Focusing on key scenes, discuss how Shakespeare presents the change in Macbeth from war hero to the evil murderer. Macbeth’s multifaceted disposition is unambiguous as he is seen to immerse from the shadow of a dignified soldier into an almost unrecognizable dictator and murderous tyrant. He appears to be driven along by the violence of his fate, almost unknowingly, as he staggers under the weight of his own purposes and the proposals of others; and from the superstitious awe and breathless suspense into which the witches throw him, is hurried on with daring impatience to verify their predictions and with an impious nature attempts to unmask his uncertainty with the future.
He proves unequal to the struggle with fate and his moral scruples, as his actions see the direct result of the murders of King Duncan, Banquo, many soldiers, and finally, his own death. The destruction of these characters is seen through the protagonist’s unfettered ambition and his overwhelming desire for the throne of Scotland. There’s neither a definite nor precise date of composition for ‘Macbeth,’ however, the play was written after 1603 and before 1610, as it is dated after the accession of King James I. Also, an excerpt from the diary of Dr. Forman, a playgoer and astrologer, was obtained stating he had attended a production of the play on April 20th, 1610. Thus, evidence suggests that ‘Macbeth’ was, in fact, written by the command to be given Before King James I and the King of Denmark.
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The play’s major theme surrounds Macbeth, acting as the play’s tragic hero, and through his rise, fall, and destruction, an enveloping awareness of political ambition is felt. This progressively growing current of underlying ambition is witnessed throughout vital scenes in the tragedy. Act 1 Scene 3 allows Macbeth to maintain his dignified facade, yet, a perhaps indistinct but definite impression of his wilful resolve emerges following the play’s initial converging as he is seen to meet the witches and the first matter they prophesized proves to be correct. An immediate underlying sense of foreboding, and possibly flickers of Macbeth’s potential sadistic nature, are depicted with his opening line, ‘I have never seen so foul and fair a day.’
The line is established to be particularly vivid as he is seen to echo the witches’ words, ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair.’ This ironic coincidence may prove deeper than a mere chance of words, therefore depicting the inseparability of Macbeth and the forces of darkness. Macbeth displays skepticism yet poignant hints of his subtle interest as he demands ‘tell me more’ as the witches entice him, hailing him ‘Thane of Cawdor’ as opposed to his original title ‘Thane of Glamis.’ This uncovers Macbeth’s obvious bafflement with the situation but unearths his readily growing curiosity and shows early glimpses of his irrepressible ambition. Also, it induces the idea he has a certain belief in the ‘dark forces’ which again, reinforces the sense of foreboding as it was considered to be forbidden to have such philosophies.
On top of this, analysis of this perhaps fairly blunt statement, almost command, gives inclinations of his more authoritarian mindset, deepening the suggestion of his more ominous outcome. His menacing disposition is further enhanced as he is seen to emit condescending superiority. He speaks using an imperative tone, belittling their abilities, almost attempting to act with an antagonistic attitude as he taunts them, saying, ‘if you can.’ Also, he blatantly scoffs at their identity, calling them ‘what’ rather than ‘who.’ After they do speak, he personally insults them for their mistaken visions, entitling them ‘imperfect speakers.’ Finally, he continues the questioning assault, showing his manipulative characteristics, daring them to answer.
His exclamation of ‘Would they had stayed!’ after their vanishing serves both a truthful statement given the fact he is intensely intrigued by their prophecies but also acts as the statement from the delight of a victor. Macbeth is seen to display honest incomprehension as Ross delivers the news he will become King. A clear sense of Macbeth’s morality is felt as Shakespeare uses the metaphor ‘ why do you dress me in borrowed robes.’ Despite the unambiguous sense of Macbeth being wrapped in his own supremacy previously in the scene, his more humane nature is witnessed as his guilt-ridden conscience begins to suffer as he does not wish to obtain a position that is not rightfully his. Already, there is a clear contrast between his more benign and his yet his intolerable temperament.
However, Macbeth expresses the last prophecy as ‘the greatest is behind.’ Given the paradoxal irony-laden theme of the play ‘what’s fair is foul and foul is fair,’ it can be assumed Macbeth now entertains the idea that he will become king, a proposal he deems ‘fair’ or just. Already, his paranoia with the thrown is apparent as he enquires whether Banquo supposes the prediction his children will become King to be true. This already develops a sense of his protective nature over the throne and enables insight into his underlying obsession for the throne, and shows his heightened level of conviction in the witches.
Undoubtedly, diverging judgments on the dependability of the witches statements are observed as Banquo warns Macbeth that what appears “fair” could be “foul,” knowing the evil nature of the witches; in other words, the outcomes of Macbeth’s actions could be disastrous if he is “won to the harm” of these predictions. This clearly suggests Banquo recognizes the extent to which Macbeth has been absorbed by these fantastical beings and causes a subtle sense of underlying danger as Banquo clearly realized the horrific nature of the witches and their potentially destructive nature, which can be seen as he describes devils often tell half-truths to ‘win us to our harm.’ Also, Banquo speaks of the witches as ‘instruments of darkness, which reveal their truly foul nature.
