supernatural:
‘When the brains were out the man would die. And there an end but now they rise again.’
- ‘Blood will have blood’ – foreshadowing.
The witches gather around the cauldron and and perform an incantation. As Macbeth arrives they summon three apparitions, three separate predictions for Macbeth’s future. He is first warned to ‘beware Macduff’ but this is followed by the second, reassuring news that ‘noneof woman born/Shall harm Macbeth.’ Finally the third tells him that he will not be conquered until Birnam Wood comes to his castle at Dunsinane. This calms Macbeth down, now he is only worried about Macduff. He still insists to know whether ‘Banquo’s issue’ will rule Scotland, but he is horrified when he sees a final apparition of eight kings, all looking remarkably similar to Banquo.
Lennox announces that Macduff has left for England and Macbeth curses himself for not dealing with him sooner, so he has Macduff’s family killed. This happens instantaneously in the next scene where Macduff’s wife and children are slaughtered.
In England Macduff is speaking with Malcolm, testing his loyalty to Scotland. Unsure whether Macduff believes him the killer or not Malcolm pretends that he would make a worse king than Macbeth. When Macduff then speaks so passionately about the grim future of Scotland Malcolm realises that Macduff only came seeking him for Scotland’s sake and so explains the truth to Macduff. Ross arrives moments later with the horrific news about Macduff’s family, Macduff swears revenge on ‘the fiend of Scotland‘.
- Like how his wife did earlier in the play, the witches hold great power and influence over Macbeth. He has gone from listening to one extreme of evil to the next.
- The name of the weird sisters comes from the Anglo-saxon word ‘Wyrd’ meaning doom.
- Macbeth develops from peacefully and rather passively listening to the witches to seeking and demanding knowledge from them, thereby emphasising his over-reliance on them.
- Macbeth does not heed Banquo’s warning to disregard their ‘supernatural soliciting’ and so they deceive him through their predictions. Macbeth is not only unaware that Macduff was ‘not of woman born’ (caesarian) but also that his grounds will be invaded by the English carrying the wood of Birnam.
- Hearing the prediction of Macduff, Macbeth decides to be more proactive and has Macduff’s family killed even though it will be of absolutely no benefit to him. It just shows that Macbeth has become accustomed to the role of a bloodthirsty tyrant.
- Macduff and Malcolm contrast to the evil Macbeth in the fact that their quest for the throne is justified, they strive to restore Scotland to its previous glory.
- As Macduff is told of his family’s deaths he asks for time to ‘feel it as a man’, he’s practically saying it is not feminine to embrace your emotions. (Theme of Romanticism)
- Note the discussion on the qualities required in a king, and how Macbeth does not fit under any of them:
‘Like a giant’s clothes upon a thieving dwarf.’
- ‘I will fight her young ones in the nest against the owl‘ – Macbeth is killing Macduff’s family for no reason other than to hurt him. Macbeth has become extremely sadistic.
Lady Macbeth has been seen sleepwalking whilst desperately trying to wash imaginary blood off her hands. She’s been heard speaking of how much blood ‘the old man’ had. More dramatically she speaks of a ‘damn’d spot’ which she is unable to remove.
Meanwhile the plot to overthrow the ‘tyrant’ Macbeth proceeds as the Scottish and English armies join near Birnam. As Macbeth hears of this, thinking of the witches predictions he remains defiant and states he would fight until ‘from bones, (his) flesh be hack’d.’ not fearing death ‘Till Birnam Forest come to Dunsinane.’ He then receives bad news as the Doctor comes along and informs him that he cannot cure his wife’s ailment brought on by her insanity.
Despite all of the above, Macbeth remains headstrong and defiant because of the misleading predictions. Unfortunately for him the enemy soldiers have been cutting Birnam wood for use as camouflage. As well as this many of Macbeth’s own men (for reasons we can only guess at) betray him and decide to fight for his enemies.
