How Shakespeare dramatises Macbeth’s decision to commit regicide in the scenes preceding and immediately following Duncan’s murder
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The depths of the human mind are explored through Macbeth, the mental state of the protagonist fluctuates dramatically, and this is to provide a construct that symbolises greater truths about the human mind. He often has conflicting thoughts with which Shakespeare demonstrates his inner conflicts. As with many Shakespearian tragedies the central character has a fatal flaw, although Macbeth appears to have several. He is a man with a lot of desires but he lacks character to fully realise his ambitions.
Macbeth may be irredeemably evil, but his human nature separates him from Shakespeare’s other villains such as Iago in Othello or Edmund in King Lear who all have the strength to overcome guilt and insecurity. Even though he seems courageous in the battlefield, mentally cannot deal with the mental anguish of sin. This lack of character breeds a ‘volatile cocktail’ of personas: Macbeth becomes violent, paranoid and insecure.
As the play opens we hear only of “Bellona’s bridegroom” from a kinsman, deifying Macbeth as the archetypal war hero. Bellona was the goddess of war so therefore Macbeth was so immensely great in the battle that the kinsman must deem fit to compare him to a god. This makes Macbeth seem enigmatic as the kinsman only vaguely describes him and we know relatively nothing about his nature, anything can be distinguished from it.
But this may not be that case we might also be hinted about his flaws in the same scene, since the protagonist is said to have “unseamed him from the knave to th’chaps” this may show his bloodthirstiness to come or being brutal enough to disembowel someone on a battlefield this may show some major psychological issues that Macbeth has, but while still keeping his disposition shrouded in secrecy. This saying may have been used by Shakespeare to shock the audience and to show how gory that time was; a tone setter for much more to come in the play.
This gory imagery also suited the Globe Theatre and its surroundings. Often people would attend executions, bear-baiting, cock-fighting and things like that. This kind of entertainment lauded at and was the only way people could get a good thrill at that time. For a long time the general view of society was that people with ‘hermit like’ tendencies did things like this and were actually witches and ever since Europe was fully Christian they firmly forced their beliefs upon these people.
Subsequently making them into scapegoats and executing those who practiced the arts of the occult. At this time the majority of people believed in evil spirits and were superstitious. So the appearance of the witches would have frightened audiences, this helped to set the tone for the play. Also because Macbeth decides, on his own accord to see the witches it may show his complete insanity and depravity. Also this shows his tendencies to go against common morals and his conscience with remarkable ease.
So the appearance of these witches in this play in conjunction with meeting Macbeth it is fairly obvious that to cause mayhem they would use him, whom had power and status in society, as a puppet the same as Lady Macbeth did. This fictitious representation of what ‘witches’ were like (if they even existed) made up by society itself. Knowing this Shakespeare used this image to add to the effect of surrealism and transcendence in the way that darkness: in death, in our minds and in rituals were prevalent even in nobility.
This, most of all, hooked the audience in suspense and all of this is symbolised in Macbeth. Indeed, the protagonist tells the “imperfect speakers” to “stay” and “tell me more”. This shows how confused he is; even though he knows he will get no gain from knowing more because of the witches’ evasiveness he implores them for clarification. This may be because he enjoys being in control. Such a tendency, demonstrated on the battlefield, may show why Macbeth is the way he is, (this tells us that Macbeth takes many things from battle into his normal life and how much it has probably affected him).
We know that he was frightened by the witches because Banquo asks him, “Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear things that sound so fair? ” This suggests that while Banquo receives the harlots’ news with great assurance and composure, Macbeth frets and seems too anxious. Banquo is like Macbeth in the sense that after the first prophecy he has ambition, but unlike Macbeth he doesn’t put these into action. He works as Macbeth’s dramatic foil, even though he and the central character are such great friends, he is the complete opposite to his ally.
He has a relatively strong resolve and is not easily fazed and symbolises what the thane of Cwardor left behind. So Banquo stands as an antagonist, a conflicting force against Macbeth, once he has been killed. Therefore his and not Duncan’s spirit is the perfect choice to haunt Macbeth. When his ghost appears at the banquet Mactbeth says, “If charnel houses and our graves must send, those that we bury back, our monuments shall be the maws of kites.
