From Noble Macbeth To

The great tragedy of Macbeth is the loss of the kind of man Macbeth could have been and almost was, but for the contradictions in his character. They lead him to choose his vaulting ambition over what is just. At the scene of the opening battle Macbeth is described as having all the virtues of a great man and warrior. His savagery and ferocity in war are illustrated in the captain s description of how Macbeth carved out his passage and his sword smoked with bloody execution . He is thought to be so brave that he is worthy of being called Bellona s bridegroom . Macbeth s killings are applauded now and his brute strength and ability to kill are considered to be qualities to admire and ones for which King Duncan calls him valiant cousin and worthy gentleman . These facets of Macbeth s character are his defining ones, both at the beginning and at the end of the play. They turn him from an ambitious soldier to a tyrant and a butcher. His bloodthirstiness in battle is a trait that is released in the subsequent killings Macbeth carries out during his reign as king.Macbeth s eventual fall from grace is subtly mirrored in the nature of the first Thane of Cawdor and he is a forewarning of everything that Macbeth becomes when he is given the title of Cawdor. Duncan s words; He was a gentleman on whom I built/An absolute trust , in Act1 Sc4, are meant for the first Thane, but Duncan also comes to trust Macbeth. This trust is established when Duncan is Macbeth s guest and declares We love (Macbeth) highly . What is truly ironic about Macbeth assuming the mantle of the treacherous Cawdor is that Macbeth turns out to be even more duplicitous and succeeds in usurping Duncan.Macbeth s own betrayal of Duncan is pre-echoed in Ross description of Macbeth fighting that disloyal traitor/Thane of Cawdor with self-comparisons , in Act 1 Sc. 2. Words that imply Macbeth, too, will turn against the king. Even the nature of Macbeth s demise is present in the first Thane s death as it is said by Malcolm of him, in Act 1 Sc. 4, that nothing in his life/Became him like the leaving it . This is also true of Macbeth s return, at the end, to bravery, courageousness and defiance in the face of the overwhelming adversity he encounters. When everything he has come to rely on, the witches prophecies and Lady Macbeth, is gone he still battles on. Yet I will try the last, he says in Act 5 Sc. 8, Lay on Macduff/And damned be him that first cries Hold, enough! These uncompromising words spur the audience on to admire the way he fights on no matter what. After all the terrible things he has done, Macbeth s death, in comparison, is more admirable than his life.Being a brave and fearless warrior is what Macbeth seems to be best at, yet it only takes the 3 witches, in Act 1 Sc. 3, and their words Macbeth…shalt be king hereafter to bewilder this great man so much that he becomes rapt with the potential of their prophesy. This, coupled with Macbeth s earlier subconscious repetition of the witches words foul and fair , creates in the audiences mind a relationship, already, between the witches and Macbeth.This signals the ever-intensifying power the supernatural will come to have over Macbeth. By the end of the play he is so reliant on the witches that although his castle is under siege, his subjects have deserted him and Lady Macbeth is dead, he cannot stop believing in their prophesies that None of woman born shall harm Macbeth and (He) shall never vanquished be until/Birnam Wood to Dunsinane Hill shall come . Even at this late stage he hopes that somehow they will save him. His absolute belief in the supernatural is credible in a time when people were very superstitious and believed in witches and spirits more fervently, rather than dismissing them to books and films, as we do now. Shakespeare uses the supernatural in other popular tragedies, Hamlet and Julius Caesar, for example, which goes to show that this theme interested audiences of that time. But Macbeth dies come to realise, at the end, the reality of the witches effect on him. Against the backdrop of his deserted castle and country, Macbeth stands alone on stage, in Act 5 Sc. 7, with his desperate words They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly expressing the powerlessness he now feels because of the witches.The nature of Macbeth s dependence on the witches at the end is foreseeable in his earlier reliance on his wife, Lady Macbeth. Her character in the early acts proves to be the proverbial woman behind every great man as she plots the initial murder and persuades Macbeth, by a perversion of normal morality, that the two of them are acting bravely, nobly and victoriously. On hearing what the witches have predicted for Macbeth, in Act 1 Sc. 5, she immediately starts to prepare herself mentally, in a way that would not have been normal behaviour for a woman in her own or in Shakespearean times. She calls to the spirits so that no feelings of remorse should shake (her) fell purpose . She knows that they will have to kill Duncan for Macbeth to become king, but he is unsure and tells her that we will speak further . At this point, Lady Macbeth is already decided in her course of action and dismisses Macbeth s reluctance, telling him to leave all the rest to (her) .Macbeth s weakness in tackling this moral problem is contrasted and highlighted by Lady Macbeth s apparent acceptance of the situation. Her inner strength of will is as strong as Macbeth s physical strength. He is shown to need her daring resolve to motivate and encourage him to act against Duncan.This dependence on Lady Macbeth is, at first, very strong and is a sign of his ever-present vulnerability. Yet his reliance on her declines as he becomes more brutal. This is evident, for example, in Act 3 Sc. 2 when Macbeth tells his wife to be innocent of the knowledge that he is plotting Banquo s murder. Instead, he shifts his dependence onto the witches and their prophesies, demonstrating his vulnerability to being easily manipulated is present in him from the beginning until the very end.

