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Macbeth is a Hero Whose Smbition Proves to be His Downfall

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Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare in 1605-1606. Shakespeare knew that history provided splendid material for plays such as war, conflict , ambition and the downfall of great rulers. The play was probably performed at Hampton Court for the first time and King James I who was the King of England would have been in the audience. In these times Elizabethans believed that witches were real and James I was personally terrified of them as he believed that a group of them had raised a storm to drown him. Witches were said to fly through the air, cause bad weather and make people fall ill. Thousands of women at the time were tortured and executed as they were accused of witchcraft. The play is set in the eleventh century where Scotland was a troubled country with little peace. Kingship is an important role as the King was seen as God’s anointed on earth and to kill a King is Regicide, a horrendous crime. Macbeth is seen as a Hero at the beginning of the play, but changes from a brave and loyal valiant soldier in King Duncan’s army to a ruthless, paranoid, cold calculating murderer and tyrant who not only kills his best friend but also murders the king himself.

A Hero is a person with courage, strength, nobility, generosity, after no personal gain and is willing to sacrifice for other people. The three main factors that intertwine with one another that contribute to Macbeth’s tragic end are the prophecies told by the three witches, who are masters of equivocation and their predictions give Macbeth confidence that the role of King is in his grasp. Lady Macbeth’s influence, and finally, Macbeth’s excessive passion and ambition which drove his desire to become king to the utmost extreme. The prophecy’s told by the witches trigger the additional factors that contribute to Macbeth s downfall. Lady Macbeth is seen as an inspiration to Macbeth. Even though she is a woman, she is seen as equal which would not of been heard of at these times, as women were supposed to do domestic chores and the men were to do the more mentally challenging work.

Before meeting Macbeth King Duncan and his son Malcolm are talking with a wounded, bleeding Sergeant about the latest news of the battle. Throughout this scene it is impressed upon us how valiant, brave and noble Macbeth is, and how popular and well loved he is amongst the Scots. During the Sergeant’s description of the battle we hear of Macbeth for the second time. The Sergeant refers to Macbeth as ‘Brave Macbeth’ and adds ‘well he deserves that name.’ This tells us of Macbeth’s respect from the soldiers. The Sergeant gives a detailed description of Macbeth’s actions, saying he is ‘disdaining fortune,’ and then describes him as ‘valour’s minion.’ The Sergeant relates how Macbeth kills his foes

‘unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps.’

This shows the method Macbeth employs of killing his enemies and it also highlights how merciless he is during battle. This is evident as throughout the first two acts and the rest of the play we see how this aspect of him is transferred from the battlefield into his life, and this, along with his ambition is what makes him so deadly. After killing his enemies, the Sergeant says, how Macbeth displays their heads on his battlements, thus showing that Macbeth is proud of his conquests and his success, and again maybe displaying that bit of him that likes blood and gore. At this point Duncan exclaims

”valiant cousin, worthy gentleman!’

This illustrates the love and respect Duncan has for Macbeth, the man who will come to rob him of his life and his crown. It is again drawn to our attention how popular Macbeth is, and that maybe before his meeting with the witches he really was good, valiant and worthy. After this exclamation the Sergeant continues with his tale and explains how the Norwegian King restocks his weapons, brings in new supplies of men and begins a fresh assault. At this Duncan expects to hear that Macbeth and Banquo fled, but the Captain tells how they were dismayed as

‘sparrows eagles, or the hare the lion.’

Here it shows their dignity as the king of birds- and a lion is notorious for his courage, nobility and sometimes his brutality as the king of beasts.

Macbeth encounters the three witches while on a journey with his companion Banquo. They tell Macbeth of future titles he is to have, yet he doesn’t believe them. They hail Macbeth, calling him Thane of Cawdor and tell him he shall be king hereafter. This perplexes Macbeth because these titles seem far from the truth. At this point Macbeth does not crave the titles as he later will., Macbeth becomes interested because the Thane of Cawdor lives and Macbeth finds it impossible to perceive himself as Thane or Cawdor and even more impossible as king. Banquo sees the prophecy about Macbeth becoming king, true and then he proceeds to warn Macbeth that

‘…oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betrays in deepest consequence.’

Macbeth’s mind is still stable at this point, but is beginning to become somewhat unsteady. When the king greets Macbeth with gratitude, all Macbeth can think about is the prediction prophesized by the witches that he will become king. After the king announces that his son, Malcolm, will become king Macbeth starts to ponder murder. Macbeth cannot wait and allow the prophecy to take its course and hopefully come true- he must take action and force it to become a reality.

‘That is a step on which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, for in my way it lies.’ Macbeth compares Malcolm to a stepping stone that could eliminate his desire to become king.

Macbeth then sends a letter to Lady Macbeth that tells of the strange prophecies. The thought of murder immediately comes to her mind, indicating that she is more willing to kill to get what she wants. Without verbally consulting with Macbeth first, she says that he will become king. Then she begins to fear his nature because he is

‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness.’

This shows that it is Lady Macbeth who has the stronger passion to kill the king so Macbeth can be crowned. She is determined to

‘pour my spirits in thine ear, and chastise with the valor of my tongue all that impedes thee from the golden round.’

First impressions of Lady Macbeth are that she is strong minded woman who loves her husband very much and thinks he could be king but he needs help.

Lady Macbeth feels that she must kill Duncan when he comes over for dinner. Lady Macbeth demonstrates her full evil potential when she summons spirits to rid her of her womanly emotions so that she may have the numbness and masculinity to go through with the murder herself

‘Fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty…’

She doesn’t want her conscience to exist and calls the spirits to

‘…Make thick my blood.’

