Soliloquies of Macbeth
Q. Discuss the dramatic significance of the soliloquies in Macbeth. (OR) Q. “Macbeth is a hero turned villain, still we sympathise with him.” How has the dramatist enlisted our sympathy for him? Shakespeare, like other Elizabethan playwrights, has utilized the literary device of soliloquy for a variety of purposes. He has used them very ably for analysis of motives and purposes of the characters concerned and to help in the development of the action of the play. Macbeth is the only tragedy of Shakespeare in which the tragic hero turns a villain and yet he retains our sympathy till the very end.
Even when Macbeth makes Scotland bleed as a result of his career of blood, he does not entirely lose our sympathy. This feat of dramatic art has been achieved through his various soliloquies at different stages of his career of murder and bloodshed.
Thus his soliloquies are the windows through which we get a glimpse of his inner suffering and realize that, though a villain he may be, he has also much good in him which fails to assert itself owing to circumstances beyond his control.
Macbeth’s asides after hearing the prophecies are in fact soliloquies that amply reveal the secret goings – on in his mind and expose his character. When the Witches have uttered their prophecies, Banque finds him “rapt” in thoughts. When Rosse and Angus inform him to the conferment of title of Thane of Cowder on him he cannot restrain himself from revealing to the audience his secret ambition of becoming King: “The greatest is behind”.
He looks upon the partial fulfillment of the prophecies “as happy prologues to the swelling act” of “the imperial theme.” In Act I, Sc. iv, just after Duncan nominates his son as the Prince of Cumberland and heir to the throne, he invokes the stars to hide their fires so that he himself may not see his “black and deep desires.” These asides bear special dramatic significance. They expose the birth of evil in Macbeth’s mind, which leads to Duncan’s assassination, the central act of the play.
The most famous soliloquy in Act I Sc.vii, where Macbeth is contemplating the murder, with Duncan already in his castle as a guest. This soliloquy beginning “If it were done, when ‘tis done” shows Macbeth’s reflections on the consequences of the murder. There are moral objections to the crime as, “He’s here in double trust.” Duncan is at once his king, kinsman and guest. He cannot murder his own king – a king who is good, virtuous and generous, a king who is his guest, a king who has done no harm to him but has rewarded him with honour and title.
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet – tongu’d against
The deep damnation of his taking – off.”
Macbeth’s imagination is the handmaid of his conscience. This soliloquy places Macbeth on a much higher level than Lady Macbeth, who is more ambitious than her husband, more cruel and more monstrous, and she has no sense of decency or justice or pity. Macbeth’s next soliloquy, made just before he proceeds to murder Duncan, is a product of his heated mind. He can see a bloody dagger, which is nothing but a hallucination, an expression of his guilty mind. “I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshell’st me the way that I was going,
And such an instrument I was to use.”
The soliloquy that he makes in Act II, Sc, ii sho0ws a mind totally upset by a strong sense of guilt. Any noise terrifies him now. “How is’t with me, when every noise appals me?
What hands are here? Ha! they pluck out mine eyes”.
He can see blood on his hands that will make the “multitudinous seas incarnadine.”
His soliloquy in Act III, Sc. I, confirms his transformation into an absolute criminal. In this speech he expresses his fears of Banque, “There is none but he, Whose being I do fear” and jealousy, whom he proposes to eliminate. “Upon my head they plac’d a fruitless crown
And put a barren scepter in my gripe.”
The soliloquy is also significant as it throws light on Banque’s character. It is also a prelude to the next important development of the plot – Banque’s murder. Of the other minor soliloquies, one that Macbeth makes in Act V, sc. v, where he says, “I have supp’d full with horrors”, shows the numbness that has overcome Macbeth’s feelings and evokes a distinct sense of pathos. Before the end of the play Macbeth makes two brief soliloquies on the battle – field. In one he compares himself to a trapped animal – bear tied to a stake and baited by dogs. But he expresses the confidence that he fears no man born of a woman. In the other brief soliloquy, he expresses the determination to go ahead and fight and not kill himself. “Why should I play the Roman fool and die
On mine own sword?”
Lady Macbeth also makes a few soliloquies in the play. The most important of them occurs in Act I sc. v, after she read her husband’s letter in which he has informed her of the prophecies. Her analysis of Macbeth’s nature through this soliloquy has to be accepted as authentic. We are told that Macbeth is “not without ambition” but that he is “without the illness should attend it”. She tells us that her husband “wouldst not play false, / And yet wouldst wrongly win.” She deplores that Macbeth is “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness.”
Lady Macbeth makes her second soliloquy in the same scene after she receives the news of the imminent arrival of the King in her castle. She begins to look upon Duncan’s visit as his “fatal entrance” into her castle. She invokes the spirits to “unsex” and harden her so that her feminine instincts do not stand in the way of the achievement of her purpose. “Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe topfull
Of direst cruelty….”
Lady Macbeth’s third soliloquy in Act III, SC. ii, reveals her state of depression. Her words, “Nought’s had, all’s spent,” reveal the profound melancholy that has been enveloping her whole being from the moment of achieving her ambition. The soliloquy also serves the dramatic purpose of contributing to the pathos of the tragedy.
Thus, it is through the use of the soliloquy that Macbeth’s inner struggles and frustrations have been revealed. We realise his essential nobility and also that he has been pushed into the career of crime by his vaulting ambition, his poetic imagination, and the combined solicitations and exhortations of these equivocating fiends, the witches and his “Fiend – like Queen.” For this Lady Macbeth also is referred to as “The fourth witch” of the play. In short, the soliloquy is a potent means of self – revelation and the dramatist has made good use of it in the present play. It is largely through the use of the soliloquy that what is essentially a melodramatic story of crime and bloodshed has been raised to the level of one of the greatest tragedies of the world.
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