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Emotion of Fear – In William Shakespeare’s ”Macbeth”

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The emotion of fear is so powerful that it can motivate an individual to do the unimaginable. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, fear is the driving force for murder, escape, and madness. There are three types of fear that are exhibited in this tragic Shakespearean play. They are the fears based on morals, the fears based on physical harm, and the fears based on selfishness. The purpose of this essay is to give evidence of the various types of fears that certain characters in Macbeth have acted on.

One of the major types of fears in Shakespeare’s Macbeth was based on morals. Throughout this tragedy, Macbeth, the main character, is in conflict with his knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, his personal battle deals with his emotions. By doing many evil deeds, Macbeth compromised his morals to become king. Macbeth’s fear on his moral is shown when the conflict on whether he should kill King Duncan was arousing inside of him. Macbeth’s doubt in killing King Duncan is decided for him when he sees the bloody dagger in front of him.

Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee: I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation.

(Act 2, Scene I, Line 33~38)

The dagger of his mind convinces Macbeth to slay King Duncan. The above quote makes the move urging Macbeth to kill the king. Macbeth makes his decision to kill King Duncan; “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.” (Act 2, Scene I, Line 62~64) Macbeth quoting to himself right before entering King’s door. This is also visible when Macbeth becomes fearful, for he knows that King Duncan has been good to him by honouring him with the title of Thane of Cawdor, and showing the appreciation toward Macbeth. His fear comes from his consciousness of knowing right from wrong; He also believes he must follow his fate, and the bloody dagger was a sign for him to do just that. Lady Macbeth made big influence on her husband, Macbeth, by encouraging him tokill the king, the reader discovers after the crime has been committed, that in fact, Lady Macbeth knew right from wrong, for her consciousness would not allow her to escape her aid in the murder. The fear that came from her weak mind is shown in this quote;

O proper stuff! This is the very painting of your fear; This is the air-drawn dagger which, you said, Led you to Duncan. O these flaws and starts–Impostors to true fear–would well become A woman’s story at a winter’s fire, Authoriz’d by her grandma. Shame itself! (Act 3, Scene 4, Line 61~66)

This is shown when she hallucinates, seeing her bloody hands that cannot be washed off. The fear based on morals eventually wins as it takes over Lady Macbeth’s mind and, thus, she kills herself.

The fear based on physical harm made this play seem so realistic because the scenes on them links to the upcoming plot. The killing of Macduff’s wife and his son and the escape of Malcolm and Donalbain are the examples of fear for their safety. The fear for life provoked Macbeth to kill Macduff’s wife. Macbeth would have preferred to kill Macduff himself after hearing the first apparition’s prophesy, warning him to beware of Macduff. Right before Macbeth sent his murderer, a messenger who is against Macbeth, told Lady Macduff to run away;

If you will take a homely man’s advice, Be not found here; hence, with your little ones. To fright you thus, methinks, I am too savage; To do worse to you were fell cruelty, Which is too nigh your person. Heaven preserve you! I dare abide no longer.

(Act 4, Scene 2, Line 66~71)

However, Lady Macduff was very angry at this, not knowing what is happening, she decides to stay inside the house. Since Macduff ran away to England before Macbeth could get to him, Macbeth decided to murder the wife and son–this was purely based on fear as well as a message to Macduff, not to mess with him. Malcolm and Donalbain also feared for their lives. After King Duncan was killed, this caused fear in both king’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, to run away, and seek refuge in England and Ireland. Both the sons feared for their lives because they thought that since their father was murdered. In that case, Malcolm quotes that they have a high chance of themselves being the next target. This is stated as follow;

This murderous shaft that’s shot Hath not yet lighted, and our safest way Is to avoid the aim: therefore, to horse; And let us not be dainty of leave-taking, Bu shift away: there’s warrant in that theft Which steals itself when there’s no mercy left

(Act 2, Scene 3, Line 143~147)

Therefore, Malcolm and Donalbain knew they would be in great danger if they stayed in Scotland.

The fear on the characters’ selfishness made a big role in this play. The selfishness on some characters became darker, which caused the tragic incident. After Macbeth met with the three witches, he developed ideas of grandeur. The witches prophesized that he would be King of Scotland. However, when he witnessed King Duncan giving his one of sons, Malcolm, the title of Prince of Cumberland, while giving him the status of Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth feared that the witches’ prophesy would not come true.

The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step On which I must fall down, or else o’er-leap, 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 I, Scene 4, Line 48~53)

Thus, this fear based on selfishness motivated Macbeth to plot out King Duncan’s death.

Prior to Macbeth’s crime of killing the king, he had doubts whether or not he should go forth with his plan. Ultimately, it was the persuasion of his wife, Lady Macbeth, that convinced Macbeth to do the deed. Her argument from doing away with the king stemmed from her desire to become the Queen.

Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this.

(Act I, Scene 7, Line 54~54)

Here, she is not just convincing, but forcing Macbeth to do the deed. She was so encapsulated by the notion of being the Queen, that her selfishness transforms into the fear of not being the Queen.

The fear, which reflected on Macbeth’s characters’ morals; fear of danger, and fear on selfishness clearly proves that the primary emotion of Macbeth is all about it. The blindness of Macbeth’s vision starts up with his fear on his character, and later on, it builds up to be a major issue that makes the plot. Every character had touched the fear part in this story: In which the fear was carried through the whole story. This was a new and interesting way the readers of Macbeth can learn from its unique and distinctive styles of writing. Though, the mood of this play was harsh, its style of writing made the story itself, very remarkable

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