Through him, it is implied that the honeyed prophecies will bring about Macbeth’s downfall. Since Macbeth listens to the witches, he, himself, could also be deemed an ‘instrument of darkness.’ Shakespeare cleverly incorporates Macbeth’s soliloquy at this vital point in the tragedy. Instantly, the intricacies of his inner doubts and his contrasting morality are exposed, adding great depth of character and flaunting his already irony-laden role change. Macbeth is proven to be irresolute concerning the extent to which to believe the witches. The oxymoron, ‘cannot be ill, cannot be good,’ clearly enriches the fact Macbeth is wavering over the credibility of the witches’ claims, with him clearly being in two minds, depicting his indecisive nature.
His battle with the erosion of his personal integrity can be seen as the contemplation of murder is already seen to envelop in his mind as he says, ‘whose horrid image doth unfix my hair.’ The mere suggestion proves scandalous and shows the erasing of his veracity through sheer auspicious signs and messages. Macbeth displays his weak defence against his imagination as he says, ‘if chance has me, king, why, chance may crown me.’ This hope that destiny or ‘chance’ will have him to be King tells he is reliant upon supernatural forces to, in effect, do the ‘dirty work,’ leaving him and his conscience unscathed. However, the subjunctive mood of ‘may’ suggests that Macbeth is both willing and aware that he may have to fight for his cause himself.
Act 1 Scene 7 sees the preparation for the murder of Duncan through Lady Macbeth’s strategic manipulation. Macbeth contemplates the idea of Duncan’s death but sees it as a ‘sin.’ Nonetheless, he is still able to be convinced by his calculating wife and also through his vaulting ambition. The scene allows the audience to see insight into the inner qualms and thoughts of Macbeth through both the soliloquy and subsequent interchange. The choice of language is also used to show the contrasting morality between both characters. Macbeth’s soliloquy acts almost as a debate with his conscience, battling his natural human responses of culpability and trepidation.
Shakespeare uses the simile ‘his virtues will plead like angels trumpet tied’ to depict the internal combat that is posed to Macbeth as he is, in effect, placing Duncan on a pedestal whilst he furiously battles with his conscience deeming himself almost undeserving of the throne through his warped means of obtaining it. By comparing King Duncan’s virtues to ‘angels,’ it is implied Macbeth has no merits at all, which evidently shows his remaining sense of moral rights amongst the cloud of the ambitious drive. This is further emphasized by him referring to ‘bloody instructions.’ Scrutiny of this leads to the insinuation the Macbeth can see the immorality of the deed.
The image of these ‘bloody instructions’ coming back to haunt ‘the inventor’ is particularly vivid, considering the irony as this is exactly what happens to himself and Lady Macbeth in the latter half of the tragedy. The inadequacy of this tough attitude is exposed as he doubts the deed using the metaphor, ‘this even-handed justice commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice to our lips.’ Here, he speaks about how he feats justice will repay him for his actions with the same fate. This statement not only arouses an air of foreboding but also displays Macbeth’s masculine exterior to be somewhat concealment of a perhaps fairly weak disposition or slight failures of his masculinity. Macbeth is again seen to be doubtless in his knowing that the murder would mean complete corruption of his being.
He compares his indecision about killing Duncan to being on the bank of a river as he says, ‘this blow might be the be-all and end-all here, upon this bank and shoal of time, we’d jump the life to come.’ It’s implied to be the river Stys which the damned had to cross in Greek mythology to enter hell. He is thus likening his murderous thoughts to a damned soul. He says that if it were sure Duncan’s death probed no dire consequences, he would gladly ‘jump’ cross the river for the ‘life to come’ (hell) for mortal pleasure. Macbeth could be described to be slightly in denial as he uses euphemisms for ‘murder’ and ‘death’ such as ‘surcease,’ and he frequently refers to the death as ‘the deed.’ This has obvious implications that he considers it more tangible to use something more abstract to remove the severity of his conduct.
Following Macbeth’s revelation he could not go ahead with the murder, Lady Macbeth is seen to employ tactics of conniving manipulation. She utilizes clear methods of very harsh lexis and an almost hounding tone as she accuses him of being ‘afeared’ and talks about him being a ‘coward’ to virtually convincing Macbeth to go through with the deed through sheer infuriation and the attack on his masculinity. However, it could also be told that Macbeth, in fact, acted as the manipulator, as he may have purposely sidestepped the plan to test Lady Macbeth’s resolve. He confirms Duncan’s murder in his soliloquy and then starts to plan Banquo’s.
