Critical Analysis of Shakespeare’s Macbeth
When you hear the name: William Shakespeare, you usually think of elaborately written plays with a good main character and a bad minor character, battling it out in the name of good and evil, or even a tale of “star crossed” lovers; but in the case of his play, “Macbeth,” none of those are completely true, for the main character in the play is the evil one. “Macbeth” is a twisted story where you learn many of the characters view points, and you can almost see inside the head of evil Macbeth, and the events that take place in part of his lifetime.
The story begins with Duncan, the king of Scotland, finding out that the thane of Cawdor had betrayed him, and later hears of one of his noblemen’s, Macbeth, loyalty to the throne, so declares him the new thane. Meanwhile, Macbeth and another nobleman, Banquo, meet three witches that give Macbeth three predictions: That he will become the thane of Glamis, the thane of Cawdor, and then shall become king.
Since Macbeth already had the title of thane of Glamis passed down to him from his father, and Ross tells him that he is the new thane of Cawdor, Macbeth believes that all of the prophecies are coming true. When Macbeth informs his wife, Lady Macbeth, of this, she wishes to become queen so much, that she presses Macbeth to plot and murder King Duncan while he sleeps in their castle.
After his murder, Duncan’s sons fear a plot on the royal family and flee, therefore making Macbeth the king of Scotland. Throughout the rest of the play, Macbeth is slowly overwhelmed by greed, while Lady Macbeth slowly goes crazy from guilt and kills herself. Finally, in an upheaval of revenge for Macbeth killing his family, another nobleman named Macduff kills Macbeth in a duel and Duncan’s son, Malcom rightfully takes the throne. The story of “Macbeth” elaborates and is based on four major themes: Greed for power compels and blinds you, what goes around, comes around, guilt is overwhelming, and evil tends to come from a masculine figure.
The most major theme, I’d say, is that greed for power drives one to do unnatural things, and even blinds you from seeing what is right. This is evident throughout the whole play. One of the first examples of this is in act one, scene three, when Macbeth is speaking aside and thinking of murder to become king; he says, “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, / Shakes so my single state of man that function / Is smothered in surmise, and nothing is / But what is not.” Another example of this is again in act I, scene five when Lady Macbeth reads a letter written by Macbeth telling her of the witches predictions, and instantly thinks of killing king Duncan so she would become queen. Macbeth is slightly hesitant at first, realizing the situation, but goes along with the idea once Lady Macbeth threatens him and calls him a coward.
Lady Macbeth draws up a plan to make it appear as the guards outside of Duncan’s room murdered him, and the once loyal Macbeth, commits treason and murderers his king in cold blood. Macbeth had wanted kingdom so much that he was willing to kill for it, as was his wife. This proves also true in act III when Macbeth remembers that the witches also gave a prediction to his friend, Banquo: “Thou shall get kings, though thou be none.” (I, iii), but he believes that his descendants should be the ones who inherit the throne, not Banquo’s. Remembering this, he hires three murderers to kill him and his son, Fleance, so only Macbeth’s children shall rein after him.
Macbeth is overrun by greed throughout the whole play, and in Act IV, he goes to see the witches again, to get more predictions. He learns from three apparitions that he should beware of Macduff, he can’t be killed by one born of a woman, and he won’t be killed until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Macduff is so blinded by his greed and glory as king, that he doesn’t fully think over the last three predictions and believes himself to be unstoppable. He doesn’t see the true meaning of them, which leads to his downfall and death when Macduff, who was born C-sectioned, raises an army who disguise themselves with branches from Birnam Wood, attack and eventually kill him.
Another theme from “Macbeth” is the theory that what goes around, comes around. Usually when one commits a crime or even does good, it comes back and repeats itself in some way, which occurs throughout the length of the play. Macbeth plans and commits many murders during the course of the story: Duncan, the two guards, Banquo, Macduff’s family, and Young Siward, without any immediate punishment. However, murder eventually makes it’s way back to him through revenge by Malcom and Macduff, and even Banquo.
