Macbeth was written in 1606 by William Shakespeare, and was an instant classic. It was written for King James I, and so corresponded to his deepest interest- witchcraft. King James found something fascinating about the supernatural beings that were witches, which is strange as in that time period witchcraft was against the law and punishable by death. Furthermore in the renaissance period, all people were incredibly religious, and were petrified of even the thought of such a storyline as this. Shakespeare reinforces in Macbeth that Kings are God’s representatives on earth, and to kill one would be a crime against God. Also, King James was familiar with such a risk as just one year before he was threatened by the gunpowder plot. Additionally, to interest King James the settings were ones that he had reign over, so knew well: Inverness, Scone, Fife and Dunsinane.
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies and so it is a play in which characters must struggle with circumstances, and in which most meet death and despair. Shakespeare was born into an ever changing world, and through that he looked for the things he knew would never change like: Love, power, honour and Friendship. In Macbeth we see love lost, power in those who protect it with loyalty and in the hands of a wicked tyrant, honour in noble men and women and stolen through disloyalty, and finally we see friendship put to the test. Shakespeare explored in his plays what it was to be human, and in Macbeth he explored how something so human could be drawn in by power, ambition and temptation.
The witches are the most important unnatural characters in Macbeth, as although they are not the main characters we feel they have all the control throughout the play. It is clear from the very beginning who their victim is intended to be, as they do so speak his name and chant as though they are putting a spell on him. They present him with the prophecies and they come true so we know they can see into the future. Also, it is strange that the first words Macbeth speaks are also that of the witches, as the last words they say in the first scene ‘Fair is foul, and fair is foul’ – ‘So foul and fair I have not seen.’
these quotes are both illustrating the concept of appearance and reality, opposites are played against each other here, as something can look so Fair but can actually be foul. Pathetic fallacy is used whenever the witches are around as thunder and lightening, it is also used to give the impression that although they are not around they do still have something to do with the particular situation. The effect? – Developing and thickening the sinister atmosphere, in a way it entices you to keep watching and in my opinion this was Shakespeare’s intension.
Another way in which the witches are characterised as unnatural is, in act four scene one supernatural similes are used to create imagery of enchanting spells: ‘And round about the cauldron sing, like elves and fairies in a ring.’ this conjures an image in your mind of elves, fairies and other enchanted creatures dancing round a cauldron.
One thing that sets the witches apart from everyone else is the way they speak. Shakespeare, in his plays made all characters speak in iambic pentameter which is basically a speech pattern that involves 5 stress points in a line. The witches do not speak this, instead they chant in tetrameter which is four stress points in a line, and the nearest speech pattern to our modern day rhyming poetry. This makes the witches more prominent and it also makes their chanting seem more supernatural as it is poetic.
The witches are one example of unnatural in Macbeth, in contrast with this Banquo is one example of someone Natural. We can tell Banquo is natural when we first see him as he is not drawn in by the witches’ prophecies. ‘Stay, you imperfect creatures, tell me more.’ Macbeth becomes very involved in the prophecies unlike Banquo – ‘Look, how are partners rapt’ – and Banquo actually worries for his friend who seems to have become vulnerable to the unnatural charms of the witches And as the play goes on he never loses his cool, he dismisses the witches existence after their meeting, and just gets on with his life with his son Fleance. Banquo is a smart character, as is does not take him long to realise that Macbeth killed King Duncan in order to speed up the prophecies, and I think on some level he knew that Macbeth would one day become so intimidated by him, that he would want him dead.
Another way in which Banquo is characterised as natural is his loyalty; he was loyal to the rightful King Duncan and to his family. When Banquo dies he does not put up much of a fight, but just uses all of his last strengths to save his poor son who witnessed his death: ‘O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! Thou mayest revenge.’ here he is telling Fleance to get out and away, but to also seek revenge for him later. Banquo’s ghost is a very important aspect of the play, it is the first real picture that we see of Macbeth having severe remorse problems over what he has done, and this also gives us an insight into his troubled mind, damaged so even Lady Macbeth can’t reconcile him anymore.
There can be many interpretations of why Banquo’s ghost haunts Macbeth and Macbeth alone, one of these being this is revenge Banquo was talking about (the last words he said before he died) he is manipulating Macbeth’s mind as revenge. Of course the most common interpretation is that Macbeth has finally gone crazy and is seeing dead people which is to be expected after he has dabbled in such unnatural magic. Different performances of this play can decipher these scenes in various ways, such as; they have to decide whether Banquo will actually be on the stage, or will the audience have to imagine what Macbeth is seeing. Also this can be an opportunity for a little humour in the play whilst still giving the message across of how beyond repair Macbeth’s soul is. An example of a humour opportunity is to have Banquo appear in unconventional places, including behind him, or on top of the table. Whichever, it is important to understand how stagecraft can be tweaked to create a reaction from the audience.
