Macbeth is one of many tragedy’s written by William Shakespeare. It was written around the time of 1604. The play is set in 1057 and is about a regicide of a king and its aftermath. Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy and characters in his play are based on real people.
One of the reasons for Shakespeare writing this play is that because of its Scottish theme, that the play perhaps was written for and debuted to King James. One of the reasons that the witches are, perhaps, the main characters in the play and that they have such a big influence on to the characters is because, during Shakespeare’s time, witches were seen not just as rebels but much worse. Not only were they political traitors but, spiritual traitors aswell. Witches were also seen as worshipers of the Devil, bringing and portraying evil on to their unsuspecting victims.
The play begins with the brief appearance of a trio of witches, it then goes to the end of a long and tiring battle, where King Duncan’s men are victorious. Two of the Kings generals, Macbeth and Banquo, then go onto to encounter the three mysterious witches on the top of a bleak Scottish moorland. The witches give the two men prophecies in which Macbeth decides to listen to the witches and complete his prophecy, whereas, Banquo chooses to ignore his. Macbeth tells hiswife Lady Macbeth about his prophecy and she then vows to help him complete the prophecy (becoming king) by any means possible. By this, they plot to murder the present king, Duncan. As Duncan sleeps, Macbeth stabs him, despite his doubts. Once the deed is done, Lady Macbeth plants the daggers by Duncans guards as to look like they have committed the crime.
The key scenes (between act1 scene 7 and act2 scene 2) are the ones which signify the change in which happens to Macbeth during the play. For instance;
‘prithee, peace. I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none.’
Here Macbeth is demanding to lady macbeth to keep her mouth shut. He wants her to stop being so persistent about the plan, because she is making the situation worse for herself, by aggravating Macbeth so much, she is actually putting him off committing the crime. But, she realises that she is being too persuasive towards Macbeth and by doing this is making him angry. Therefore, this brings on a urge of anger from Macbeth which caused him to say that to her, and because he is answering back to her shows his defiance, lady Macbeth cannot have that, so she becomes even more domineering which then causes Macbeth to become belittled by her. So, to please her, Macbeth reconsiders the plan, but he then thinks about the consequences by saying;
‘If we should fail?’
This shows his cowardice towards the situation, this distresses lady Macbeth so, she comes back to Macbeth by asking him the question of;
This shows that she will never consider failure. By using a question mark this shows that instead of answering Macbeths question, which seems completely senseless to her, she turns her answer into a rhetorical question in which Macbeth cannot answer because she’s made him see the absurdity of his question.
Some themes that resonate in the play include, greed and power, trust and betrayal and desperation. Trust and betrayal happen in the play near the start, where King Duncan puts his trust in Macbeth by making him thane of cawdor and then Macbeth purposely betrays him by literally ‘backstabbing’ him through by power-hungry and wanted more than just thane of cawdor.
Greed and power happen when Macbeth and lady Macbeth want more power than that of the royal family. Greed for power has also completely engulfed their minds. They cannot except anything less than complete power over Scotland. It has destroyed them by destroying all that was familiar around them; friends, loved ones, and eventually their own sanity.
Macbeth acts desperately by killing the king because he is so over taken by greed for power that he cannot function normally. As seen, desperation can sometimes cause a person to act against their own will or better judgement.
At the start of act 1 scene 7, it begins with the soliloquy of Macbeth. In this soliloquy Macbeth takes and expresses his feelings to the audience about how he has doubts about why they should not murder Duncan. In this soliloquy Shakespeare reveals the great emotional state in which Macbeth is feeling at that moment. Most of the soliloquy centres on why they shouldn’t murder Duncan but, the first lines in the soliloquy in which Macbeth says are,
‘If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly’
Macbeth is saying that if there are no consequences then he would commit it straight away without a hesitation. But because of hesitation of which he has, he has concern. He refers to this when he later suggests to lady Macbeth,
This suggests that he still has strong doubts as to whether to go through with the murder. As the soliloquy continues Macbeth starts to think more and more deeply about the idea and in more context. He begins to conceive the idea and the reality of the aftermath in which the plan brings. He then sees that committing such a crime would bring on such a profusion of guilt. With this thought Macbeth says;
‘to plague th’inventor’
Macbeth is saying that, eventually that guilt held upon the sinner, will start to infect that person. To have a plague upon someone, is to cause trouble to them. To bring distress to someone. And to use the word ‘inventor’ shows that he is the maker of something. Shakespeare shows that Macbeth is the maker of this. He is the one that stabs that dagger through Duncan. He is the one that caused the destruction of Duncan.
