Issues about Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Macbeth was first performed in 1606; three years after James I ascended the throne. By that time Shakespeare was the most popular playwright in England; after being promoted to the status of King’s Man in 1603. It could be argued Macbeth was written by Shakespeare with the intention of impressing his new Royal patron: James I was also the Scottish King James VI, as a result Shakespeare writing ‘Macbeth’ about Scottish history was a tribute to his new monarch.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship is evidence of this fact; it could be argued that Macbeth’s tragedy, the loss of everything he holds dear is lost due to God punishing him because he didn’t obey the divine right of Kings. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the play are a very close couple; their ambition is the driving force of their relationship as they strive to achieve more their relationship becomes even closer after Duncan is killed. However, after the Witches appear and bolster Macbeth with another prophecy, the relationship between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth deteriorates as Macbeth becomes more independent. After realizing he was constantly being manipulated their relationship becomes weaker leading to Macbeth mutating from a strong, well respected man to a cold, heartless and insensitive perpetrator whilst Lady Macbeth changes from being strong willed and controlling to a scared, paranoid child. This can be best seen in investigating Shakespeare’s use of structure, language and form throughout the play.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have a strong relationship; this is shown by Macbeth’s letter containing a word for word account of what he had experienced when he met the witches. Furthermore, in his letter he addresses Lady Macbeth thus, “This have I good thought to deliver thee, my dearest partner of greatness”. This shows that Macbeth treats Lady Macbeth as his equal, in his climb to greatness, unlike many previous kings. The word “partner” gives us the connotation of sharing the gains and the possible risks and having an equal share of control over their relationship, however later in the play we see Lady Macbeth asserting her dominance upsetting the balance of equality.
They are both portrayed by Shakespeare as ambitious characters; whilst Macbeth is content to wait for fate to take its course Lady Macbeth is not as patient and jumps to the conclusion that they should kill Duncan. Macbeth is petrified at the consequences if they were to be caught. Accordingly, he does not attempt to take Duncan’s life. As a result, Lady Macbeth gives Macbeth the impetus to do her bidding by resorting to her strongest asset; her manipulation skills. “My hands are of your colour, but I shame, to wear a heart so white”. Essentially, Lady Macbeth is criticizing her husband’s lack of masculinity. She is showing her lack of support for her husband as white is traditionally a pure colour, associated with innocence; these colour associations depicts Macbeth as an illustration of weakness, dependence and cowardice. For example, to show a white flag in war would represent surrender. The concept of remorse is symbolised through the blood on Macbeth’s hands and despite his wife’s remonstration he believes his hands and soul are forever stained with the guilt of Duncan’s murder. After killing Duncan Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are united by guilt as they both share a dark secret. They are united as an act of self-preservation, if either of them got frustrated at each other than one of them could betray the other, the accused would then lay blame on the other resulting in them both being executed.
As a consequence to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s closer relationship, Macbeth becomes arrogant and over confident by the witch’s prophecy: “Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” Lady Macbeth was not the only one involved in the deterioration of their marriage, the witches also played a major role. The witches speak using trochaic tetrameters and end their lines with a stressed syllable to show their true nature, unlike most female characters who speak using iambic pentameters and end the line with an unstressed syllable. This shows that the witches are deceitful and are not the conventional portrayal of women. The lack of completion of their lines suggests a dishonest and deviant nature. This prophecy is an example as they only told Macbeth part of the truth. This is intentional as their sole purpose is to wreak chaos. The witches told Macbeth what he wanted to hear: he is powerful and can’t be defeated, due to this he doesn’t notice any flaws in the prophecy leading to the downfall of Macbeth’s marriage. Therefore, Macbeth is confident he can’t be killed “for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”.
The use of structure and language together is extremely effective as it puts emphasis on the flattering tricolon, thus deceiving and misleading him. This leads to Macbeth becoming arrogant and complacent and results in him being susceptible to Macduff’s trickery. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth becomes overwhelmed with guilt and remorse and degenerates into a deranged wreck. As their relationship deteriorates further, Macbeth becomes more self-reliant. He becomes independent due to his confidence that he cannot be killed; without asking Lady Macbeth he murders the guards and arranges for Banquo’s and Macduff’s family to be assassinated, he then patronizes Lady Macbeth as she doesn’t know what has transpired: “Be innocent of the knowledge”.
A big factor of the deterioration of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s relationship is the role reversal, Macbeth gains a power he has never had and Lady Macbeth loses her power to manipulate. Her manipulation skills were the driving force of their marriage; without this asset their ambitious thoughts cannot be accomplished. Near the end of the play Lady Macbeth dies off stage and without her husband, additionally he doesn’t find out himself, it is reported to him. This shows that to Macbeth that Lady Macbeth is insignificant to him. This shows they are no longer partners as partners go through thick and thin together, however, Macbeth is not present for her death. Their relationship challenged the principles of a Jacobean marriage as a man at the head of the relationship, at the start of the play the audience would sympathize with Macbeth but their perception would change quickly as they see him assert himself as Lady Macbeth sinks into despair, madness and guilt. It could be argued the deterioration of their marriage could be Shakespeare’s form of appeasing the Jacobean audience from their state of shock; it is unusual to see a woman at the head of the marriage in the Jacobean era due to the belief that the man should control the relationship.
In conclusion I believe that Shakespeare was successful to a certain extent. He pleases his Monarch; Shakespeare is reinforcing the Divine right of Kings by killing Macbeth, this serves as a reminder to James that God entrusted him with the job of being King of not only England but Scotland as well.
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