Themes in Macbeth
A discussion of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, focussing on the main character, Macbeth, and the many experiences that he faced during the play.
THEMES IN MACBETH Macbeth was written while when Scotland lacked a good Leader to defend it from a Norwasian invasion. During this dangerous situation, Macbeth stood out as the most commanding figure by defeating the rebel army. His thrill towards the witches’ prophecies all confirmed his hopes of becoming the King and replacing King Duncan, who lacked the power and courage to save his country from this invasion.
In this essay, I will discuss Macbeth during the many experiences that he had faced and come across and I will show how these experiences and pressures that he faced helped with the conclusion and theme of the play which yet has to be understood. The first signs that tell us of Macbeth’s thoughts of becoming King were found when the King proclaimed his son, Malcolm, the heir to the Scottish throne, and Macbeth considered murder to overcome this obstacle that would prevent him from becoming the King.
The prince of Cumberland! That is a step On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires! Let not light see my black and deep desires. The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. (Act 1:Scene 4:ln.55) When Lady Macbeth heard of her husband’s success and read the letter, we almost immediately feel that a new source of power had appared in the drama. Her words reflected a great knowledge of her husband and her practical approach to problems as seen in the following two verses. Glacis thou art, and Cowdor, and shalt be What thou are promised. Yet do I fear thy nature. It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great; Art not without ambition, but without The illness should attend it. What though wouldst highly, That wouldst though holily;wouldst not play false And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou’ldst have, great Glacis That which cries”Thus though must do,”if though have it; And that which rather thou dost fear to do Than wishest should be undone. Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear And chastise with the valor of my tongue All that impedes thee from the golden round Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem To have thee crowned withal. (Act 1:Scene 5:ln.14 O, never Shall sun that morrow see! Your face, my thane, is 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 he provide for; and you shall put This night’s great business into my dispatches, Which shall to all our nights and days to come, Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom. (Act 1:Scene 6:ln.68) Driven to murder King Duncan, Macbeth’s conscience first appeared when he was not present to greet the King upon his arrival at the castle. This showed the lack of courage that Macbeth had to face his victim. If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly. If the assassination Could trammel up the consequence, and catch, With his surcease, success, that but this blow Might be the be-all and the end-all here, But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, We’ld jump the life to come. But in these cases We still have judgment here, that we but teach Bloody instructions, which being taught, return To plague the inventor…………………….. (Act 1:Scene 7:ln 1) This verse stressed Macbeth’s fears of punishment. He cleared out that he was prepared to suffer eternity if only this crime would go unpunished. He recognized certain obstacles in killing the King, the first and most important being was that the King was his guest. He also saw some dangers of committing the crime and understood it consequences well. When Macbeth tried to resist the temptation, his wife was the one that insisted on him to consent the murder. What beast was’t then that made you brake this enterprise to me? When you drust do it, then you were a man; And to be more than what you were, you would Be so much more than man. Nor time nor place] Did then adhere, and yet you would make both. They have made themselves, and that their fitness know How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me. I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipples from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this. (Act 1:Scene 7:ln. 68) She accused Macbeth of cowardness and later assures him that the crime will go undetected when she outlined it’s details. In Act2:Scene 1:ln.72, we know that the crime will happen when Macbeth says: I go, and it is done. The bell invites me. Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell That summons thee to heaven or to hell. Following the crime, we get the impression that Macbeth was horrified by what he had done. It seems that he had gone through some sort of “mental collapse” due to the haunted visions of guilt and punishment that he experienced. “There’s one did laugh in’s sleep, and one cried “Murder!”” (Act 2: Scene 2:ln.32) “Glacis hath murdered sleep, and therefor Cowdor Shall sleep no more! Macbeth shall sleep no more!” (Act 2:Scene 2:ln.57) Having begun a career of evil, Macbeth felt that the only way to remain in power was by going on and committing other crimes. He had started plotting his own course of murder. His behaviours are all based on fear which had arose from insecurity. It was not possible for him to turn back because he had reached the “point of no return.” (Coles Notes.) When Macbeth spoke of his fears from Bunquo, we immediately know that the next murder will target on the later. To be thus is nothing But to be safely thus. Our fears in Bunquo Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature Reigns that which would be feared. ‘Tis much he dares, And to that