Macbeth, the play was one of Shakespeare’s bloody and goriest tragedies. It was based on a true story of the Celtic throne. It is a play about murder, power, ambition, greed and deception.
The play is set in bleak Scotland, where King Duncan rules over all. At the start of the play Scotland is at battle with Norway. Macbeth is Thane of Glamis and has emerged from battle as a brave and courageous solider. He is admired by all as a good man.
He along with Banquo, meets the Witches on a thunderous moor where he is told of a prophecy in which he will soon become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland.
He writes to his wife and together they plot to murder Duncan. They kill Duncan while he is asleep in their house. Macbeth becomes king; the prophecies have come true. But he becomes extremely paranoid, Banquo was with him, when the prophecies were made and he surely must be suspicious.
The Witches also made the prediction that Banquo's son would be king. So Macbeth hires people to murder Banquo and his son Fleance. Banquo is killed but his son Fleance escapes. Macbeth also kills everyone who is at Macduff’s residence, after Macduff flees for England. For this he also hires people to carry out his killings.
Macbeth first meets the Witches (Act 1, Scene 3) on a deserted heath, where the setting is dark and stormy. This is to represent the dark and murderous deeds and thoughts that happen, and also shows that the theme of “evil” is central. He has just come out of battle and he is with Banquo, his best friend at the time. In Act 1, Scene 1, where we are first introduced to the Witches they state that “fair is foul and foul is fair”. The words contradict each other and they introduce an idea of conflicting illusion and reality. We then hear Macbeth echo these words in his first line in Act 1, Scene 3, “so fair and foul a day I have not seen”. Is Macbeth thinking as much evil as the Witches, their words are in his mouth. Is Macbeth really in control of his own destiny?
The three witches make three initial predictions. The first witch says, “All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis”, the second witch then goes onto say, “All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor”, the third witch then says “all hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter”. They also tell Banquo that his sons shall become King. The prophecies have a lot of influence over Macbeth. The witches are clever in coming to Macbeth at the right time and in what they said. They chose exactly the right moment to approach Macbeth. He is full of triumph and fresh from the fighting ad killing. He is at a particularly vulnerable time to have his head filled with thoughts of becoming king and fame. He says to Banquo “… Why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix to my hair, and make my seated heart knock on my ribs, Against the use of Nature.” The text states clearly that Macbeth has murderous thought in his mind that are prompted by the prophecy, “Present fears, are less than horrible imaginings: My thought, whose murder is fantastical shakes so single state of man.” It is an important point, it shows his reaction that someone has read his mind. The Witches are actually speaking Macbeth's innermost thoughts. Does this prove that Macbeth could control things and that the Witches were actually reading his mind by pushing him towards fate? The witches know exactly what to say, and their timing is precise. They seem unnaturally close and act with one mind. They also speak in riddles, which torment and twist his mind, for example. “Lesser than Macbeth, but greater” and “Not so happy, yet much happier”.
Once the Witches vanish, some other Thanes, Ross and Angus, soon arrive with the news from the king that Macbeth is about to receive the title Thane of Cawdor. The Witches’ predictions have already excited Macbeth, but when he becomes Thane of Cawdor, he believes he has proof that they can read the future and so starts to believe them. He immediately takes one more step closer to kingship, he even says “Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor. The greatest is behind”
Witches and other superstitions were widely believed in Shakespeare’s time, so it is easy to see why Macbeth was fooled into believing them. Macbeth tells us that he believes quite deeply in the supernatural and fate when he says, “If chance may have me king, why, chance may crown me.” But maybe he took what they were saying too seriously. Even though Banquo was involved in the predictions, Banquo was able to take it light-heartedly. Duncan was in fine health and a good king, so to him or anyone else the predictions were quite outrageous. But the Witches speak Macbeth’s thoughts and get him under a spell, from this point in the play, their words are always in his thoughts. We actually only see them once more, but they are always present in his mind. The Witches only predict the future, but they could know that this is enough to affect Macbeth’s future in the fragile state that he is in. So they are responsible for his murderous thoughts, and they predict something that moments later come true. They torment him by making him believe that a greater prize is near. They know that anything could push him to murder. They are evil people and enjoy the fact that Macbeth will be an easy target to perform their evil deeds. They never actually say, that he will become king by killing Duncan, or that he should hurry the prediction along.
Greed and the desire of power and fame take over all aspects of Macbeth’s reality and sanity. He comes to the decision that he should kill Duncan, with some help from his wife. Could it be that the Witches foresaw the terrible fate of Macbeth?
