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Macbeth Essay

Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is a twisting, turning, very dramatic play. There are characters whom may seem honorable one minute and villainous the next. The play goes through many scene and setting changes, but the overall theme remains the same. The dark envious nature of Macbeth plays out through the play’s entirety. The chief character in the tragedy, Macbeth himself, is progressively isolated, and increasingly cut off from his family, friends, the public, and even with himself. The play begins with Macbeth shown as a strong fighter and a hero. This image, however, is challenged once Macbeth interacts with the witches; which proves him to be weak minded but at the same time ambitious. While being in an inner turmoil of clashing qualities, Macbeth allows himself to put his guard down and thus to be easily manipulated by the witches and his wife. At the end of the play, a cycle seems to form in which Macbeth returns to the battle field and dies in combat. Macbeth is a dynamic character: in the beginning, he is a loyal, trustworthy warrior and Thane to Scotland’s King Duncan, until, that is, he meets the witches, who prophesize of his greatness, and becomes weak minded and frantic about keeping his throne to the point of collapsing.

Act I, scene 2 of Macbeth, presents the captain’s gory descriptions of the battle where he depicts Macbeth to have “unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops” (Shakespeare, 1. 2. 24); revealing the strong and fearless qualities that Macbeth possesses. He continues to glorify and praise Macbeth by remarking that, “For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),/ Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel,/ Which smoked with execution,/ Like valor’s minion, carved out his passage/ Till he faced the slave […]” (1. 2. 19-22). Also, the captain’s description of Macbeth’s fighting style – “Which ne’er shook hand, nor bade farewell to him, / […]/ and fixed his head upon our battlements” (1. 2. 23-25) – leaves little room for imagination and impresses Duncan greatly. By overstressing the under qualified soldiers on the other side – “[…] from the Western Isles/ Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied […]” (1. 2. 14-15) – the captain naturally exaggerates about the qualities of Macbeth. Nonetheless, King Duncan is struck by the Captain’s over-glorification of Macbeth’s power and fearlessness, and feels impelled to reward Macbeth with the title of the Thane of Cawdor. This portrayal of Macbeth as a valiant hero earns much respect from the audience up until act 1, scene 4, when he encounters the witches.

With Shakespearean tragedies, the main character is a great man of elevated status; he is also noble and admirable. His flaws, however, are part of his greatness.

It is to be said that Macbeth is a tragic hero, and like any other hero of this sort, he encompasses tragic flaws such as indecisiveness, greed, and hubris. His recessive imperfections are expressed only when promoters of these qualities are in proximity.

In this case, they are ignited by the witches’ prophecy that he will be king. When he first hears of this news, he remarks in shock: “The Thane of Cawdor lives/ A prosperous gentleman, and to be king/ Stands not within the prospect of belief, / No more than to be Cawdor” (1.3.75-78). This quote shows Macbeth to not see how he could possibly deserve to be Thane, nonetheless a King, thus portraying him as humble. A mere two pages later, Macbeth changes his mind and starts to contemplate the option of being king: “My thoughts, whose murder is yet but fantastical, / Shakes so my single state of man/ That function is smothered in surmise, / And nothing is but what is not” (1.3.152-155). These alliterations point out Macbeth’s indecisiveness in determining whether he should kill Duncan or not. In act 1, scene 4, Macbeth asks wants to conceal his desire to kill Duncan: “Stars [to] hide [their] fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires” (1.4.57-58). In addition, he says: “The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be” (1.4.59). This personification serves as a metaphor to Lady Macbeth, who is the one who sees how the future is going to play out and encourages Macbeth to execute it. Another flaw is that of greed. After obtaining the title of Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth lets himself fall into the witches’ trap and dream of greater things to come. An example is his ambition; in fact, Macbeth’s will and pursuit of fulfilling all the prophecies, lead to his demise. In addition, his hubris allows him to succumb to his wife’s manipulation as well. In act 1, scene 7, Lady Macbeth criticizes Macbeth for being a pathetic and says: “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?” (1.7.45-49). Macbeth can not tolerate being called a coward and feels the need to maintain and prove the masculity he presented in the beginning of the play. Though Macbeth is a physically strong character, he is easily manipulated and psychologically weak.