Lady Macbeth is cast as a natural woman, but for some reason she chooses to resist this and tries to make herself manlier, because she thinks men feel less emotion than women. She refuses to let her emotions stand in her way of the social ladder she is wilfully climbing through the honour of her husband. This is why she pushes her husband so hard to achieve, as women in the renaissance time period lived off the accomplishments of their husbands as they were not allowed to be independent. ‘Come all you spirits which feed on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.’ this is an example of Lady Macbeth no longer wanting to be a woman so she can participate in a murder. ‘I have given suck, and know how tender ‘t is to love the babe that milks me’ This quote is a symbol of how quickly Lady Macbeth can turn.
Her words start out innocent and natural like those from a mother, but as she goes on- ‘I would while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from its boneless gums’- it starts to unravel the evil that runs through her unnatural blood.
And to finish off she ends with- ‘and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done this.’- these are very powerful words from Lady Macbeth, and they show just how manipulative and cruel she can really be. Again referring to the unnatural, women were supposed to marry and give birth to healthy children, Lady Macbeth however has no children and uses the natural feelings mothers normally have about their children, as a reason to make her husband kill a king. There is some great imagery in this quote too, it conjure the image spectacularly in your mind of her to be so merciless to a pure harmless baby.
Although she seems so strong at this point it soon gets all too much for even her, and she goes mental and eventually commits suicide. When Lady Macbeth becomes psychologically traumatized, her sleep pattern is severely disturbed, and she ends up sleep walking and trying to wash her hands to get rid of the imaginary blood on them. ‘Yet here’s a spot’ Sleep is a natural thing and when it is disturbed it suggests that that person is unnaturally distressed. This quote is from when Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and is trying to wash her hands of the terrible deeds she has committed. ”Out, damned spot out I say’ this is telling how she gets frustrated when she cannot rid herself from the invisible marks.
Going back to 1605 after the gunpowder plot, a special medallion was made with an image of a flower with a serpent under it; when lady Macbeth is about to suggest that King Duncan should be murdered she says to her husband. ‘Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under ‘t.’ this is an appearance and reality quote which is very interesting because of the history behind it. Lady Macbeth is telling her husband to act like there is nothing wrong (welcoming and hospitable for their guest) but really kill him as soon as the chance occurs, that way he seems above suspicion. Shakespeare’s audience of the time would have appreciated the reference much more than we can today but even so it does not go unnoticed.
Macbeth in the start of the play is a valiant and courageous warrior, throughout the play we see him lose this status and also plummet his reputation into the dirty hole from which the witches came from. Macbeth is a very susceptible and gullible character, this is shown even in his very first scene as he is drawn in by the witches prophecies, and even more so when the first one comes true.
He is also very trustworthy towards his wife, and does whatever she says which in the end does not have the desired result.
However, before we see him we hear of his heroic deeds and it seems to us he has always been virtuous. Act one scene two is in a way painting a picture in the readers’ mind of how Macbeth is seen by other people before they see him themselves and make their own conclusion, ‘With his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution. ‘ this I think makes them more open to their conclusion of him as in act one scene three Macbeth gives the feeling that he is not the fearless warrior he is made out to be.
‘Till he unseamed him from the nave to the chaps.’ this also shows how violent he can be, which can be interpreted as a bad thing if he is using it against the good. Then he meets the witches and they tempt him, as he is so stupid as to follow their wicked ways. Lady Macbeth is actually the force behind him when he kills King Duncan, and this is shown when Macbeth has doubts and she convinces him to carry on. ‘Is this a dagger I see before me, its handle towards my hand? Come let me clutch thee.’ as Macbeth is killing Duncan it is like it is not really happening and that he is just hallucinating. After this Macbeth gets so caught up in the prophecies they take over his life, he even has his best friend murdered because of them, and he plunges into mental turmoil when being haunted by his ghost.
Macbeth as king creates a reign of terror and suspicion throughout his land, and hires so many spies and murderers that it is hard to tell who is loyal and who is not. He makes a land full of lies. Even Malcolm when he is in England talking to Macduff, pretends to be evil until he could be sure Macduff was trustworthy. ‘I am not treacherous’ Macduff says this to Malcolm after he has realised they are both innocent to which Malcolm replies ‘But Macbeth is’ and soon they are plotting to overthrow him. When Macbeth knows he has taken care of all the prophecies against him, his temptation to know more gets the better of him, and he goes to see the witches once more, to demand a reading into the future.
As soon as Macbeth feels he is invincible because of the prophecies (‘None of woman born shall harm Macbeth’) he decides to take on Macduff. Macbeth is somewhat confident at this point, so it is a huge blow to him when Macduff reveals that he was ‘From his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d’ meaning he was born prematurely through caesarean section, therefore undermining the prophecy and finally Macbeth is killed.
Personally I think Macbeth is actually a good and natural man but he evidently is easily trustworthy to anyone and anything, as he is drawn in like on a fishing line reeling him in to the unnatural side. Plus he is bullied into killing the king by his wife. I don’t think it was not at all his fault. I just believe he would not have become so off track if it wasn’t for his wife.
Macbeth has many contrasts of natural and unnatural and Shakespeare portrays these in many ways, but in the end it will always be a struggle between good and evil which is still used in modern films today. I think Shakespeare in Macbeth was trying to not only entertain the viewers, but to tell them that there is good and bad in everyone, but the good will always be triumphant.