In Act 1,Scene 5, Macbeth sends a letter to his wife, telling Lady Macbeth of his new title Thane of Cawdor, and his connections with the Weird sisters and their strange prophecies. She becomes obsessed with the news he sends her and immediately hatches a plan. As soon as she has finished the letter she decides she will make sure Macbeth becomes king. She says, “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be what thou promised.” She does not hesitate for a moment. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are now thinking the same thoughts. She also has to free herself from her conscience, and knows that she has to harden her self up. She needs evil power and evil is not naturally within her. “Come you evil spirits, that tend the mortal thought unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe, top full of dearest cruelty.” The letter also makes her believe that murdering Duncan is the only way of quickly achieving her goal. Macbeth brings further news that Duncan is actually coming to spend the night with them, it becomes clear to her that her role is to seize the moment and facilitate her husbands rise to kingship.
She later shows her guilt when she begins to sleepwalk and go mad in Act 5, Scene 1.
Lady Macbeth never saw the evil of her planned murder lasting out in this way. She even says, “A little water clears us of this deed.” This shows that she thought killing Duncan would be the end of the story. The blood of Duncan haunts her until she dies- “Out damned spot! Out I say!” she is constantly re-running her own part in the murder. Her words have come back to haunt her.
At the opening of the play Macbeth was a brave general, who had just come out of battle. He had done his country proud and everyone admired him. An injured sergeant told the king “…For brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name,” when he was going into detail about he battle and how well Macbeth had served his country. He was loyal to his king and had good companionship in Banquo and his wife Lady Macbeth. In fact Macbeth and his wife had a very strong relationship, which at the beginning was a source for his power.
Both Macbeth and his wife have murderous plans in their head, and by chance, Duncan comes to stay with Macbeth, giving them the perfect opportunity to murder. In Act 1 Scene 7 Macbeth does not want to go through with the murder. He says that Duncan is here in ‘double trust’ he is also scared. Lady Macbeth is able eventually to persuade him through her domination and her cajoling. She uses different techniques to persuade him. She tells him it was his idea first, “what beast wasn’t then that made you break this enterprise to me.” She taunts his masculinity by calling him a coward, “Art thou afeared to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou are in desire,” This is an important part of her approach. Macbeth’s rank and fame depend on his courage and bravery, so for her to say he is weak would drive him to prove her wrong. She also says that he cannot love her, “From time, such I account thy love.” The personal taunt really hits home for Macbeth. It is an unexpected scorn, as their relationship is quite intense and he shows that he really cares. So he may prove that he still does love her by murdering Duncan. Lady Macbeth also uses a very severe and shocking tactic, she says that she would kill her own child. It is known that lady Macbeth has lost a child when she was very young, so it is quite shocking when she says that she would have rather smashed it to the floor than go back on a promise. She says this because it is the ultimate sacrifice and she makes the point that she knew the joy of being a mother and would have given that up for Macbeth to become King. She also uses terrible, violent imagery to persuade him. “I would while smiling in my face, have plucked my nipples from his boneless gum, and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you, have done this.” Lady Macbeth realises that Macbeth’s doubt needs to be overcome quickly and this needs extreme measures. If they delay one night, the opportunity to kill Duncan would be lost. Another reason why he has so many doubts is that he is scared of being caught and of betraying his country and his friends. The thought of committing murder and going to hell scares him. She uses power and dominance in the line, when Macbeth asks what if they should fail, “We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail.” This is saying that if he uses his courage and manliness they together can do anything. In the end he is persuaded.
Just before the murders Macbeth is going through intense emotions. He is becoming delirious and he sees a vision of a dagger, which is leading him to Duncan’s chamber. He believes that dark thoughts and imaginings are controlling him and he speaks words of evil and horror, like Hecate the goddess of witches, ghosts and hell. He hears a bell ring and believes that it is inviting him into Duncan’s room.
When he comes back from killing Duncan, Macbeth and his wife speak in short sentences, this shows their nervousness and that they are scared of being caught. This conversation proves the above point.
Macbeth says to his wife:
“I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?”
She replies, “I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry, did not you speak?”
Quickly he say’s “When?”
“As I descended?”
He says that when the people in the chamber next to Duncan awoke, they said their prayers, and when it came to ‘God Bless You’, ‘Amen’ got stuck in his throat. This shows his extreme guilt and remorse. He now believes that he will never be forgiven and that will go to hell. He needed the blessing most at this particular moment.
The morning after the murder he is going through more emotions fear and shock are a few of them. At the start of this scene, Act 2, Scene 3 Macbeth is tense and edgy and seems unable to say more than brief formal statements. He again shows guilt and regret when he says, “Had I died but an hour before this chance, I would have lived a blessed time.” Apart from feeling these emotions we see something dark brooding towards the end of the scene. It is almost showing the beginning of the end for him. “You are and do not know’t.” what Macbeth said had a lot of menace, he could almost be enjoying the feelings of threat, menace, power and control that are going through his mind and body.