The other main character in the play is Lady Macbeth. She is portrayed as a very strong and domineering character. For Macbeth to have a women as such a dominant character was a very bold risk because, during the time of Shakespeare women (especially married women) were seen as the weaker sex, not just in strength but, emotionally too. And the character of lady Macbeth is the complete opposite of these accusations. In act 1 scene 7 Lady Macbeth shows her frustration and irritation with Macbeth when Macbeth tells her that he has made up his mind and says,
‘We will proceed no further in this business’
For lady Macbeth to hear this shows failure. And for her to feel failure means humiliation and embarrassment. It also shows that Macbeth has become the more domineering one in the situation. Which aggravates lady Macbeth. To bring back her status as alpha, she questions Macbeth by asking him,
‘Was the hope drunk?’
By asking Macbeth this question, she is making the assumption that whilst considering the idea Macbeth was drunk. She is saying that for him to be drunk, whilst contemplating the plan, has made him be too rash in his decision. Therefore, making his decision to be illogical nonsensical. She has also asks him a very nasty and vulgar question,
‘From this time, such I account thy love?’
Here she is saying one of the reasons he wont commit the crime is because he, doesn’t love her. I believe that this comment is one of the coldest and cruellest lines that she says in the play. This is because, it shows that really all she cares about is her own self accomplishment, she is so obsessed about gaining a higher title that she doesn’t care about Macbeth, she is just using him to achieve this. But controversially, without him, she would not be able to achieve any of this, so, initially she needs him. Without him she would be weak and pathetic.
In act 1 scene 7, Lady Macbeth try’s to persuade Macbeth to believe in her, to trust her disposition. To try and persuade him into agreeing to commit the murder, instead of being encouraging and being kind in her manner towards him she is, threatening, hurtful and cruel towards him. By doing this she says to him,
‘What beast wasn’t then that made you break this enterprise to me?’
What she is saying to Macbeth is that it is ironic that he has gone against her, his next of kin. But instead, sided with his king. But she quickly changes her tone and says,
‘When you durst do it, then you were a man’
She says to him, that when he commit’s the crime, then it will show that he is a real man, that he has great power- by killing the king it will show he is the most powerful man in the country. Also for her to use the word when is clever because, she uses a definite word she is clearly stating that he will commit the murder and that he will be respected as a true man for it. Once she has finishes, it seems that Macbeth has basically given up disagreeing with her. That her constant eagerness for this plan to go through with has tired Macbeth. He no longer ignore her threats and demands. So he eventually comes round to the idea and doing so, makes him believe more and more into the pleasure and reward at the end of it.
Once Macbeth starts to see the positives of the plan he asks lady Macbeth,
‘If we shall fail?’
With this, Lady Macbeth replies,
‘we fail? But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail’
And with this lady Macbeth goes on to say to the plan she has thought up. The plan includes; violence. This is shown when she says,
‘what cannot you and I perform on th’unguarded Duncan?’
Here she says that whilst Duncan is unprotected what act can they not perform on him, suggesting that the murder shall be easy. The purpose; to kill Duncan will ensure that both Macbeth and lady Macbeth will achieve great pleasure. With hearing this plan Macbeth is more reassured and is also a lot more convinced now, in himself and in his wife. This also brings relief to lady Macbeth. Now she knows that she has her husbands full approval. Because she knew eventually that she would convince him. Knowing that she would convince him she had every last detail of the plan thought up, and doing so she lets Macbeth have his own suggestion and idea for the plan, which is when he says,
‘False face must hide what the false heart doth know.’
Macbeth is saying to his wife, that they must have an act. They must have to be able cover up every little bit of remorse they know. They must keep a poker faced.