Lady Macbeth takes control and tells Macbeth to

‘ put this night’s great business into my dispatch’

It is Lady Macbeth who dominates Macbeth at this stage. Macbeth does not object to her plan of murder either. His better nature fights against his desires and he tells Lady Macbeth that he is the king’s kinsman, subject and host. This makes it evident that Lady Macbeth pushes him into doing what he knows is wrong. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, has lost all compassion at this point and the seed of her masculinity has been deeply planted. Lady Macbeth provides a scheme for Macbeth to assassinate the King. She is manipulative and persuasive in corrupting Macbeth s judgement.

‘What beast was’t then that you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it, then you were a man; And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man.’

Lady Macbeth is agitating Macbeth by saying he is not a man if he does not do what he says he is going to do, which is to murder the king. This angers Macbeth and enables him to follow Lady Macbeth’s scheme to kill the King easier. She also exerts a lot of power over Macbeth in this part of the play and even calls him a “coward” and this shows just how determined she is and how much ambition she has for her husband. It is this confidence in herself plus the persuasiveness that makes Macbeth act on her words without hesitating. Lacy Macbeth aids in his downfall, as she pushes him to become so ambitious that it eventually kills him. Lady Macbeth’s icy-ness acts as the horse which takes him down the path he can’t return from. He suffers mentally, at first, by getting tormented by his power-hungry wife.

Further on Lady Macbeth is seen not her usual calm, mighty self, but weak that is until she has to manage Macbeth and turns back to being level headed, who returns from ‘doing the deed.’ Macbeth reveals how he heard voices, one laughing, and one crying ‘Murder!’ Like the dagger, we don’t know whether these are real or a figment of Macbeth’s imagination. He carries on by talking about all the blood on his hands. Macbeth thinks he heard a voice shouting

‘Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more.’

This is significant because Macbeth does not sleep throughout the rest of the play. Lady Macbeth realizes that Macbeth has bought the daggers with him when he was meant to leave them with the drugged guards. Lady Macbeth orders him to take the daggers back, but Macbeth refuses. She scorns him and goes herself. After she leaves, Macbeth continues talking about the blood on his hands. The impression we get from all Macbeth’s talking is that he is weak but also feeling very guilty, nearly costing them the plan by removing the daggers, and then refusing to take them back again

‘I’ll go no more. I am afraid to think what I have done. Look on’t again I dare not.’

After the murder of Duncan Macbeth becomes paranoid and his first step of killing the guards is one of many that Macbeth takes to secure himself. Macbeth is also very superstitious and this is shown when he believes the prophecy the witches told him that Banquo’s offspring would become Kings. Duncan’s murder moves Macbeth to greater evil. Banquo knows of Macbeth’s quest for power. He is the one that tells Macbeth that the instruments of darkness only cause harm and betrayal. Macbeth makes this statement true by betraying Banquo whom he once trusted. Banquo suspected Macbeth’s guilt and out of fear of being caught Macbeth sends out two murderers to kill Banquo. Macbeth is guilty of betrayal, but he doesn’t commit the act himself which shows how weak he really is. After Macbeth has Banquo killed we are shown he still has a conscience, this is seen by the hallucinations of the dagger, the ghost of Banquo at the party and his vivid imagination and his constant worry also provokes him. This is also evident in his terrible dreams which gives the solid theme that he has indeed ‘murdered sleep.’ The deed has burdened his conscience.

Lady Macbeth is still strongly in control as the play proceeds. This is shown at the party. She is able to handle this crises very well and quickly lie’s for Macbeth to conceal the real ideas that are happening.

Macbeth is lost and seeks the witches who tell him to beware of Macduff but be assured no man born of a woman can harm him. The witches then tell Macbeth that he is safe until Great Burnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him. These two prophecies calm Macbeth, as he does not really take them as a threat. The prophecy that a line of kings shall descend from Banquo makes Macbeth much more agitated. Macbeth’s ambition is overriding what should be alarming him, it also shows how the witches are masters of equivocation.

The end is near for Lady Macbeth as she is ruined by her own treacherous ambitions. The murder of the king is making her go insane and she hallucinates like her husband but this time about trying to cleanse her hands of the blood that will not wash off. she rubs her hands and speaks

‘Out, damned spot! out, I say!’

Her mind is deteriorating as a result of the guilt which apparently overwhelms her. Even though she may be a strong character greatly supporting her husband she is reduced and battered by the deeds and her conscience ,which she was able to rid from Macbeth, which eventually drives her insane. She then kills herself unable to remove the ‘damned spot’. Macbeth seems practically emotionless to his wife’s death and says she should have picked a more convenient time to die.

‘She should have died hereafter…’

The end is also near for Macbeth who is now numb from all the events which caused his downfall. Mentally, the Macbeth from the start of the play no longer exists. When Macbeth hears that the prophecy has become true of Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane, he rejects this idea and fights on until he realizes that Macduff wasn’t born in a natural birth but instead was “Untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb. When Macbeth hears of this he realizes what he has done and how he has been tricked by the witches but instead he realizes that it is useless and so he fights on only to be slain.

Macbeth, although strong physically, is very weak mentally and it is this weakness which causes the downfall and change of Macbeth. Other factors do however also contribute to this change such as his wife whose ambition is very strong at first and is much more stronger mentally than Macbeth but it is also Macbeth’s ambition and his trust in the witches which ultimately change him. Throughout the course of the story it is tough to decide who is a more guilty person, but if you look at it through the eye’s of today’s law you will see that Macbeth is more guilty of murder. This is because he had killed a lot people before he killed the King. Overall in my opinion the witches hold the biggest proportion of blame as through their prophecies they made Macbeth consider aiming to be king. As in all Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth realizes too late that the witches are masters of equivocation and had tricked him.

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