At the same time that Macbeth hears about the moving wood, he also hears about his wife’s suicide, he begins to ponder how futile his life is. (‘life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’) Ultimately he remembers that only one of those predictions has come true and still thinks himself invincible.
When Macbeth meets Young Siward on the battlefield he initially refuses to fight him explaining that there’s already too much Macduff blood on his hand as well as describing his ‘charmed life’. Young Siward insists on fighting him and dies by Macbeth’s hand. Macduff soon confronts him on the battlefield and reveals that he was born ‘from his mother’s womb/Untimely ripp’d‘ Macbeth although fearful, taunts him ‘Lay on Macduff.’
Scotland is free from its ‘butcher and his fiend-like Queen’.
- The scenes in Act 5 are short and speed up the action, especially on the battlefield near the end.
- At the start of the scene Macbeth only appears slightly affected by the reports he receives concerning the approaching enemy forces. He certainly doesn’t receive them as good news but they are received as an irritation more than anything else, with an inflated ego after hearing the predictions, he remains defiant.
- It still seems odd that during the fulfilment of one of the predictions he is not fearful and demands his suit of armour for him to fight. Either it’s from his life as a soldier, or maybe he’s truly lost a purpose to live.
Themes in Macbeth:
The urge for power is simply too strong for Macbeth, initially he appears to refrain but when his wife encourages him by simply mocking his manliness, he embraces the dark thoughts and temptations placed in his head by the witches, ignoring all common sense.
Initially he shows regret and remorse at his deed against Duncan, but soon as he loses common sense and falls to madness. He not only takes the word of the witches but actively seeks it.
On the other hand Lady Macbeth appears to undergo the opposite transformation. She turns from a steely, power hungry and determined individual who is encouraging the murder of King Duncan (and even goes as far as to plant the knife and frame the grooms herself) to a sleepwalking wreck who cannot be without a light out of fear of the darkness. This leads to her eventual suicide.
Ultimatelyambition is the ‘tragic flaw’ of Macbeth in the play, the very moment he is coerced into chasing it his life shoots downhill and he is overcome by his newfound obsession with his title as the king. Once he started on his violent self-righteous path, it was impossible for him to leave it.
Macbeth was set and written during a time when people believed God himself had hand-picked the royals and so the pyramidal structure of the hierarchy of society was somewhat sacred.
As every member of society was expected to show respect to the King, it was a common belief that as such, he would need to respond in kind, he would need to act ‘kingly’. Kindness and empaty being examples of this. Many believed that there was a direct link between theharmony of the world and the hierarchy of society, a disruption in one would cause havoc for both, any one who caused such a thing would have suffered dire consequences.
-When Macbeth kills King Duncan the night turns to chaos (similar to the harsh weather of the moors representing Wuthering Heights in comparison to Thrushcross Grange) and due to the violent way in which Macbeth claimed the throne (and held it) he becomes known as a ‘tyrant’ and ‘fiend’.
Macbeth is not seen as a man who holds ‘king-becoming graces’ and would never be able to hold the world in balance. It is as though Scotland needs a king as its healer it is waiting for one who…:
‘At his touch/Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand/They presently amend’
Appearance and reality:
The witches establish the theme of deception in their opening to the play:
‘Fair is foul and foul is fair‘ – nothing is truly what it seems in the play.
-Macbeth repeats this line after his role in the opening (off-stage) battle ‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen.’
To emphasize this theme Duncan later states that ‘there’s not art/ To find the mind’s construction in the face’ (do not judge a book by its cover) when speaking on the traitorous Thane of Cawdor. It’s profound how Macbeth is given that very title and acts in the same manner as its previous holder.
Lady Macbeth who is supposed to be the ‘honour’d hostess’ urges Macbeth to ‘look like the innocent flower/ But be the serpent under’t’.
Deception is even present when Malcolm the son of Duncan deceives Macduff into thinking
he would be a horrific king.