For, when Macbeth says, ‘If it were done when tis done,’ the meaning could be analyzed that Macbeth means he will kill Banquo following Duncan’s murder, and he feels he needs to do it rapidly. He notes that if Duncan’s death could wrap up the corpse ‘trammel up the consequence,’ then there would be no problem, but the death will be judged, and the judging will be based on lineage: ‘Bloody instruction,’ eating away at the corpse’s finder, ‘the inventor.’ Macbeth knows Judgment exists in “double trust,” in Banquo, as ‘his kinsman’ and in Duncan, as ‘his subject,’ and he worries Banquo’s nature will tell about the witches’ prophecy. However, with Lady Macbeth’s violent vow, he appears ready to continue with the plan as before, perhaps as he was now sure of her dedication.
Through Lady Macbeth’s constant derisive conduct or his own newly found callous mind deception, Macbeth is seen to adopt uncompromising determinacy to carry through with the exploit. This highlights his perhaps childish attributes if he allowed himself to be persuaded through words of others or allows deeper scrutiny into the absolute strength of his aspirations. However, when Macbeth talks about how he and Lady Macbeth must remain composed and dignified, again showing the strength yet merciless tendencies of his character, as he says ‘false face must hide what the false heart doth know.’ This is merely a contrast between appearance and reality, as Macbeth knows what is necessary to further his ambition and become King. However, he cannot reveal his plan with the absolute chance of failure.
During Act 3 Scene 1, Macbeth employs a royal facade as he schemes to make his position more secure. However, this air of omnipotence proves fairly transparent as his weaknesses seem to seep through as he hires murderers to carry out his plot. His steadily progressing emptiness is displayed as he remains wholly composed about arranging his best friend’s murder. Also, the irony is felt as his more ruthless tendencies, manipulating the murderers into killing Banquo, which could mirror the actions of Lady Macbeth. Macbeth’s masterful and fairly dictatorship qualities are depicted through the breakdown in the relationship between Banquo and himself. The fact Banquo addresses Macbeth as ‘my Lord’ indicates their progressively growing apart from one another.
This change in affiliation cannot only be blamed on Macbeth’s egotistical endeavours but also could be placed upon the perhaps shame or remorse still left in the moral fibre of Macbeth; his conscience may be rebuking him. Also, dramatic irony can be felt as Banquo remains unaware of his treacherous position. However, he obviously feels intense distrust surrounding the murder of Duncan as he exclaims he feels Macbeth ‘play’dst most foully’, which in itself gives a clear indication Macbeth’s disposition must have altered for suspicion to be aroused. Also, it appears apparent Macbeth has acquired greater reverence through his new title, with the murders now addressing him as ‘my liege.’
Macbeth’s resentment and hostility towards Banquo are displayed through the metaphor, ‘upon my head they placed a fruitless crown.’ Here, Macbeth laments that although the witches prophesized that he would become King, they also said Banquo’s posterity would possess the throne. The sheer volume of envy built up by this alone would easily induce reason to kill Banquo through Macbeth’s now murderous, verging on evil mentality. Again, total lack of regard for the murderers is shown as Macbeth likens them to dogs, calling them ‘hounds and greyhounds.’ The complete disgust emitted by him again shows his blunt, villainous character emerging, despite them being a pivotal role in his success and acting as an excuse for his cowardice.
The audience may have been able to reconcile the death of the King by concluding that the responsibility should be laid at the door of fate. However, there is no justification for the killing of Banquo and his son, which displays Macbeth as cold and heartless. However, Shakespeare adds the implication that Macbeth is almost in denial as he attempts to distance himself from the deed by employing the murderers so he can justify his actions by convincing himself it is not he who is doing the act. This would add subtle tones of guilt to his now empty, evil persona.
Act 5, Scene 3 depicts Macbeth’s full transformation into a tyrannizing, unstoppable authoritarian whose omnipotence he believes to be unstoppable. Macbeth is seen to act through sheer blissful ignorance throughout the scene despite his thanes abandoning him and the approach of the English Army. However, he feels consoled by the witch’s prophesy that he has nothing to fear until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane or until he counters a man not born of a woman. Since both of the events seem impossible, Macbeth feels invincible. Macbeth’s utter reliance and unparalleled asphyxiation with the prophecies has become the epitome of his being with him, considering himself virtually immortal at this stage of the play.
The stings of remorse no longer assailed his mind, and his blatant reliance upon the prophecies is evident as the rhetorical question ‘Was he not born of a woman?’ concerning his attacker was asked. He, therefore, has complete assurance he will remain unscathed due to the apparitions prophesizing he could not be harmed by anyone born of the womb. He’s conceited; his fearless attitude is clear as he says, ‘bring me no more reports; let them fly all.’ He even further depicts the English army as ‘epicures,’ which is clearly demeaning, proving all where all trepidation would have arisen, now comes contemptuous mocking and derision – further proving his emptiness and shows true self-belief in his eternal livelihood as King.
