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Macbeth ‘Worthy Gentleman’ or ‘Black Macbeth’

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Analysis of main characters

Shakespeare provides us with a gripping, sensationalised, tragic play surrounded by ambition, deception, and guilt. Emphasis of the positive influence by supernatural elements surmises an eventual downfall for the main characters: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The play was written using a variety of literary techniques, providing the domination of iambic pendameter and blank verses combined with minimal stage directions, allowing personal interpretation. Numerous soliloquies are present, predominantly displayed by the main characters, to give the audience an insight into their innermost thoughts and feelings, making dramatic irony present, to ensure the audience’s attention is captured. Quotes and analysis of characteristics adopted by the dramatist, using these techniques are discussed below:


‘Worthy Gentleman’ or ‘Black Macbeth’

Before the exposition of Macbeth’s character, Shakespeare prepares the audience with his characteristics through others opinions (Act1 Scene ii), namely King Duncan, who announces ‘For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name)’ as a respected ‘worthy gentlemen’ who ‘…Unseam’d’ his enemy, offering metaphorical terms of clothes being ripped at the seam. The difference in the English language is apparent, by the verb ending in ‘d compared to contemporary language. The audience are presented with an imagery of a well-respected member of the Kings army, who is not afraid of battle, resulting in the Kings faith in his ability, to take over the ‘degree’ of Thane of Cawdor.

Macbeth’s downfall is the influence from the three witches combined with Lady Macbeth’s determination. When ‘the weird sisters’ approached Macbeth they predicted ‘All hail Macbeth, hail to thee… Thane of Glamis…Thane of Cawdor that shalt be King thereafter’, he repeated the predictions and requested ‘…tell me more’, but the witches vanished. On announcement of the treacherous Thane of Cawdor’s deception, and reinstatement of the title to Macbeth, the words spark a transformation in him. In Act 1 Scene 3, Shakespeare presents Macbeth with thoughts of ‘…horrible imaginings: My thought, whose murther yet is but fantastical,’ allowing the audience an initial insight into Macbeth’s feelings of ambition, particularly when he is informed of Malcolm’s title: Prince of Cumberland.

Shakespeare offers the audience a clear progression of Macbeth’s character by the end of Scene 4, and his fatal flaw involving his ‘vaulting ambitions’ are relevant ‘For in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires, Let not light see my black and deep desires’. The rhyming couplet displayed here, almost sounds like the rhythm of a witches spell, and the suggestion the deed can be done in the darkness of the night, to hide the evil deed. It is interesting how Shakespeare rhymes, fires and desires, by linking his desires to evil thoughts relating to the fires of hell.

By the time Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s castle, it is apparent Lady Macbeth has planned the regicide, since receiving the letter from Macbeth regarding the ‘unearthly creatures’ predictions.

The dramatist presents the audience with dramatic irony when Duncan mentions a nice atmosphere, ‘This castle hath a pleasant seat’, as we are made aware of Duncan’s eventuality. Macbeth withdraws form the banquet, voicing a soliloquy, (Act 1, Scene 7), this complex speech in unrhymed blank verse, starts in short and sharp lines, providing imagery of a troubled sole, displaying his innermost guilt ridden feelings, and negativity towards the murder. Innocent visions are created in this metaphorical speech ‘…angels…pity… like a naked new-born babe…Heaven’s cherubin..tears…’ . Macbeth attempts to talk himself out of the deed, and this imagery provides a reminder, that in this era Kings are believed to be appointed by God, therefore creating heavenly images.

Lady Macbeth approaches him, by goading and taunting his manhood, accusing him of being a ‘…coward’, but assuring him ‘…we’ll not fail’. This entices us into developing feelings for Macbeth’s naivety, conscience and weakness of character, which allows the evil influences to drive his ambition. Adaptations of psychic prophecies could be related to Macbeth’s situation, even in the present era, relating to weaker characters relying on fortune-tellers to pan out their futurities. Depending on an individual’s strength in characterisation, adaptations of predicted advice can be made.

