The changes in Macbeth’s character
In this essay I will be analysing the behaviour of Macbeth from the beginning of the play to the end when Macbeth changes from a man with a sense of principles to a man with no awareness of right and wrong. Macbeth is a play about a “noble” soldier who gets indoctrinated by three wicked witches. He is a weak person who gets manipulated very easily especially by his wife, Lady Macbeth, who encourages him to fulfil the evil sins which will lead him to become the king.
However once he becomes king, everyone and everything appears to turn against him which leads to his own death at the end of the play.
During the time when Shakespeare wrote this play, people were extremely religious as well as superstitious to the extent that they thought that Macbeth was unlucky because some of the lines which were chanted by the witches were real magic charms that the “Witches” of the time used to manipulate people.
Due to this, no one used to call the play by its name (Macbeth) because it was supposed that the name of the play itself was unlucky and brought bad fortune to any person who uttered the name. For this reason people used to call the play things like “that play” This made the play very popular and the play was also very popular because of Macbeth’s character because there was no such thing as a Psychological side to someone during that era since it had not yet been discovered.
At the start of the play Macbeth is eulogized by everyone including the King and fellow noblemen. For his bravery in the war which he fought to defend his King and country:
“Brave Macbeth- well he deserves that name”
Macbeth is extolled like a hero throughout the opening of the play. Also, (in the end of act 1, scene 2 and line 67):
“What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won” this quote shows that Duncan rewards Macbeth for his sacrifice, bravery, patriotism and loyalty throughout the war.
However, as the play progresses the audience, notice the beginnings of a slight transformation in his nature: “Stay you imperfect speakers. Tell me more.”
This quote shows that Macbeth wanted the witches to stay as he was intrigued by the divinations that they made in front of Banquo and himself. It shows that Macbeth is calling the witches “Imperfect” yet he still wants them to stay as he believes the predictions that they are presenting to him.
Although Macbeth is ambitious and wishes to become king he is not comfortable with the idea of killing king Duncan. Macbeth is shown to be very loyal and full of morality when he is arguing against killing king Duncan:
“First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed.”
Here Macbeth proves himself to be a person who lives by morals and principles. He says that as the King’s subject he should not be plotting to murder the king as he would be disloyal to king Duncan. However, he ends up killing him because he gets very easily manipulated by Lady Macbeth who alongside the witches leads him to forget all of these morals:
“Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting I dare not wait upon I would,
Like the poor cat I’th’adage?” (Act 1, scene 7, Line 41-44.)
Lady Macbeth attacks his manhood by saying that he is being a coward by refusing to kill King Duncan. She calls him a cat which makes him realise that in order to maintain his manhood he should do what his wife is urging him to do. Lady Macbeth is comparing Macbeth to a cat by saying that a cat would want a fish but would not want to get its feet wet which is exactly what Macbeth is doing- he wants to be king but does not want to partake in the massacre of King Duncan. After the amount of times Macbeth is criticised by Lady Macbeth he accepts to kill the ruler of Scotland. Later on in scene 7 Macbeth’s full transformation is shown when he says:
“Away, and mock the time with fairest show,
False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”
This citation shows that Macbeth can get manipulated easily. He changed within seconds of getting criticised by Lady Macbeth. From scene seven Macbeth’s character changes immensely-he is ready to murder in order to gain his ambition.
Before murdering Duncan, Macbeth visualizes lots of images that would compel him to feel guilty.
In act 2, scene 1, line 13, Macbeth says:
“Is this a dagger, which I see before me,
The handle towards my hand, come let me clutch thee:”
He hallucinates a bloody dagger with the handle pointed towards him. Macbeth also imagines other evil things happening in his thought. This is all taking place because Macbeth is starting to feel guilty because of what he is about to do. It shows that even though Lady Macbeth has brain washed him to kill King Duncan, he still has some of his former morality left in him as he is distressed with the idea of killing Duncan and the stress and worry is making him insane.
After the murder of King Duncan (In act two, scene two), Macbeth is shown to be a total mental wreckage:
“I have done the deed-didst thou not hear a noise?”