The irony is loaded as Macbeth taunts his servant, mocking his fear as he tells him to ‘prick thy face and over- red thy fear.’ This undoubtedly malicious statement clearly emulates Lady Macbeth’s initial disposition. His blind mocking, driven through his energy, sprigs from his mind’s anxiety and agitation, and his blindly rushing forward on the objects of his ambition and revenge, or his recoiling from them, equally betrays the harassed state of feelings which amounted to his villainous actions. This part of his character is admirably set off by being brought in connection with that of Lady Macbeth, whose obdurate strength of will and masculine firmness give her the ascendancy over her husband’s faultering virtue. However, Macbeth has now adopted these characteristics heightened, mainly through contact with the apparitions.
The fact the servant is called ‘Seyton’ is very ambiguous, with the pun, on the one hand, being powerful imagery to denote the meeting of his doom, yet on the other, it could simply be the name of the servant. Despite Macbeth’s uncompromising forceful temperament, understated glimmers of his remorse and regretted diffuse through, as he mellows momentarily, describing how his ‘way of life is fallen into the sere.’ Despite his immoral actions, this statement shows he has every recognition of the correct moral boundaries as he, almost in a defeatful fashion, reflects upon how his life has disintegrated into an entanglement of treachery as he describes how he will now either be ‘cheared’ or ‘disseated.’ This momentary lapse of overwhelming confidence suggests an underlying current of foreboding as it envelops a sudden, drastic change in character disposition.
Also, Macbeth seems to have had a sudden sense of realization as he, in effect, mourns the loss and perhaps regrets not gaining ‘honour, love, obedience’ and ‘troops of friends,’ which he feels he should have at this stage in his life. Yet, despite these revelations, the magnitude of Macbeth’s brutality is soon magnified as he says, ‘I’ll fight till from my bones my flesh be hacked.’ Ironically, regardless of his small inkle of compassion, Macbeth reverts to bloodshed and carnage to resolve his problems. Also laden with irony is the fact Macbeth orders his servant to ‘give him (his) armour.’ This contradicts his deep-rooted beliefs in the prophecies he constantly displayed as he would have little need for armour when he believed himself to be invincible, which again suggests may be a nuance of his person may remain unchanged.
A complete role reversal is depicted as Macbeth is seen to comment on his wife’s illness using cleansing verbs such as ‘pluck,’ ‘raze,’ and ‘cleanse,’ primarily imitating the words of Lady Macbeth. Macbeth’s loss of fear appears incredibly poignant when compared to his wife’s loss of all femininity as it is a direct gage of the extent to which Macbeth was influenced and how each other’s estimations weighed heavily upon them. This idea of purging and cleansing is again seen as Macbeth realizes his country is a place of unscrupulous, abysmal standards; he asks the doctor to ‘find her disease And purge it to a sound and pristine health.’ However, this line has an air of ambiguity around it as Macbeth could also be referring to Lady Macbeth and asking for her mental health to be restored.
An obvious flaw in Macbeth’s character is his over-reliance on the prophecies as he says, ‘I will not be afraid of death and bane till Burnam forest comes to Dunsinane,’ creating an initial premonition; allowing predictions of his doomed fate, as his only assurance is through his belief in the prophecies which can be manipulated beyond his contemplation. Macbeth’s multifaceted disposition is displayed as Macbeth’s character progresses from a dignified war hero to a murderous tyrant. The fatal combination of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth proved deadly as their callous and bitter temperaments merged to form an underlying current of ambition, which fuelled them and drove their omnipotent attitudes.
I believe it was Macbeth’s sense of inner evil, primarily derived from his ‘vaulting ambition’ originally which heightened the relentlessness of the situation. However, I do believe Lady Macbeth also had a major role to play as she at once seized on the opportunity that offered for the accomplishment of all their wished-for greatness and never flinched from her object till all was over. I believe the magnitude of her resolution almost covered the magnitude of her guilt. Fundamentally, I believe they acted as a ‘power couple’ yet had their own selfish goals, which they believed they would achieve through each other, which in the end was their downfall.
There are several aspects Shakespeare was obviously moralizing on in the tragedy. Firstly, despite the traitor Macbeth’s initial success, you cannot reek rewards from betrayal. However, most prominently, I believe Shakespeare taught that there is a consequence for every action and that each individual must play for his acts. There is also a true lesson of guilt, which is aptly stated as ‘out damn spot, will my hands never be clean.’ Shakespeare can tell us through this one line that once is a deed is committed; the guilt will remain to haunt you. Also, there is a clear theme of karma throughout the tragedy, with both the villains meeting their deserved doom.