At the beginning of act 2 scene 1, before the murder of Duncan, Macbeth has a vision of dagger. This is the part where some people say that the witches contact Macbeth by using this dagger. The dagger comes to Macbeth with its handle pointing towards him and the blade towards Duncan’s room. This is a clear indication that he should take the dagger to Duncan’s room. The dagger then comes back, but this time it has bloody blade. This shows Macbeth that the deed has been committed. As Macbeth sees this, he wonders whether it is real or is just his mind. After seeing the image of the dagger a bell rings, this shows Macbeth that the deed has to be committed now. Hearing this Macbeth says,
‘I go and it is done. The bell invites me. Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell.’
Act 2 scene 2 is when the murder of Duncan is committed. The worry and stress of both characters is shown here. For us to see this it is shown firstly for lady Macbeth, where and owl shrieks and she cries,
‘Hark, peace! It was the owl that shrieked’
But to cause them stress and anxiety the owl could been seen as a witches familiar, sent to play tricks on their minds.
Once Macbeth has committed the crime, he hears lady Macbeth speak but he doesn’t realise it is her, and shouts,
‘Whos there? What ho?
This shows the stress and panic in his voice. Lady Macbeth who is still anxious and panicked reveals that she originally tried to commit the crime but, as she entered Duncan’s room and saw him sleeping there reminded her too much of her father,
‘Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t
This shows that lady Macbeth still has human feelings and also shows some cowardness characteristics about her because, after her abusing Macbeth about being a coward because he did not want to murder Duncan she, herself could not bring herself to do it when the time came. Once Macbeth and lady Macbeth are reunited after the murder, Macbeth confesses to lady Macbeth,
‘This is a sorry sight’
This shows that Macbeth now has some regret and is upset by what he has just done. But because lady Macbeth does not want to hear any regrets about the crime she says to him,
‘a foolish thought to say a sorry sight.’
Macbeth is starting to feel overcome with guilt about what he has just committed and starts to believe that whilst he was murdering Duncan, he heard voices,
‘Theres one did laugh in’s sleep, and one cried, ‘murder!”
Maybe these are the doings of the witches, that made Macbeth hear these things. To make him think that people know what he has done and to show this, Shakespeare uses the word ‘murder’ which will send panic and frustration into Macbeths head. During Shakespeare’s time the worst crime that could ever have been committed was treason and for committing treason you would be sent straight to hell. This was because Christianity was extremely practiced throughout England. So, one of the lines Macbeth says is,
‘I could not say ‘Amen’ when they did say ‘God bless us”
So, for him to not say ‘Amen’ because of the act he has committed has gone against him being a Christian and has gone against Christianity. Also it would be hypocritical of him to do so as well. He could of also not been able to say ‘amen’ because the witches could’ve prevented him from not saying it. This is due to the fact that witches are completely and Christian because they are worshippers of Satan. With having head all of these voices Macbeth starts to become more and more paranoid. Seeing this lady Macbeth trys to settle him and reassure him that everything will be and that it will go accordingly to their plan. Due to her strong and organised personality lady Macbeth sees Macbeths blood-ridden hands and tells him to go and wash them,
‘Get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hand’
Lady Macbeth also tells Macbeth to go and take the daggers back to the room and to make sure that he smears the blood over the Duncans guards to make it look even more obvious that his guards murdered him. But because of how disturbed Macbeth is he is very clear that he will not go back to that room where his king lies dead, by his doing.
‘I’ll go no more. I am afraid to think what I have done; look on’t again, I dare not’
In my opinion the best dramatic device Shakespeare has used for this play is the contrast between the roles of Macbeth and lady Macbeth. The dramatic difference between to two characters personalities and behaviour is clearly shown to us. Macbeths noble and bravery is clearly displayed when he is given the title thane of cawdor due to his commitment in battle, whilst lady Macbeths evil and thirst for power is obviously demonstrated due to the fact that she uses her own husband to murder their own king.
He also shows the two characters as maybe ‘role reversals’ due to the fact that lady Macbeth is the strong, clever, dominant character, whilst Macbeth is the loyal, kinder, softer character. But, the reasons why Macbeths personality changes so much is the fact that after the murder of Duncan the witches carry on to play with Macbeths mind, to make him want more and that’s the reason of his downfall. He wanted too much of what he couldn’t have. This was the same reason for lady Macbeth, but I believe that from the start she always wanted to have more and more because of her greed for power.