Such weaknesses in Macbeth, as well as his ambitions, are revealed in his soliloquies. They create an intimacy between the audience and himself and make the audience emotionally involved and therefore more interested in what will happen to him. This is especially true in his soliloquy in Act 1 Sc7, in which many characteristics are revealed. Ambition is clear in his opening sentence If it were done when tis done, then twere well/It were done quickly , but the repetition of the word done also indicates the emotional turmoil he is experiencing as he hesitates before an action, which in his heart he knows to be wrong.The lengthy argument Macbeth provides accentuates the change in him later on in the play where his immediate reaction to Macduff s departure, in Act 4 Sc. 1, is to order the murder of Macduff s family. This time he says No boasting like a fool;/This deed I ll do before this purpose cool . There is no sign of the soul-searching that troubles Macbeth in Act 1 Sc. 7, but again his rash words depict the mind of a pressured man overwhelmed into action.The structure of his soliloquy in Act 1 Sc. 7 is of a see-sawing movement between right and wrong which reflects the battle in Macbeth s mind, but he concludes that we will proceed no further in this business . His decision, though, does not last long and the reason for this proves to be the root cause of Macbeth s moral decline.Those words infuriate Lady Macbeth but she is an intelligent woman who knows her husband well and in her scolding speech to him she questions his love for her and asks him Art thou afeard/To be the same in thine own act and valour,/As thou art in desire? , insulting the very essence of his character; his bravery and his proud consciousness of it. Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth in this way to highlight the insecurity in such a great warrior. She knows that Macbeth will take up any challenge to prove that he is not a coward. Macbeth is made to feel insecure in his role as a warrior, a husband and a man, provoking him to say I dare do all that may become a man;/Who dares do more is none . His insecurity with his wife makes him retreat before her argument and go along with her plan.His insecurity is the cause of his dependence on Lady Macbeth and the witches. As he rises in the hierarchy he has more to feel insecure about and so he reacts more irrationally at each stumbling block. Just as it caused him to side with Lady Macbeth so his insecurity causes him to kill Banquo, fearing, in Act 3 Sc. 1, that his crown would be wrenched with an unlineal hand by Banquo s sons. Though in Act 4 Sc. 1, the witches reassure him that none of woman born shall harm Macbeth , his insecurity has metamorphosed into absolute distrust of everyone around him and he decides to kill Macduff anyway, to make assurance double sure against any threat to his throne thus showing how far Macbeth has come from his feelings of insecurity with his wife to feeling insecure as the King of Scotland.During his murderous reign it seems as though Macbeth feels no guilt or conscience. However Shakespeare has been increasing the guilt Macbeth feels ever since his first thought of murdering Duncan, in Act 1 Sc. 3, of which he says (the) horrid image doth unfix my hair . Long before Freud, Shakespeare uses dreams and visions as a platform where man s darkest fears and feelings of guilt are expressed in unedited realism. This theme of visions is carried throughout the play and increases in importance as Macbeth accumulates more to feel guilty about. He also later has visions of the dead Banquo at the banquet, of the witches apparitions and of Banquo s eight sons that are dressed in king s clothes. These visions have become more extreme and come at points after which where Macbeth declines further into the moral mire.Act 2 Sc. 1 has the most dramatic effect on the audience as Macbeth has a vision of a dagger covered in gouts of blood leading him to Duncan s room, causing the audience to ponder on the power the supernatural yields over a person s actions. The structure and language in Macbeth s soliloquy creates an ominous rhythm in the audience s mind to which they imagine Macbeth moves across the stage to. It helps build the crescendo of anticipation needed to convey the gravity of Macbeth s killing of the king. The rhyming couplet; Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell/That summons thee to heaven or to hell , accentuates the finality of his action. The blood that he sees and his feeling that wicked dreams abuse/The curtained sleep is a forewarning of the torment and suffering Macbeth and his wife will endure as punishment for the murder. Their punishment is for their blasphemous disturbing of the natural order. The Macbeths deserved suffering does come in the form which Macbeth foresaw, as Lady Macbeth in Act 5 Sc. 1 has visions of the night of the murder and Duncan s blood on her hands. Her tortured words Will these hands ne er be clean? also tell of the unremitting guilt that stains their conscience. Her only way out is death which she takes, leaving Macbeth alone to fight out the rest of the battle.In feeding his ambition Macbeth destroys the things that formerly gave him power. The seeds of good in him at the beginning gain him praise and recognition from everyone, but do not satisfy his ambition. He carries on fighting though the war is over. Though now, with new enemies: first his king, then his nobles, finally the whole of Scotland. Such a fight is beyond even the great warrior of Act 1. Macbeth s defeat is inevitable, though his attempt to hang on also seems inevitable and can t fail to get some admiration from the audience who watch it and recognise the noble Macbeth of Act 1.

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