Macbeth is now going insane he has become paranoid and power crazy. He knows that Banquo was with him when the predictions were made, and knows that he must be suspicious, that all prophecies have become true so quickly and he knew partly about Macbeth's murderous thoughts.
The last time that Macbeth's conscience appears to be evident is when he is at a banquet. He is sick with worry and guilt about Banquo's murder. Banquo was his best friend and he had needed both Banquo and Fleance dead, but Fleance escaped, this throws him into a panic. The banquet is intended to confirm Macbeth as a fitting king. The banquet is goes wrong when he starts to see an image of Banquo’s ghost. This is the first public function since Macbeth's coronation, and he needs the important guests (who are potentially his enemies), to feel at ease because he is in control. When it starts to go wrong he is desperate to calm them.
Macbeth now begins to depend totally on the Witches, he thinks about them all the time, they are always present in his mind. He believes that he cannot make a decision without consulting the sisters first. When the consequences of the murders of Duncan and Banquo are too much for Macbeth to handle, his instinct is to go back to the Witches (Act 4, Scene 1). They are his only hope. It is an admission that he cannot control things any longer. The witches are the ones who raised the point that one day Macbeth could become King, and he believes that they will help him get out of this situation. When he sees them next, they show him bloody and gory apparitions, which tell him of Macduff and his supposed treachery. Macbeth then hires murderers to kill Macduff, but he has fled to England. Instead they kill Macduff’s family. He is now known by the other lords as a tyrant. He is no longer ruling as a good king, he only has thoughts of murder on his mind.
Macbeth no longer feels guilt, he has seen so much evil and involved himself in so much that he has distanced himself from any guilt or remorse. When Lady Macbeth dies he is weary. His reaction is strange, he is very quiet subdued and thoughtful. He says, “she should have died hereafter, there would have been time for such a word” (act 5, scene 5). His power and motivation also seems to vanish, “…it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” It is as if he no longer sees any point in trying to hold on to the kingship. He cannot understand why he ever wanted it. He also realises at Act 5, Scene 5 that he is near his own death, “all our yesterdays have lighted fools, the way to the dusty death.” We get the impression that he knows he will die, even though the Witches have told him otherwise. He seems to accept it. Also he no longer believes the Witches, does this show a breakdown of everything for him?
Who is responsible for the tragedy of Macbeth? It could be argued that he was weak man or plan evil. I believe that Macbeth was a weak man; the Witches and Lady Macbeth were able to influence him easily. But looking at the evidence in the text, it shows that he actually takes things into his own hands, and had some evil in him, because he was able to perform acts of carnage and have the ability to lose his conscience and sense of guilt.
Some people call Lady Macbeth the fourth Witch, but if you look more deeply into it, Lady Macbeth fades out of the action very quickly. She may have been the one to pressure Macbeth to kill Duncan and use her devious taunts to make him do it, but it does not take him long to submit to them. “I am settled, and bend each coporal agent to this terrible feat.” He was his own man. The decision of good will and evil was his choice. Also the morning after the murders she faints. This could be interpreted in two different ways, her line “Help me, hence, ho” could be said in a theatrical way to distract attention, or she is suddenly feeling scared and alone because of Macbeth's words and actions. They had planned everything together, but things begin to get out of control with the murder of the two guards. Macbeth may have been directing some of his angry words at her. His fury and menace would be frightening, especially as earlier in the play she thinks he would be too mild to kill the king in the first place, as she says so in Act 1 Scene 5 “…Yet I do fear thy nature. It is full o’th’ milk of human kindness, to catch the nearest way.” She is also likely to be shocked by the guards murders, she was not prepared for their deaths, she did think that Duncan was the end of everything. At the banquet she begins to become isolated from her husband. Her persuasion no longer works on him. She scolds him in the same way as before the murder, but now it is different. She doesn’t know what is really wrong, she can’t see the ghost. The sense of losing touch is continued, when he puts all his faith into the supernatural. “You lack the seasons of all natures, sleep”. As a women she never actually had any power of her own, “She has light by her continually, tis he command.” Her sleep walking scene underlines the different roles of men and women in this society. Macbeth's conscience strikes in a very public banquet, Lady Macbeth always saw an end to the process: once Duncan was dead, power would rest with herself and Macbeth. “What we need fear who knows it, when no one can call our power to accompt?” (Act 5 Scene 1) this is a very important point for her, she goes over the point in her head. Lady Macbeth was more ambitious than evil with dreams of royalty and fame. After the murders she is suddenly scared, “Hell is Murky” Macbeth was the one with the faith into the supernatural powers.