This suggests that Banquo even in death still defies Macbeth, and that Macbeth is so frustrated by this, by not having power over the intangible, he cries out in front of a host of guests. Banquo, so destined to be the undoing of his former comrade, even in death, is instrumental to Macbeth’s downfall. This was evident ever since the oracle of the witches. The driving force, in addition to the witches’ prophecy, behind Macbeth’s decision to kill the king and the source of almost all of his torment is his wife.
Though Macbeth holds much power in status and clearly shows a valiant and fearless persona on the battlefield, she is the one often the dictator in their relationship and of course in that certain epoch the thought of a woman dictating her husband was unheard of so Shakespeare was almost revolutionary in that sense, because he often had women in his play who were far from the typical demure virtuous woman, Juliet from “Romeo and Juliet”, for example was headstrong, and Goneril and Regan from “King Lear” who were sadistic and even personified evil. Lady Macbeth herself is a very enigmatic person because we don’t know why she is so driven.
Shakespeare hints at why she is so callous when the character clams that “I would have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out if… “. Of course this is hypothetical she makes reference to a baby while taunting Macbeth and describing her absolute apathy for a dead baby, because she is talking about the baby so vehemently she may once have had a child herself but lost it. It would explain a lot about her and why she is so cold and driven, but also tells us why she eventually turns maniacally depressed, which might also be down to the guilt form killing the king.
From the first moment she is in the play she is already conspiring to kill Duncan. She says that, “To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it. ” In this excerpt Lady Macbeth is referring to Macbeth’s kind nature and how he lacks the, “illness to attend it” This insinuates that she has the “illness to attend it”, this shows her devious mindset she already has and a deep-seated callous nature of her. She is already has a nefarious plot ‘in the works’.
This is what sealed Scotland’s fate rather than her husband acting on his own accord. The protagonist already has the idea implanted in his mind about killing the king, but on his own, with his reserves over this and his loyalty he would never have killed the king. Lady Macbeth thinks that her husband is “too full of human kindness”. When she refers to the kindness being human this tells us that she is aware of how un-human she is and this is why might even think that she takes help from the devil or is associated with hell in some way.
She calls on “you spirits that tend on moral thoughts [to] unsex me here”, she probably has done this many time when Macbeth is off at war so this may be another reason why she is so cold, by cutting herself off from reality and human nature she numbs herself preparing for if ever the news came that Macbeth was dead. She wants to become everything that is not human and be “[filled] from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty” which emphasises how evil and calculated Lady Macbeth is and gives the impression that she is like a manifestation of the devil in a person.
This shows how much Macbeth’s is struggling against and what an absolute strong willed, cold shell of a person is manipulating him. Macbeth’s weak character against this stands no chance of staying sane. This changes Macbeth; she compels him to commit regicide but also puts Macbeth through anguish and sparks off something in Macbeth which makes him fight with himself. Like a typical bully she taunts Macbeth that she, “[would] shame to wear a heart so white” making the protagonist question whether he is a man or not. Every time the opportunity arises Lady Macbeth insists that he is less of a man for having emotional reservations over murder.
Believing that “thy mettle should compose nothing but males” Macbeth is forced to “dare do all that may become a man. ” The alliteration of ‘m’ sounds adds to the forcefulness of her insults, provoking Macbeth’s desire to do anything to attain the throne. In Macbeth’s first soliloquy we see what Macbeth usually is thinking. He is mainly thinking about the consequences and that “this blow might be the be all and end all here”. This could be perceived in many ways; suggesting that once he has done this, the fateful die would have been cast and he can never go retract his sin.
It may also have religious connotations as Macbeth notes hopefully, “We’d jump the life to come. ” This suggests that he’s thinking about the afterlife and that he fears God’s judgement via “the deep damnation of his taking off”. Also he thinks that redemption in his life would come to him and that somehow the universe would, “commend th’ingredience of our poisoned chalice to our own lips”. The imagery of the chalice denotes his enoblement to thane of Cwardor, being a “poisoned chalice”. It may even refer to the witches’ revelation being like drinking poison.