This question shows that Macbeth is starting to feel very uneasy because of what he has done- he is starting to hear imaginary noises which, to him, sound like people coming after him for killing Duncan. At this point of the play Macbeth is very paranoid and his senses are sharpened-he considers every movement/ noise to be someone plotting against him.
Later on in the same scene, on line 23, Macbeth holds up his bloody hands to the audience and utters these words:
“This is a sorry sight”
He instantly feels regret and remorse about his evil deed. Macbeth has murdered his cousin, Duncan, however, he still hasn’t turned completely immoral as he was remorseful for what he has done and it’s obvious that he would do anything to undo his sin. After what he did, Macbeth cannot carry out any form of religious act and narrates to his wife how he saw Donaldbain and Malcolm praying but he could no pray with them (from a distance):
“I had most need of blessing and ‘Amen’
Stuck in my throat.”
Macbeth realises the fact that what he did was immeasurably wrong; he is regretful that he can’t pray with Donaldbain and this upsets him and he is almost obsessed with the ideas; hence he repeats:
“Wherefore could I not pronounce amen?”
This shows that Macbeth is constantly questioning why he can’t pray in a time when he’s most desperate of blessings from God.
By this point of the play we can see that Macbeth has the courage to murder his cousin, however, he does not have the valour to stand up to the consequences that follow (the guilt of slaughtering king Duncan). Furthermore, Macbeth feels that he won’t be able to rest in peace any more;
“Glamis hath murdered sleep’, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more: Macbeth shall sleep no more”
This tells us that Macbeth knows that because he has murdered Duncan he is going to be unable to sleep during the night because of his guilty conscience. He is aware of the fact that he doesn’t deserve any sort of peace of mind and may have to live in difficulty.
Throughout the rest of the play, Macbeth slaughters Macduff’s family and he then kills Banquo. By the time he kills Macduff, Macbeth believes the witches so much that he no longer gives a thought to his guilty conscience:
“Then live Macduff, what need I fear of thee?
And take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live,”
This passage shows that Macbeth is no longer caring whether a person that he kills has died for a reason or not- if he thinks that someone could threaten his scheme in becoming the king of Scotland, and then he will eliminate that person regardless of any former relationship with them.
Also, before in act 3, scene 4, on line 131 Macbeth confesses:
“There’s not a one of them but in his house
I keep a servant feed.”
This shows that Macbeth has totally transformed from the start of the play, when he was an honest and loyal person. Now he has turned into a treacherous and malicious dictator, who like Hitler and Stalin makes people live in fear, by keeping paid spies everywhere in order to eliminate any anybody opposing his dictatorship.
In the Fifth Act and scene, Macbeth reiterates his acts of tyranny by threatening one of his servants:
“Upon the next tree shall thou hang alive
Till famine cling thee;”
This extract shows that Macbeth is a tyrant by the end of the play. He threatens to kill his servant in the worst possible way; by thinking of a long and painful death for him instantaneously- he no longer feels guilty about what he thinks or what he does. This makes the audience aware that Macbeth is an evil ruler. It makes us respond to the play by dawning on things that happened earlier in the play that caused Macbeth to be what he currently is in the play.
By the last act of the play Macbeth is such an autocrat that he doesn’t react to his wife’s death but just replies by saying:
“She should have died here after;
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.”
This shows that Macbeth has become a vile creature who doesn’t even care for the death of his wife; in fact it’s an inconvenience to him. He doesn’t seem to have any feelings for what has happened or for anything else. By now Macbeth only carries out evil actions and turns the mildest punishments into the most agonising ones.
At the start of the play, William Shakespeare writes about the goodness of Macbeth (“brave relative…Worthy gentlemen”). He does this in order for the audience to sympathise with Macbeth when he starts to change and we know that it is Lady Macbeth’s fault that he has become a tyrant. Shakespeare structures the murder of King Duncan, Banquo and then the family of Macduff so that we can see how Macbeth changes from each murder.