Psychological elements are displayed in the murder scene ‘Is this a dagger, which I see before me’ presenting supernatural happenings. The illusion of the dagger floating in front of him, leads to Duncan, while Macbeth performs a soliloquy of iambic pendameter using similies’…moves like a ghost’ and the personification of stones ‘…for fear Thy very stones prate my wherabouts’ initiating fear of the stones aware of the deed in hand, as if they will give him away. The aside structure suggests he is in a trance and then assures ‘…the bell invites me’ ending in the rhyming couplet ‘…for it is a knell, That summons thee to Heaven, or to Hell’ indicating closure in the form of a funeral bell, This speech creates an image of a wide-eyed, obsessed man about to commit an evil deed.

The image of the murder is not presented in the play, and I believe Shakespeare does this purposely to invite personal interpretation into the murder outcome. At the time in which this play was written, regicide was considered the worst crime possible, so this could have also supported Shakespeare’s decision not to develop this scene. By using such a powerful story line, Shakespeare creates an embellishment to entice audiences. This is displayed in television programmes in the present day, where issues are raised, such as a murder for example, in Eastenders, representing an attraction to viewing the programme and raises interest.

Macbeth is convinced that by his committal of regicide assures ‘…sleep no more’ using repetitive language initiates the development of his unstable mind and tormented soul. He cannot bring himself to say Duncan is dead, so he uses euphemisms, calling it the ‘deed’ or ‘assassination’ and by using the expression of metaphorical language ‘…The wine of life is drawn’ displays the wine of life, being the blood lost from the body, resulting in death. Preceding the regicide, progression of Macbeth’s character is relevant, by developing iniquity intentions to murder others obstructing his aspirations.

Banquo raises his sense of suspicion in a short soliliquoy (Act 3 Scene 1) announcing ‘Thou play’dst most foully fo’t’. The dramatist enforces Macbeth’s attitude at a similar time ‘ …our fears in Banquo stick deep’, however, he selects two murderers, giving orders partly in prose to initiate the deed, by making excuses ‘…yet I must not, For certain friends that are both his, and mine’, allowing his power to employ murderers.

We can visualise Macbeth’s sense of freedom quashed, when discovering Fleance’s escape. This is displayed in Shakespeare’s use of alliteration, emphasising the hard ‘c’ sound ‘…cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d’, indicating Macbeth restriction to retaining his ambitions. The appearance of Banquo’s ghost at the banquet, while invisible to others, terrifies Macbeth and it is Lady Macbeth that once again takes control of the situation, by making excuses ‘You lack the season of all natured, sleep’.

This vision can be personally interpreted according to varied productions, as examined in the televised stage production on the presentation of Macbeth visualising an image clearly apparent solely to him. It was ostensible the image terrified him, as well as providing a dramatic impact on the audience, due to the powerful interpretation of an invisible image offering a gripping and heart rendering performance.

Shakespeare’s presentation of Macbeth’s Character started very differently to the closing stages of the play. Owing to usurpation of regal power, Macbeth gained strength and ambition, while increasing his ability of expressing dishonesty and treachery. Initial warm descriptions of his character transformed to ‘tyrant’ and ‘dead butcher’ resulting in the eventual downfall when the apparitions came true. Macduff beheads ‘Black Macbeth’ presenting a finalisation to the play, which Shakespeare always likes to bring to a conclusion.

Lady Macbeth

‘honour’d hostess’ or ‘fiend like Queen’

Primarily, we encounter Lady Macbeth demonstrating her soliliquoy displayed in Act 1 Scene 5. She receives the letter confirming the predictions from Macbeth, and immediately we are provided with a self-revelation subsequent to her reading it in concise prose. She celebrates evil ambition, but admits fear of her humanitarian husbands weakness ‘yet I do fear thy nature, It is too full o’th’ milk of human kindness’ so invites ‘… spirits, That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here’ to obliterate her feminine virtues. This continues the supernatural element presented and Shakespeare portrays the witches’ predictions as gospel to Lady Macbeth, by adopting complete conformity in planning action to gain ambition almost immediately.