Malcom, trying to reclaim the throne for the good of Scotland, and his late father, raises an army in England to try and take back over his rightful kingdom, he states, “Let’s make us med’cines of our great revenge, / To cure this deadly grief.” (IV, iii). Banquo’s ghost even tries to get revenge on Macbeth by haunting him in act III. However, Macduff is the one who gets true revenge. Macbeth had his family murdered because he feared that Macduff suspected him of treason, and when Macduff hears of this, he wants immediate compensation. He goes with Malcom and the English forces to Dunsinane and murders Macbeth in a duel, therefore showing that since Macbeth committed murder, someone came back and murdered him, or “What goes around, comes around.”
Guilt, usually in all senses, is always overwhelming. Many people can not commit a crime or lie without feeling the wrath of their own guilt afterward, and that is also true throughout “Macbeth.” You want to believe that someone is normal if they have a wave of guilt after doing something wrong, and you see this through Macbeth during the first scene. Macbeth wants to be king, so he thinks of murdering Duncan, but then chastises himself afterward for thinking of it, because of his guilt. However, Lady Macbeth calls him a coward and talks him into doing it; she is basically the spark that begins all of his greed. You see another example of Macbeth feeling guilty after the murder of Duncan when he says that he could not even utter the word “amen” after a prayer.
Lady Macbeth also receives her share of guilt in the story, and probably the worst dose of it. First of all, she can’t murder king Duncan herself because “Had he not resembled / [Her] father as he slept, [she] had done’t.” (II, ii). Obviously guilt had overtaken her because Duncan reminded her of her father, and she couldn’t kill him. However, she did plan it, and that guilt was overbearing enough for her. It made her have hallucinations in her sleep, which caused her to sleepwalk and talk to herself. Eventually, it got the best of her and she ended up committing suicide because the amount of guilt bottled up inside of her was too much to handle.
One of the final, less noticeable themes to Macbeth happens to be the fact that evil seems to come mostly from a masculine figure. You see this in many cases involving Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. For example, Lady Macbeth is trying to get the courage to kill Duncan and she says, “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full / Of direst cruelty!” (I, v), which means that she wishes to be able to be cruel and kill like a man would, almost showing that women were not capable of having such evil thoughts in those times. Lady Macbeth also criticizes Macbeth when he doesn’t want to kill Duncan, and makes fun of him by calling him a coward and unmanly. Both of those statements made by Lady Macbeth show that at least Shakespeare believed that most people thought that evil usually comes from a masculine figure. Even though he made Lady Macbeth the woman who planned it, she was asking to become more masculine to do the deed.
Another fact that supports that theme was after Macduff found out about the murder, and is speaking to Lady Macbeth about the it he says, “O gentle lady, / ‘Tis not for you to hear what I can speak: / The repetition, in a woman’s ear, / Would murder as it fell.” (II, iii). Macduff basically tells Lady Macbeth that the gruesome details shouldn’t be heard by a woman because women are so “delicate,” meaning that one couldn’t even begin to commit and evil deed such as murder.
As you can see, Shakespeare created his play, “Macbeth” a little bit out of the norm by making the main character evil, and incorporating many everyday themes into it that can still be recognized and applied to life today. Those major themes were that greed for power is compelling and blinding, which is displayed by Macbeth killing for what he wants; what goes around, comes around, which is showed by Macduff and Malcom getting revenge on Macbeth; guilt is overpowering, which is incorporated into the story by Lady Macbeth feeling so guilty, she kills herself; and finally, evil tends to be seen as coming from a masculine figure, which is proven through quotes said by Lady Macbeth. All in all, Shakespeare’s masterpiece, “Macbeth,” allows it’s readers to easily see the effects of guilt, greed, and it’s other themes, which contribute to it’s greatness and even it’s simplicity.
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