Is Macbeth evil, weak or a captive of supernatural forces? Analyse Shakespeare’s portrayal of Macbeth in Act 1, Scenes 2, 3 and 6, Act 2, Scenes 1 and 2, and Act 4, Scene 1.
In Act 1 Scene 2, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is described as a valiant and brave man whom “disdaines Fortune” with his sword that smokes with “bloody execution”. These words describe Macbeth as a fierce and courageous man who will kill anyone in his way to get the solution he wants. In the battlefield, Macbeth has “unseamed” a man “from the nave to th’ chaps” meaning cutting a man from the naval to the jaws. This shows him as a ferocious, maybe uncontrollable character and may hint at what acts he is capable of later in the play.
Earlier in the play, in Act 1 Scene 1, the witches use antithesis to create a mood of good and evil, such as “battle’s lost and won”, and words such as thunder and lightening create an image of chaos and disorder. Act 1 Scene 3 contains dramatic irony; Macbeth echoes the witches’ chant upon his entrance, “So fair and foul a day I have not seen”. The audience knows more than Macbeth who has no idea of the deep significance of his words. An evil atmosphere is created by the witches’ words that are full of spite and malice, “the rump-fed ronyon cries” and “I’ll drain him dry as hay”. The witches predict Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland.
Banquo seems worried by this, “Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear things which do sound so fair?” He also says Macbeth “seems rapt withal” which means spellbound and might be another hint at the supernatural forces acting within him. Banquo does not fear or want to know more of the witches, “Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear your favours nor your hate”. As opposed to Macbeth who is not curious, “Would they had stayed”. When the witches vanish, Banquo questions their sanity, “Or have we eaten on the insane root?” Macbeth is told by Ross that he has been made Thane of Cawdor, then in an aside, “The greatest is behind”, this is a sign of his ambition; he is very driven and determined.
He is already Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor, now that those titles are behind him, he can concentrate on becoming King of Scotland. Macbeth’s soliloquy is filled with nightmarish images of the murder of Duncan. Banquo explains Macbeth’s preoccupation by using imagery of clothes, “Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould, but with the aid of use.” This underlines the theme of deception and appearances. At the end of the scene, Macbeth emphasises that they are “friends”. This appears unnecessary and therefore insincere.
Then in Act 1 Scene 7, Macbeth’s soliloquy is full of euphemisms for killing Duncan. He refers to the murder as “it” or “the deed”. He will not speak directly of it; perhaps this shows that he is a weak man. Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth, “We will proceed no further in this business”, and when she accuses him of cowardice he replies, “I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none.”
By saying that, I think Macbeth is trying to get his wife’s full support. Macbeth’s next line “If we should fail?” suggests that Macbeth is still full of doubt and is being influenced by his wife. Macbeth thinks he can effectively conceal his intentions, “Away, and mock the time with the fairest show, false face must hide what the false heart doth know.” Macbeth also says he will “bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat”, meaning he will get every part of himself ready for the murder. This also suggests that Macbeth is fully in command of his reason; his heart is false.
In Act 2 Scene 2, after the murder of Duncan, Macbeth meets Lady Macbeth with two bloody daggers and confirms to her that he has “done the deed.” Then Lady Macbeth uses the words “owl” and “crickets” which are both associated with death. Following that, there is a quick exchange between them. The quick questions and short answers create suspense but also an essence of obsession or urgency. Shakespeare tries to create sympathy from the audience for Macbeth as he talks about “hangman’s hands” and how Macbeth “does murder sleep”. These are signs of his guilty conscience, and perhaps show he is a weak man and did not want to kill Duncan. I think Shakespeare wants the audience to sympathise with Macbeth because he wants to show the two sides to Macbeth. In the previous scene, they see an aggressive Macbeth killing an innocent man, and in this scene, the regrets start coming to him. He had not thought it through and was pushed into it by Lady Macbeth.
In Act 4 Scene 1, Macbeth again meets the witches, this time he is a much more bold, resolute and exacting, demanding prophetic knowledge from the witches. He addresses them as “midnight hags” and he will not be commanded. Macbeth tries to convince the witches he is now thoroughly evil by talking about the destruction of the world.
“Though you untie the winds and let them fight against the churches, though the yeasty waves confound and swallow navigation up, though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down”
At the end of this he demands “Even till destruction sicken : answer me to what I ask you.” Macbeth thinks he is omnipotent and untouchable, but as the witches create the apparitions, Macbeth is blinded to the hidden symbols of his own doom. The first apparition is of an “armed head”. Macbeth thinks it is Macduff as it speaks of “Macbeth : beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife.” What Macbeth does not see is that it is in fact his own head, armed so he cannot see it. The second apparition is a “bloody child” who enlightens Macbeth that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”. It is Macduff as a baby who has been ripped from his mother’s womb.
Macbeth then swears to kill Macduff, “I’ll make assurance double sure and take a bond of fate : thou shalt not live”. The third apparition from the witches is a “child crowned, with a tree in his hand”. This is young Malcolm, Duncan’s son, showing that he will become king and that he must beware the trees of Birnam Wood. The witches then present Banquo’s descendants as kings and vanish, to Macbeth’s anger. Then Lennox enters and has a quick exchange with Macbeth. The quick questions show Macbeth to be an obsessive, paranoid dictator. It also creates a feeling of suspicion between the characters and the idea that there is no going back.
Lady Macbeth’s evil is shown in her soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 5, “Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall”, “and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell”. I have sympathy with Macbeth in Act 2 Scene 2, after the murder, and I think Macbeth would not have ever committed such an act if Lady Macbeth were not influencing his actions. His ambition is his flaw and Lady Macbeth exploits that weakness.