dauntless temper of his mind He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor To act in safety. There is none but he Whose being I do fear………………… (Act 3:Scene 1:Ln.52) Macbeth next hired two murderers to murder Bunquo, and convinced them to commit the crime saying that it was he who had prevented them from rising in this world. He attacked their courage and used his wife’s philosophy to regain their confidence assuring them that everything will go fine. I will advice you were to plant yourselves, Acquaint you with the perfect spy o’ the time, The moment on’t;for’t must be done tonight, And something from the palace(always thought That I require a clearness), and with him, To leave no rubs nor botches in the work, Fleance his son, that keeps him company, Whose absence is no less material to me Than his father’s, must embrace the fate Of the dark hour. Resolve yourselves apart; I’ll come to you anon. (Act 3:Scene 1: Ln.144) The murder had gone undetected but not for long. During the party that Macbeth made, the ghost of Bunquo appeared twice to him. In the first time, it looked disapprovingly at him and allowed him to regain his confidence but finally made him speak of his terrors of the Assembled Lords which confirmed whatever suspense they had of him. Thanks for that! There the grown serpent lies;the worm that’s fled Hath nature that in time will venom breed, No teeth for the present. Get thee gone. Tomorrow we’ll hear ourselves again. (Act 3:Scene 3:Ln.35) The guilt of Macbeth is again revealed during this scene when he spoke his last two verses. I hear it by the way;but I will send. There’s not a one of them, but in this house I keep a servant feed. I will tomorrow (And betimes I will) to the weird Sisters More shall they speak; for know I am bent to know By the worst means the worst. For mine own good All causes shall give way. I am in blood Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er Strange things I have to head, that will to hand, Which must be acted ere they may be scanned. (Act 3:Scene 4:Ln.162) Come, we’ll to sleep. My strange and self-abuse Is the initiate fear that wants hard use. We are yet but young indeed. (Act 3:Scene 4:Ln.174) These two verses all reflected the suspense that Macbeth had forhis noblemen and the suggestion of still worse crimes that would follow. When Macduff defied Macbeth and went to England, Macbeth’s fears drove him to give up himself to the forces of evil and demanded”to know,by the worst means,the worst.” He knew that he had nothing to loose since everyone was suspicious of him. For this reason, when the armed head warned Macbeth of Macduff, he went and killed his family and servants one by one. The first two crimes were all carried out at night. In the third one, Macbeth made no effort to conceal it but boldly carried it out during the daylight. Macbeth’s honest and heroic character had been replaced by a man who’s moods always changed, one who feared the hidden truth and one who hardly knew his mind. We pity this man for the situation he had brought on himself. “What makes a true man is a theme that runs throughout Macbeth” (Coles Notes.) According to his wife life, a true man is one who sets great goals for himself and will do anything to achieve them. “The true man towers above ordinary men,” says Lady Macbeth. Macbeth is full of ambition but has too much”o’ the milk of human kindness.” that makes up the ordinary man. He likes to achieve his goals ” holily” like a saint unacquainted with practical affairs. It is by this appeal that Macbeth is driven to commit the murders and convince the murderers to kill Bunquo. “A true man will respond to injuries by taking a bloody revenge!” says Macbeth. The irony is that by doing what he had done, Macbeth’s guilt followed him where ever he went and made him loose all his feelings. By the end of the play, Macbeth lost all his feelings . He reached the point where he had no taste of fear and the death of his wife did not bother him which he dismisses by saying that she had to die someday and somehow. The time has been, my senses would have cooled To hear a night shriek, and my fell of hair Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir As life were in’t. I have supped full with horrors. Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts, Cannot once start me. (Act 5:Scene 5:Ln.11) She could have died hereafter; There would have been a time for such a word. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player. That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. (Act 5:Scene 5:Ln.19) All in all, I think that by using the characteristics of Macbeth, Shakespeare succeeded in relating him to many people today because his qualities are naturally part of human nature. Macbeth had lived a life full of ups and downs, just like many of us, but in his opinion, he had not accomplished anything. Seyton-I am sick at heart, When I behold-Seyton, I say!-This push Will cheer me ever, or disseat me know. I have lived long enough. My way of life Is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf; And that which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have;but, in their stead, Curses not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath, Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not. Seyton! (Act 5: Scene 4:Ln.48) All men are born good but just like Macbeth, people have the power to become evil, only when they become aware of it.It was and is always not easy to see a great man turn from good to evil. We admire Macbeth’s courage, as he, with his wife dead and world collapsing, resolved to fight to the end and “die with harness on his back.” Not all men are as heroic, after all !
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