How is the Character Macbeth Presented in Shakespeares’ play Macbeth
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Macbeth is a character over whom there is much dispute and contradiction. Macbeth is described at the start of the play to be noble, shown in Act 1 Scene 2 ‘What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won’, as he killed the rebel Macdonwald. In Act 1 Scene 2, when the Captain explains the events of the battle which Macbeth and Banquo fought in, he praises the actions of Macbeth proclaiming ‘Oh Valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!’. Macbeth is presented to be valiant and the Captain’s praise gives the audience a good first impression of Macbeth’s character. This also helps dramatise the effect of his slow downfall to insanity because it shows him to be very brave and pure before the lure of greed takes hold of him. Furthermore, this also helps the audience have more empathy with Macbeth because as the main character, he is the one that falls from a position of virtue the hardest.
Macbeth was written as a tribute to King James I in 1606. The play includes some evidence to show that it was especially made for the King. The setting of the play is in Scotland, where King James I was king before becoming King of England. Also the play includes the three witches and James I wrote a book about witchcraft. Lastly, the murder of King Duncan was critical aspect of he play and murder was also important in King James’s rule, as Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder plot was aimed to kill the King. Shakespeare used Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1587) as a source of historical information, though the characters and events differ quite a lot from Shakespeare’s play.
The play shows a time in Scotland where there were great brutalities and upheavals in society, and Shakespeare uses this to show how the brutalities and upheavals can lead to events which break loyalty and create mistrust between households in Scotland. The natural order of hierarchy is reflected in the play, which gives the characters a subtle structure and is able to present them better.
The darker side to Macbeth’s character is shown as the play progresses. An example of his broken character is when he orders the death of Banquo in Act 3 Scene 1. It shows a very evil and brutal side to Macbeth, and it shows that Macbeth has become very paranoid due to the prophecies of the witches. We empathise strongly with banquo because he is always presented to be loyal and trustworthy to Macbeth, who just has ordered his death. “Who wear our health but sickly in his life which in his death were perfect.” it shows that he regrets ordering his death but without Banquo dead his guilt will taint Macbeth’s conscious.
Moreover, Macbeth is presented as a man that is desperately searching for his destiny. He is often shown having dilemmas with himself and disputing with other people. this could be to show him as a vulnerable person as he cannot decide right from wrong. A good example is when Macbeth sees the dagger in front of him in act 2 scene 1.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to feeling as to sight? Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from the heart-oppressed Brain?
It shows that he doesn’t quite know what is real or things that have been on his mind a lot during that time. Macbeth knows he has to go through with it and that responsibility is strangling his thoughts that much he isn’t able to think clearly at all. The question really weighs him down as it gives Macbeth a choice to ignore the apparition or to follow it and let it drive him insane. This leads to his confusion and to him questioning his sanity in the quote.
The play’s genre helps the audience build a better understanding of the character of Macbeth. The only genre in this play is tragedy and it is very prominent throughout. We could now presume that Macbeth is the tragic hero and that through pathetic fallacy that his fatal flaw of greed leads him to his eventual downfall. This genre then sets the mood of the play as very dark and sad where tragedy is always current in the events of the play. Macbeth is surrounded by this genre and it shapes his actions and emotions which lead him to his greatest tragedy at the end of the play.
The theme of redemption is prevalent through the tragic genre. This is shown more to the end of the play as Macbeth and everyone else are redeemed by the death of Macbeth. It shows that Macbeth had fallen too much to pick himself up, as his actions and thoughts showed. Guilt as a theme plays a vital role in this play because Macbeth is guilty of murdering the king and his thoughts and feelings show that he can’t forgive himself and that he tainted his hands more to try and make him forget his deed. All of these genres present Macbeth to be fatally flawed and broken and his downfall is a result of this. Because Macbeth feels guilty it can either deepen the resentment of the audience towards him or it could help cause the audience feel sympathetic towards him. This helps draw attention to the character as the audience need to pay close attention to him to find out whether their judgement was right.