It definitely is showing his apprehension about killing the king and even his regret of committing so many sins. Then the second soliloquy is about him talking himself out of killing the king while exploring his inner conflict. By the end of the soliloquy he has effectively talked himself out of the murder. This shows how he lacks the ‘mettle’ to actually carry out the “deed”. He is beginning to “lose it”, contemplating doing it even though he is adamant about “proceeding no further in this business” and then completely talks himself out of it, this is typical of how two ideas in Macbeth’s mind clash in the play.
Then we get a manifestation of Macbeth’s mental state, through the image of the dagger. He talks to the vision as if it is a person, saying that “Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going. ” This suggests that Macbeth is not even in his right mind because this isn’t even a real thing let alone a person. The dagger could represent his guilt at being about to kill Duncan, as well as a symbol of how Macbeth’s life is controlled by violence – a part of him he cannot escape.
Also an important trait of the protagonist is conveyed when he s “see[s] thee still”; the dagger will not go away which shows that whatever the dagger symbolises cannot be removed (just as Macbeth cannot change his blood-thirstiness and revoke his “god of war” personality), it might show how what he is about to commit will not go away: the consequences of the murder will linger or it may be that his guilt will never go away. It may show how he is in a sort of limbo between reality and surreality: he can see the dagger and he desperately wants it to be real but it remains intangible, elusive and infuriatingly insistent.
Mainly in this soliloquy Macbeth uses many pauses (i. e. commas) and uses short sharp sentences. For example he says, “Witchcraft celebrates pale Hecate’s offerings, and withered murder, alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf, whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, with Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design moves like a ghost. ” This shows stuttering speech and fractured syntax which mirrors the dissolution of his identity, and his hesitation. He is so unsure of his actions and himself that he has to justify it with an effectively pathetic excuse, being because it is night-time.
He seems now to be engrossed in the world of surrealism he even goes as far as to parallel himself to Death, while personifying how it moves through the night. Also being that death needs a sentinel, a watchman to tell him when to kill shows how Macbeth is trying to qualify his act, by saying that, Death is bound by duty meaning fate is unavoidable and Death’s list is set in stone. Him comparing himself to Tarquin (the names of the kings in an extensive roman dynasty), may hint at his superiority complex and in hope of becoming like a Tarquin with his lineage doing the same.
This soliloquy is conveying the inner battles Macbeth has previously had about deciding whether to kill his king, but in the presence of his wife his objections are always overpowered so he doesn’t fight himself and go through so much anguish. This deed acts as a watershed and from then on he goes against many universal morals with no qualms, it’s as if, in this soliloquy, his conscience is being destroyed. In order to become soulless and cold-hearted, like his wife, and kill the king with a lighter heart, and enter the hallowed chamber of the king. Throughout the play Macbeth uses the elision technique.
This helps maintain the play’s swift pace, while also leaving certain events inferable to a certain degree. These events are only recounted, like after the battle when the kinsman is describing what happened, this is only a recount and does not tells us about specific things. This was done by Shakespeare to make an event undistinguished not to ruin the actual passion of the incident, and adding to the dramatic effect of the act itself, using the power of suggestion. Shakespeare may have acquired this from the classical Greek tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles.
This technique used in very violent plays, making Macbeth’s decision and actions more accentuated and seem even more despicable. Duncan’s chamber becomes like a hidden cloister in which an immense presence vastly alters the characters personae and conscience. After dissimilating his principles in the second soliloquy in order to summon the courage to commit regicide, they appear to have returned. Macbeth after returning from the king’s bedroom asks “wherefore could not I pronounce “Amen”? I had most need of blessing, and “Amen” stuck in my throat.
This could imply that Macbeth is now so guilty his conscience is harassing him and not letting him speak to god (say Amen). Or this might be because there was a holy or unholy presence in the room, he has become so affiliated with the devil he can sense the evil in the room and is traumatised stiff unable to say god’s name in fear of divine retribution. Then after his wife enters the chamber she reverts to a vulnerable state one which we have yet to see in the play she says, “Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done ‘t.
This shows that Lady Macbeth is, however apathetic, still only human and one of the reasons why she asks, “spirits to unsex me here”. She also probably is loyal to the king which was what everyone believed, because the king was supposed to be on his throne due to divine right. So this may show Lady Macbeth’s fear of defying god himself and that she doesn’t wield enough power (in terms of status) to kill the king and attain the throne, so due to this she too needs her husband.