For example, during Duncan’s murder, Macbeth is absolutely unable to cope with himself, however, when he kills Banquo, he still feels guilty about killing him but quickly learns to come to terms with it. Finally, during the final massacre of Macduff’s family, Macbeth orders them to be killed without thinking twice about the consequences that were to follow. He then writes about the many bad personalities that Macbeth has developed so that we realise that he has changed so much throughout the whole of the play.
Shakespeare uses a lot of stage directions to create tension and dramatic effect in each of the scenes. For example in act 1, scene 1, he writes:
“Thunder and lightning. Enter the three WITCHES”
He chose to make the witches enter upon the word “thunder” because it signifies evil and danger. He wants the reader to imagine the scene to be exceedingly menacing which he achieves greatly. He chooses to arrange the stage direction in this manner so that he can create an effective atmosphere from which the audience can react to. He also chooses the place in which the witches appear to be a very barren and isolated place to signify that the witches are evil and are in hiding due to the hatred of the public. He repeats setting the location to a barren place again 2 scenes later in act 3, where he set the location to “A heath near Forres”. This quotation shows that Shakespeare is trying to enhance the idea that the witches are extremely evil- he wants to show this by always setting the location in which they always appear to be misfortunate and barren.
In the play, Shakespeare uses figurative languages to appeal to the audience’s senses such as in act 1, scene 7, he compares Macbeth to a cat. He uses comparisons like this to capture the audience’s attention and to make them realise to what extent Macbeth is a coward. Similar to this, in the same scene William Shakespeare writes about the way lady Macbeth reacts to Macbeth’s refusal. She talks about a baby and how she would:
“While it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains, had I sworn so”
This quotation shows that Shakespeare has used harsh sounding words to create a visual image in the audience’s head of what lady Macbeth would do. He has used the language in this way to portray how evil lady Macbeth can get.
Shakespeare uses both the language and the stage directions in the play to create dramatic effect such as when the witches enter the scene in act 3, scene 5, and there is a bolt of thunder and all of the witches speak in rhyming couplets to create the tension that they are brewing trouble.
By the end of the play, Shakespeare creates the religious idea of good versus evil- how everything evil will end and the good will always achieve victory. He shows this by the defeat of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the end of the play when the lady dies and when Macbeth gets assassinated by Macduff.
Macbeth is still very relevant to current times where it is very much noticeable that there are forms of evil lurking everywhere such as corruption, greed, crime and murder.
There are many aspects of the plot of Macbeth, which if it had occurred in today’s society, then it would have been by all means unacceptable. For example, the killing of Duncan by his own cousin, royal subject and friend would be absolutely sadistic in today’s world as we are accustomed to living in a place where betrayal and murder that extreme rarely occur. The audience of today would think that whoever would murder their cousin and then accuse someone else would be absolutely brutal and cold hearted, however, the audience of the time when the play was written would probably not have responded to it in that way as they would have found every element enjoyable as violence of that sort was very entertaining during the early sixteen hundreds- though the thriller genre is still very popular today, especially in movies, the audience tend to look away at the gruesome scenes and would hate what Macbeth does to his cousin.
There were several other scenes of violence in the play (e.g. when Macbeth kills Banquo and the killing of Macduff’s family). The audience of the sixteen hundreds would watch these scenes of the play with great delight and if they saw the killing of these innocent people, then they would find it completely normal whereas people form this period of time would find it absolutely abnormal and would most probably react to in disgust and would think that Macbeth is a monster for ordering things of sort to happen. The reason being for this is that during the Shakespearean period, there used to be a large amount of death occurring due to disease which led to high adult and very high infant mortality rates.
Furthermore, Macbeth runs on the idea that (as mentioned in the opening act of the play),”fair is foul, foul is fair”- by this Shakespeare is trying to send a message to us that things that appear to be good are bad and vice versa. At the start of the play a character called Macdonwald is mentioned who was said to be a traitor and in the same act Macbeth was also praised about his so called loyalty and honesty. These two characters make a contrast and stick with the idea that good is bad and bad is good- here Macdonwald being good instead of bad and Macbeth being bad instead of good.
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