Of course one of the most significant examples of this theme is the moment the witches present their predictions to Macbeth, the predictions that are to ‘draw him on to his confusion’, the very predictions that put him into a false feeling of safety.
People were far more superstitious back then than they are now on the matter of ghosts, the undead and demons. Again, people were also far more religious and ‘god-fearing’ in a sense, for example, many believed that the black death was simply a punishment from the hand of God.
King James himself had a strong belief in the supernatural and more specifically, a fear of witches. He ensured the North Berwick and Lancashire witch trials took place, out of respect and pre existing superstition the public followed suit in these beliefs.
Shakespeare took advantage of this and so wrote Macbeth so that it is the witches who awaken his desires by sinfully tempting him like the serpent itself, one could say that the moment he actually becomes ‘the serpent under’t’ he becomes a slave to their predictions. When they actually make their predictions they conjure up haunting and horrifyingly graphic apparitions while seeing the future (which would also have been rather disturbing to the 18th Century audience).
Also worth noting is how the weather turns dreadful every time the witches are present.
On the topic of the witches, they contrast greatly to the other characters in a manner more subtle than their powers. While every other character in Macbeth tends to speak in blank verse, they will speak in rhyming couplets and trochaic metre, these features make even their language stand out. It makes the disturbing nature of their words more memorable.
Also rather significant to the theme are Macbeth’s visions of ghosts and daggers:
‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’
Macbeth is unable to say amen, by killing the killing and going against God in a sense, he has cut himself off from God himself.
Lady Macbeth as though cursed for her earlier words, sleepwalks during her nightmares in which she seemingly repeats the moment of the murder over and over and is unable to clean the ‘damn’d spot’.
The manner in which the prediction about Birnam Wood comes true does not seem supernatural to the audience but it is important to remember to a character like Macbeth, it is in no way underwhelming, a terrifying prophecy has just come true in his eyes.
Finally worth mentioning is the night of the murder, the somewhat supernatural chaos that the world is thrown into seems incredibly Gothic. The food chain being disturbed and a ‘falcon, towering in her pride of place, Was by a mousing owl hawk‘d at and kill’d‘ , horses act as though they were to ‘make war with mankind’ and the area undergoes a storm. Daylight is even turned to night (‘by the clock, ’tis day,And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp‘). Macbeth has literally plunged Scotland into darkness.
Motifs in Macbeth:
Macbeth announces that ‘blood will have blood’, from the very beginning, blood is mentioned, the Captain is covered in it after the battle. Macbeth sees an ‘air drawn (mental) dagger’ in his hand, however fatal the real dagger was for Duncan, this ‘air drawn’ one will be no less so for Macbeth.
Duncan’s blood covers Macbeth that he believes ‘great Neptune’s oceans’ will not be enough to wash it off later Lady Macbeth states that ‘all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.’ when she has gone insane from the guilt which appears to be represented by the blood. She cannot remove the ‘damn’d spot’.
Macbeth, undergoing the opposite transformation states that he is ‘in blood/Stepp’d in so far that…returning were as tedious as to go o’er’
The Darkness of the play is associated with fear, it is when much of the world is hidden from view. For instance most of the murders occur at night, when there are no witnesses around. Also both times that Macbeth meets the witches are shrouded in darkness.
Macbeth was unable to accept Banquo’s judgement of the witches as ‘instruments of darkness’ and so is succumbed by it.
Don’t forget how the world remains dark at noon the day after Duncan’s murder symbolising in a rather explicit manner how the world has fallen to darkness with Macbeth’s actions:
Lady Macbeth becomes terrified of the dark, she carries a light with her wherever she goes at night. It could represent the hell which she knows she is going to and how it is like the darkness swarming around her mind and tormenting her. It could also represent her own dark deeds that she is trying to forget. This eventually drives her to suicide.
- There is a sense of pathetic fallacy when the witches enter as the thunder and lightning reflect their evil intentions and the chaos they are to bring about.