Macbeth’s soliloquy in act 3, scene 1, serves as a characterization tool as it reveals yet another change in Macbeth’s personality. As Banquo serves as a threat to Macbeth’s legacy of kings, Macbeth becomes fearful and intimidated by Banquo: “There is none but he/ Whose being I do fear; and under him/ My genius is rebuked as it is said/ Marc Antony’s was by Caesar” (3.1.59-62). This allusion serves as a drastic change from a self-assured Macbeth to a worried one. Banquo had first “[…] child the sisters/ When they first put the name of king upon [Macbeth]/ And bade them speak to him” (3.1.62-64). Even though Banquo denied the witches, they still held him – despite Macbeth’s Kingman ship – “[…] father to a line of kings” (3.1.65). This upsets Macbeth, causing him to go on a rant of self-pity, realizing his incompetence: “If it be so, / For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind:/ For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered, / […]/ Only for them, and mine eternal jewel/ given to the common enemy of man/ to make them kings, the seeds of Banquo kings” (III.I.70-75). This soliloquy shows Macbeth to have surrendered to his evil nature because not only does he not show any remorse for killing Duncan, but also is planning on repeating the same sin with Banquo. Another evident change is that Macbeth no longer obeys the prophecies, but rather challenges fate to “[…] champion [him] to the utterance” (3.1.74); expecting to battle against fate until a death comes about (either his or Banquo’s) because he is not willing to accept its verdict. A second example of this disobedience is the murdering of Macduffs family. Despite the witches’ apparition that Macbeth should “Laugh to scorn/ The power of man, for none of woman born/ Shall harm [him]” (4.1.90-93), his insecurity dominates and he decides to kill “[…] [Macduff’s] wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls/ That trace him in his line” (4.1.173-174).

Macbeth’s response to the news of his wife’s death in act 5, scene 5, is used to demonstrate to the audience of Macbeth’s transition from emotional to coldhearted. It shows Macbeth’s coldness, saying that Lady Macbeth shouldn’t have died because he has no time for her now for he has a war on his hands: “She should have died hereafter./ There would have been a time for such a word” (5.5.20-21). Macbeth then discusses time: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day[…]/” (5.5.22-23), in which his personification of time illustrates that he is sick of life’s slow pace. He continues to state that, “[…]To the last syllable of recorded time,/ And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death/” (5.5.24-26), which depicts through this biblical allusion his understanding that his past actions will lead him to his death. And goes as far as recognizing that his life is short due to the impending war and asking for it to end: “Out, out, brief candle!” (5.5.26). Macbeth again personifies life, saying that it is “[…]but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more” (5.5.27-29). Here is a connection to the theme of performing; Macbeth realizes that his life had been merely a faзade which had cost him his sanity and his reputation. He goes on to say that life “[…] is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing” (5.5.29-31), exemplifying his acknowledgment that life is not all that people make it out to be. This speech juxtaposes Macbeth’s earlier soliloquies/ speeches because it implies that Macbeth has given up. Its diction shows the disparity Macbeth encompasses and his loss of hope.

These fluctuations reflect the tragic tension within Macbeth: he is at once too ambitious to allow his conscience to stop him from murdering his way to the top and too conscientious to be happy with himself as a murderer. His tragic flaws and inner turmoil cost him his sanity and therefore his life. Macbeth starts out indecisive about the murder of Duncan but is easily influenced by characters around him. After he commits one murder, Macbeth figures that it would not matter to commit more, and so goes after everyone who might be in his way. Macbeth is never accused of any sin, which is exactly what drives him crazy; he can not stand living with this secret alone. After Lady Macbeth dies, Macbeth sinks into depression for he is truly alone and starts acting careless, which leads to his death. Macbeth, therefore, is most definitely a dynamic character and changes personalities many times throughout the play.
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