The play is entitled The Tragedy of Macbeth. This suggests that the main character is a tragic hero. This implies the downfall of a man of great standing, intelligence and personal power – someone respected for his courageous deeds. Because of a fatal flaw in his character, we watch his decline and inevitable death. During the course of the play we are encouraged to feel terror and pity as we watch the tragic consequences of his behaviour.
During the course of the play Macbeth changes his mind twice about killing King Duncan. He first decides to kill the king, and then decides not to kill him, before deciding to kill him once again.
There is plenty of evidence in the early scenes of the play that Macbeth is a valiant soldier and a noble Thane. He is well respected by the other Thanes, who speak highly of his performance in battle. He is a soldier of note, a worthy opponent in battle. He kills Macdonwald and helps defeats the Norwegian forces. He is, in fact, crucial to the army, his king and country.
Despite this he is a weak character and is easily persuaded by people, such as the witches in Act 1Scene 3 when they greet him, ” All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor! …… All Hail Macbeth! Thou shalt be king hereafter!” Although he is first puzzled by this, as he is not yet Thane of Cawdor or the king, he is influenced by what they have to say and this comes to light more and more as the play goes on. The witches leave and he then talks to Banquo about it, and is then told by Banquo that he will be king, “You shall be king.” From this time onwards we share in the slow decline of a great hero in his own right, until finally we see only the sad and lonely man who anticipates the meaninglessness of his future.
Although it is very necessary for Shakespeare to show the heroic Thane in action, it also adds to our sense of loss as we watch Macbeth’s descent into evil, prompted by personal ambition and the prophecy of the forces of darkness. I think this sets the idea in Macbeths head that he can become king and this ambition grows on him as the play wears on, as does the ambition for Lady Macbeth. As in Act 1 Scene 5 when Macbeth enters Lady Macbeth instantly greets him, “Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor! Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!”. After this Macbeth goes on to say that the king comes there that night and Lady Macbeth says when will he leave and Macbeth says,” Tomorrow, as he purposes.” Lady Macbeth then says,” O, never shall sun that morrow see!” as if overcome with evil and a bit over excited about the whole thing. That night it is planned that Macbeth kill King Duncan.
Act 1 Scene 5 Lines 61-68 show the very blatant thoughts emerging from Lady Macbeth,” Your face, my Thane, is as a book where men May read strange matters. To beguile the time Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye, Your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t. He that’s coming Must be provided for; and you shall put
This night’s great business into my dispatch, Which shall to all our nights and days to come Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.” The theme of this passage is ambition. Nothing can stand in the way of gaining the throne. Look how the speech begins. Lady Macbeth knows her husband to be a good man. That is what she fears: he is too good to kill the king. She also realises that he is aware of what honours he could gain. Lady Macbeth compares the look on Macbeth’s face to the page of a book: he reveals everything too openly. She knows she must work at the ambitious side of his nature.
The main forces which decide his mind come from Lady Macbeth and the witches/ weird sisters. Lady Macbeth is very prominent in Macbeths life and mind and she provokes many strong thoughts in Macbeth. She seems to be a lot more ambitious for her husband than he himself seems to be and she makes much more effort to make him act, and even goes to the extent of planning the murder. She knows that Macbeth is vulnerable to suggestions and from not least his own wife, and she knows that she can effectively nearly control him. She gets so caught up in evil thoughts after reading Macbeths letter (Act 1 Scene 5) and makes herself evil with lines such as, “And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full Of direst cruelty!
Make thick my blood………Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between Th’effect and it!”. After reading his letter, she draws about planning the murder for him, as she wants Macbeth to be the king, which would make her the queen, which was probably her motive for it in the first place. She exerts a lot of power over Macbeth in this part of the play and even calls him a “coward” and this shows just how determined she is and how much ambition she has for her husband. It is this confidence in herself plus the persuasiveness on her words that makes Macbeth act on her words without hesitating. Their speech suggests that they have little passion between them and more respect as if between adults or acquaintances.
Macbeths’ first change of heart comes on the eve of the planned murder after the soliloquy (Act 1 Scene 7 Lines 1-26) when Lady Macbeth enters and asks why Macbeth is not in position. Macbeth then has good thoughts. Thoughts that are not those of his wife and he decides against it,
“We will proceed no further in this business: He hath honoured me of late, and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people…….Not cast aside so soon.” He says of how the king has praised Macbeth lately and of how people honour the king so he cannot just by-pass these statements and kill him.
Lady Macbeth then proceeds to try and change his pattern of thought, as she is clearly not happy with Macbeths decision. Using her persuasive manner and her harsh tongue she tries to make Macbeth see that it is the wrong decision and that he must kill the king, questioning his manhood and bravery, “Art thou afeard To be the same in thine own act and valour As thou art desire?”
As Lady Macbeth continues to speak, Macbeth is obviously changing his mind back to his original plan and this is clearly shown as he goes from saying, ” I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more, is none.” To, “If we should fail?” implying that he now plans to carry it out. He doesn’t want to appear to be weak in front of his wife, especially as she scorns him, “And live a coward in thine own esteem…” This shows again how susceptible he is to outside influence and persuasion, if be it coming from a strong, evil character such as Lady Macbeth.