- The mist of the play conceals many things, it makes things more vague and harder to see through much like Macbeth and how his downfall is echoed by fog thunder and lightning storms.-The weather represents the breakdown of the natural order much like the sight of horses eating each other or owls killing falcons.
Macbeth admits his ‘vaulting ambition’ gets the better of him, and Lady Macbeth believes that his nature is ‘too full o’th’ milk of human kindness’. This belief in his goodness is supported by his fear at killing his kinsmen, he believes it a ‘horrid image’, finding the advice given to be a ‘poison’d chalice.’
Macbeth is a soldier primarily, not a king, so just as the audience expects unlike the born king, he is simply unable to lead in a kingly manner and so is punished (alongside Scotland) for reaching above his given level.
He greatly contrasts to Malcolm who not only enlists help to take the throne (rather than striving for it himself), but also takes a strongly diplomatic stance on the situation.
Analyse, Macbeth’s behaviour upon seeing Banquo’s ghost at his banquet, some if not most of the Scottish Lords are extremely disturbed and lack faith in him as a leader the longer his reign endures the more people turn against him. By this stage Macduff has already shown his rejection and those of any sense will do so soon, any that don’t only live by Macbeth’s rule out of fear. Any who even show signs of opposing him will perish, for he has placed spies in every castle, emphasising his paranoia.
Macbeth becomes a nervous wreck after murdering Duncan, the urgent knocking at the gates appals him, makes him wish that they could ‘wake Duncan with knocking’ (or bring him back to life. When Duncan’s body is discovered he states that if he had ‘died an hour before this chance’ he would have lived ‘a blessed time’, however as he is putting an act on for the others, we cannot be sure whether he’s already accommodated to the situation, or whether he truly regrets his actions.
As he reflects on the witches predictions for himself and Banquo he states that the witches have placed a ‘fruitless crown’ upon his head while he has given his ‘eternal jewel’ to the ‘common enemy of man’ to get it. Macbeth is certain that he is going to hell and so takes the violence of his actions in his stride, he becomes ‘the common enemy of man.’ Macbeth does not even discuss his plan for another murder with his wife, telling he to ‘be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck’.
On the thought of Banquo and the security of his own reign he tells Lady Macbeth that they have ‘scorch’d the snake not killed it’ and so decides to have Banquo and his son Fleance murdered. What’s quite significant to the play is how as Macbeth becomes more and more obsessed with keeping a secure grip on his throne his killings appear to have less and less justification to the point where just to hurt Macduff, he has Macduff’s family killed. This causes the Scottish Lords to throw thehir lot in with the English who come to oppose Macbeth.
It is said that ‘his title hangs lose about him like a giant’s robe upon a dwarvish thief’ suggesting that Macbeth is no ‘giant’, he lacks the ability to be king. He does not have the qualities present in Duncan and Malcolm such as ‘honour, love, obedience, troops of friends’ all he has are ‘deep…curses’.
As the English and Scottish armies approach Macbeth’s castle he becomes more defiant of his oncoming fate. It is said at this stage how Macbeth ‘cannot buckle his distemper’d cause’ and how he acts with a ‘valiant fury’, even in the face of the overwhelming forces about to attack.
We briefly see a human side to him again the moment he hears of his wife’s death. He reflects on the futility of existence, he seems to have lost any reason to live:
‘life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’
For the work of a writer who often tried to avoid the topic of religion this seems awfully like a commentary on God.
His death by the hands of Macduff is inevitable as told by the witches and so the plot is cyclical, it ends and begins with Macduff/Macbeth killing a traitor.
Lady Macbeth is one of the most interesting and powerful characters in the play. She is referred to as the ‘fiend-like queen’ she is linked with evil., and at the very beginning of the play this is established in how she is already thinking of ways to have Duncan killed.
When Macbeth hesitates on the matter she insults him for being‘too full o’th milk of human kindness’ and as he refuses to go back to the room of the murder she abuses him for being ‘infirm of purpose’.
‘My hands of your colour but I shame to wear a heart so white.’