The Witches are partially responsible. They are clever and devious in what they did. They specifically chose Macbeth. They spoke his thoughts and they made him believe that only good things were to come and they spoke in riddles to confuse him. Even though Witches were a wide spread belief, were they really as trustworthy as he thought they were? If they could see the future and make these predictions, they must have been able to see what Macbeth was going to do. The play shows that they are evil, for example in Act 4, Scene 1. It contains all horrible and ghastly ingredients such as, “in the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of a newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog…” They are really just teasing him, because they can see the future and know what is going to happen. They say that they have read his mind when they say, “He knows thy thought, hear his speech but say nought.” Macbeth was weak, he should not have put so much trust in the Witches. Banquo didn’t and his wife had no faith in the Witches. They meant for Macbeth to get into this trouble, that he was just an instrument for them to perform and execute their evil mischief.
Macbeth's character changes through out the play. As we know at the beginning he comes out of the battle feeling triumphant, then he is influenced by the Witches and persuaded by his wife to kill Duncan, showing that he is quite weak. Lady Macbeth and the Witches have disappeared and Macbeth starts to plan and put everything into his own hands, he is controlling his own fate. If Macbeth was not a weak man then he wouldn’t have been influenced by what could have been just some ‘mad old hags’, who were just speaking about nothing. He becomes totally dependent on them, so he shows he is weak and easily influenced by putting all his faith into the supernatural and the Witches. “I will tomorrow (and be times I will) to the weird sisters; More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know, by worst means he worst.” The fact that Macbeth is relying on the unreliable sisters and starting to exclude his wife is putting pressure on him. The Witches are never physically there and he is acting alone. Even though he doesn’t want to go through with the murder it doesn’t take long before he is persuaded to do so.
Macbeth becomes an evil person when he starts to murder. The murders give him a sense of power and he become greedy. Macbeth wants the respect of everyone but he becomes paranoid and believes that everyone else is against him. His speech is full of evil, threat and darkness. The fact that he was able to kill a family of wife and children shows that he lost all feeling, and shows that the pressure of everything has got to him. Lady Macbeth and the Witches just help him fuel the ideas he already has. The Witches provoke him and Lady Macbeth convinces him. It is often hard to deny something to someone you love and because Lady Macbeth and Macbeth's relationship was so strong, it pushed him to do it. But it must be remembered that Macbeth was the one who actually killed Duncan.
Lady Macbeth merely conspired and she only did it because she thought it was the best thing for her husband. The Witches never actually said that by killing Duncan he would become king. Macbeth just interpreted the prophecies that way. It could have just been a coincidence that he was given the title of Thane of Cawdor, straight after they predicted it. Macbeth should not have taken this as concrete evidence. After the King Duncan murder, Macbeth puts all his faith in the supernatural. But they did not tell him to kill Banquo, they did not even tell him that Banquo was a threat. When it comes to Macduff they confuse him by having apparitions, to scare him the first, which is of armed head says, “ Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware Macduff. Beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough.” (Act 4 Scene 1) then they contradict themselves when the second apparition appears, which is a bloody child. It says, “Be bloody, bold and resolute: laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of women born shall harm Macbeth.” Macduff it is said had a caesarean birth and therefore did not count as born naturally, in the apparition. The actual man who was born of women was young Siward, so the Witches were right warning him about Macduff, but Macbeth once again took their interpretations of his destiny wrong. Basically they were having fun with him. He even says that he wishes he hadn’t trusted them, and in the same scene that he sees the apparitions, when he is speaking to Lennox, and asks if he has seen the weird sisters. He then says, “infected be the ‘air whereon they ride, And damn’d all those that trust them!”
So the Witches were just having fun and Lady Macbeth was gone after the first murder. Macbeth was responsible for his own tragic end, he was the one who actually killed Duncan, although it was encouraged and egged on by his wife. He was the one who killed his best friend, Banquo and his son Fleance.
From all the evidence I have concluded that Macbeth, a man of status and power should not have allowed himself to get involved with the supernatural. The deeds he performed are sheer evil and no one can blame it on anyone else but Macbeth. He made the choice to kill, all he had to do was to refuse Lady Macbeth, which was not hard seeing as in those days, men were superior to women. He should not have been so willing to listen to the Witches, he should have been suspicious.
He became as the play progressed a cold and callous man. He killed people all because he let superstition, greed and evil take over his mind. He turned from being a brave man to an evil, cold isolated man. He got his kingship, but was left with nothing. At the end he was rightly defeated by Macduff, and one of Duncan’s sons- Malcom became King. Macbeth was responsible for the tragedy that befell him.