The characters in Macbeth are very important because they interact with Macbeth and they influence his decisions and his fate. Other characters are also important as they show us a comparison with the character of Macbeth, leading us to condemn or endorse his actions. The most influential character is his dominant wife, Lady Macbeth. She is presented as very persuasive and shown to have an overpowering presence on Macbeth. This shows us how Macbeth’s decisions could have swayed as a result of her will. The events surrounding the murder of Duncan display her manipulative influence over Macbeth. She is clearly in control and desperate to encourage him; ‘but screw your courage to the sticking place/And we’ll not fail!’. the language used in this quote shows that she is very certain of their success and she uses imperatives which expresses clearly that she is the one in control as she is very manipulative. Macbeth is shown to be easily led and influenced by his wife. This presentation is consistent throughout the play and shows us his naivety in making his own decisions. Lady Macbeth is the catalyst for Macbeth’s greed. If it were not for her devious encouragement he would perhaps not have resorted to such evil deeds.
Banquo, Macbeth’s companion and right hand man on the battle field is presented to be a faithful and loyal friend who bears witness to Macbeth’s first encounter with his future fate in the form of the three witches. Banquo’s fortune was also told but unlike his weaker companion, he did not act on anything he was told by the witches. ‘Thou shalt get kings though thou be none’. This shows us that Banquo was not lured into the predictions like Macbeth was and also could be the hint that he was the true hero as Banquo does not have a fatal flaw whereas Macbeth does.
Also Banquo doesn’t seem to believe it at first and doesn’t really read into the predictions, which shows us that he is not easily led into other people’s persuasions, which is also another flaw of Macbeth. Banquo is also a character which helps us realise to what extent Macbeth will go to gain his supposed ‘fate’ is willing to kill his ‘brother like’ companion. ‘thou playedst most foully for’t’ this shows that Banquo was Macbeth’s conscious because he was the one that felt the suspicion regarding the danger of Macbeth’s twisted game, and for this he was murdered. Even after his death, Banquo retains some of the role of a conscious in that even that the sighting of his ghost at the dinner party makes Macbeth feel extremely agitated and slightly guilty.
Macduff is shown to be a valiant and final victor of Macbeth who took the throne by force rather than by deceiving people. Macduff almost represents the opposite of Macbeth and this shows that this it is his opposite that finally beats him . It could be perceived as being the final act of fate. He is also shown as a fatherly and family loving figure and this just emphasises the difference between Macduff and Macbeth. Also their motivation show that their fate was going to be very different. Macbeth’s greed and sick ambition foretells that he is going to meet a bad end, whilst Macduff’s honest motivation to avenge his murdered family show that he has the fortune on his side.
“Front to front bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself. Within my sword’s length of him”
Shakespeare, unlike most play writes in those days, used the plain English of that era, instead of Latin which showed that he wanted a more varied type of audience. Shakespeare presents Macbeth in many different ways using language. He does this by giving him soliloquies, for example, which shows the audience a more vulnerable side to Macbeth and lets them consider whether he is in fact entirely evil after all. Also symbolism is used in act 2 scene 1 where Macbeth visualises the dagger with blood “is this a dagger which I see before me the handle toward my hand?” which symbolises his inward torment on the decision and also that he is almost blinded by his own driven greed for the throne. Moreover after the murder is done their guilt is symbolised by the blood that they (especially Lady Macbeth) see on their hands , “out damned spot”, which gives the audience a better insight into their insanity. This is something used repeatedly which really emphasises the point.
Overall, Shakespeare has presented Macbeth in an insightful and progressive way. The audience was able to emphasise with him and also build mistrust him just by the way the other characters interact with him and the language used to form his character. We were also shown what influence he had on other people which showed us a bit of how deceiving he is. Moreover, Macbeth’s personality is presented to progressively become more negative and destructing as he becomes more wrapped up in self hatred and guilt because of his deeds. Lastly, I think Shakespeare used the character and slow self destruction of Macbeth to shape the story of the whole play, to make it draw the audience into the play an to make the play have it’s own personality.