Lady Macbeth presents a more focused attitude, and does not doubt the action to be enforced, unlike that displayed in her husbands initial ill tactics to succeed ambition. This is an interesting representation of Lady Macbeth being so strong, due to the negativity towards women in general, around the era of which Macbeth was written, resulting in female parts be acted out by men in performances such as Macbeth, due to the fact that acting was deemed as a low profession inappropriate for women.

Upon arrival of The King, Lady Macbeth displays an ironic false welcome, assuring her husband to ‘…look like th’innocent flower. But be the serpent under’t’. The dramatist’s uses personification to the innocence of the flower, in addition to the use of the simile to look like the flower, and combines a powerful image of a beautiful thing with an evil creature.

When Macbeth leaves the chamber, doubting his potential actions, his wife locates him and showers him with questions ‘Was the hope drunk?…Hath it slept since…?’ . The dramatist uses caesura punctuation within the blank verse, which offers a rushed quick tone, providing imagery of an annoyed Lady Macbeth. This is established at the end of this display, when she taunts Macbeth into portraying the impression of a coward ‘And live a coward in thine own esteem?’ Shakespeare provides numerous displays of Lady Macbeth’s expressive questioning of her husbands manhood, whenever he appears anxious. ‘Be so much more a man’ and deliberately plays on his insecurities. This is shadowing her own requests to be ‘unsexed’ assuring she would have actioned the deed herself ‘Had he not resembled… [her]… father as he slept’

To demonstrate to the audience how far Lady Macbeth would go to achieve her ambitions, disturbing psychosomatic images are conveyed. Hyperbolic descriptions of tender motherhood to violence in the display of ‘ Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, And dashed his brains out’ pursuing a powerful image of her removing a suckling baby from breastfeeding and murdering it. This image was portrayed to her husband regarding the murderous intentions.

Another quote used suggests ‘Come to my women’s breasts, And take my milk for gall,’ using poison as a replacement for breast milk. Shakespeare presents the audience with questionable thoughts to the possibility of Lady Macbeth being a mother at some point, however this was never confirmed.

Lady Macbeth portrays the image of control, and constantly reassures her husband throughout the play, however, the perception of constant hand washing after Duncan’s murder is apparent. Preceding the Banquo ghost incident, the continuous murderous eventualities send her insane. This is displayed in the dramatic irony, conveyed in prose verse, when the doctor and gentlewoman observe her while sleepwalking.

All the dark evil images portrayed by Lady Macbeth and her husband throughout the play now differs by mentioning she ‘has light by her continually’. The repetitive use of ‘to bed’ and ‘come’ confirms the doctor’s opinion ‘disease is beyond my practice ‘. Shakespeare presents blank verse, ending in rhyming couplets when the doctor speaks, compared to the prose displayed in Lady Macbeth’s speech. This is prepared for the audience, purposely to separate the dreaming from reality.

Lady Macbeth meets her death in way on suicide, presenting the audience with the opinion, that maybe she was not the strongest person of the duet after all.

The ambitions displayed by both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth seemed to alternate according to the scene in the play. Initially, Macbeth was given total reassurance and persuaded by his wife, to ensure ambitions were met. However, when Lady Macbeth was weak in character, her husband took control of the situation. This alternation in my mind represents weighing scales, showing uneven quantities, when one is up- the other is down, and vice versa. This display of tragic events represents both characters pursuit to ambitious intentions, eventually ending in both their deaths.

It is perceivable why Macbeth has been around and studied for such a considerable amount of time. In every era, adaptations can be made to adjust scenes to personal interpretation. Shakespeare used the reality of jealousy and ambition, which exists in most of us at some point in our lives, proving this is not a dated boring literary study, but an interesting literary experience to benefit us all.

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