At this stage she not only returns the dagger herself, but also goes as far as to smear blood onto the grooms faces. As Macbeth stresses about not being able to get the blood out she is the one to say ‘ a little water clears us of this deed’, she is rather ignorant in how lightly she takes their actions.
This statement comes back to haunt her as she sleepwalks and has nightmares concerning the murder and a ‘damn’d spot’ which she cannot remove. At this time she is unable to be in the darkness without a lamp and falls into madness. This leads to her eventual suicide.
She initially takes advantage of Macbeth and uses him to gain power but as she weakens and withers he leaves her behind to keep pushing for power.
Despite this we still see signs that he cares for her like when he wishes her to be innocent of the knowledge of Banquo’s death. Perhaps it is her isolation that causes her to go insane. Her death is yet another punishment for Macbeth and his actions.
If the Weird sisters had not met and made their predictions, he would never have murdered the king. They possess mystical powers that give them not only the ability to appear and disappear at will but also to see into the future.
It’s important to note how even they see Macbeth as evil, ‘something wicked this way comes,’ and even appear afraid of him as he threatens them and demands another prediction. The reality is that they are luring him into a false sense of security.
Because they speak in rhyming couplets and trochaic rhythm, their speech stands out from the usual blank verse of the play. They would have been somewhat mesmerising to an audience of the 18th Century.
There is always a sense of pathetic fallacy in the presence of the witches as it is always dark and misty when they enter the stage. On each occasion their entry is also announced by thunder and lightning, the power of the elements surrounding them reflects their own powers.
At the start of the play (being Macbeth’s dearest friend, Banquo, like Macbeth, is a courageous fighter and a loyal soldier.
The tempting predictions of the witches have far less of an effect on Banquo than Macbeth, he is not tempted. Sensing their malevolent nature, he is in fact the one who warns Macbeth to take no notice of the witches:
‘to win us to our arm
the instruments of darkness tell us truths
betray us in deepest consequence
He remains observant and wise in how he is suspicious of Macbeth the moment he is promoted to Thane of Cawdor:
Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould
But with the aid of use‘
The moment Duncan has been murdered Banquo has suspicions concerning Macbeth ‘play’d most foully’, despite this, being the loyal soldier that he is Banquo still shows undying loyalty to his new king and does not share his suspicions. This is perhaps his tragic flaw, his own naivety.
Duncan is a good king who shows and receives respect, rewards loyalty, his only clear concern is for his country.
As believed in Shakespearean times Duncan, a good King, was able to bring order and peace to Scotland. He certainly appears to hold many of the characteristics listed by Malcolm and Macduff. On the other hand if you are to analyse the story closely, if he’s so great a king why do traitors seemingly surround him?
He clearly holds a soft spot for Macbeth and his wife, with that knowledge and the fact that he’s had previous traitors, perhaps he is either too trusting or simply naïve.
Duncan also contrasts greatly with Macbeth in how he shows humility to him and his wife, confessing that he has not shown enough gratitude towards them.
Macduff displays extreme horror at the murder of Duncan displaying not only his love and respect for his leader, but also shows his commitment to his given job. At this same moment he shows a caring side as he shows care for the ‘gentle lady’ fearing what he may say just might upset her.
Despite everyone else being suspicious of Malcolm and Donalbain for fleeing the scene, Macduff appears to be a wise judge of character as he remains suspicious of Macbeth and refuses to attend his Coronation banquet.
This has already angered Macbeth so all it takes is word from the witches to watch out for Macduff for Macbeth to have Macduff’s family killed as he cannot reach Macduff himself. You could criticise Macduff for leaving his family in his country which he so passionately speaks of in chaos.
He finally gets his revenge upon Macbeth and thrives in it. He shows pure and grim delight, not only as he hoists the ‘hell hound’s’ ‘cursed head’ but also as he eliminates Macbeth’s illusion of invincibility the moment he states that he was ‘from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d.’