Macbeth, written in 1606, is one of Shakespeare’s most adventurous plays filled with ambition, fate, deception and treachery, centred around the character of Macbeth, telling of extraordinary things from the witches mischievous magic to Macbeths change in fortune and personality. First his bravery, loyalty, and morality are conveyed to the audience; before Shakespeare goes on to tell of his tragic decline into evil and of how he brutally obtains power and control over others. At the time of the play’s creation, society believed intensely in the Chain of Being; the concept of God’s strict, natural structure over the universe.
The people stuck by this for fear of the consequences. They didn’t question nature’s vicious wrath because if they were to turn against it, it would be to defy the will of God and so had only God to answer to, dictating that it was therefore sinful for their subjects to resist them. Throughout Act 1:1-3, Shakespeare’s audience is given countless reasons to think of Macbeth in a positive way, depicting him as the strong, heroic character, conveying to them all of his many laudable traits. This is firstly shown through how others act towards him and what people think of him.
He is related to a ‘lion’ and ‘eagle’ by the captain showing he is thought of very highly and is respected. Confidence, fierceness and determination are all ‘lion’ like qualities that are reflected in the character of Macbeth. This is proved when he heroically fights on in the battle as it continues. Secondly ‘noble Macbeth’ questions the witches as he contemplates their prospects for him. He feels ‘to be King stands not within the prospect of belief’ so will leave it to ‘chance’ as he knows that sudden ambition is wrong.
This declarative statement emphasises his refusal to act wrongly. Everyone values Macbeth and all believe he is an incredible fighter and to emphasise this, Shakespeare uses a simile to show it to be true ‘like valour’s minion curved out his passage’. This portrays how Macbeth puts others before him and cares about them. Lastly you can see Macbeth’s loyalty as he talks to the witches because he has potential and wants to be a leader but does not do anything about it; when he is told he will be of a higher status he is shocked and refuses to believe that it may come true.
This shows that he is good because he doesn’t want to do anything to the King but protect him conveying his patriotic traits. Macbeth however could also been seen as having a potential for evil in this scene. He is described as ‘valour’s minion’, this portrays him as a brave servant when he is a leader to many. This could also be seen as him being a vassal and that he is easily commanded highlighting his weaknesses challenging the idea of him soon to become King.
During the battle he is also said to have ‘carved out his passage’ showing a ruthless and angry side to his personality later in the play when he murders innocent subjects. This could be exploited by his easy susceptibility later in the play by people such as the witches or his wife towards evil. The fact that the witches are going to meet Macbeth could suggest he is evil, as the witches are deemed evil and meddlesome. Being around the witches’ associates him with them and their evil doings, this is emphasised through their meeting place, ‘A desolate place’ which is also lit by thunder and lightning.
Because of its description it can be seen that they are almost removed from the rest of the world and disconnected from God and the rest of humanity, which only makes it more villainous for Macbeth to be there. The witches also prophesy that he shall become the thane of Cawdor; this is ironic because the previous thane was a traitor and tried to kill the king. This could suggest that Shakespeare is trying to make Macbeth fit the mould of the previous thane, which would make him evil as well.
Lady Macbeth and her husband’s strong relationship is built on how they treat each other. For example, in scene 7 Lady Macbeth finds her husband weak and pathetic when he is not doing as she wants. She is able to manipulate him as she is stronger minded and he is ‘too full o’th’ milk of human kindness’ which portrays his positive traits and her negative attitude. Lady Macbeth is not happy unless she is in control so in order to make sure she is she uses repetitive phrases such as, ‘wouldst thou’ in scene 7, line 41 and again in line 42.
This is effective because it shows her point clearly making the reader believe she’s right as she does to Macbeth later. She wants to teach Macbeth evil so he becomes like her as she thinks he can be figured out too easily – ‘your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters’. Lady Macbeth’s ‘ambition’ is to ‘win’ and nothing else. This is shown through the language she uses. Lady Macbeth thinks highly of determination and confidence but not only that, she won’t settle until she has got what she wants which shows power.
Lady Macbeth addresses her husband as ‘thou’, this infers that she already has control over him. It makes it easier to persuade Macbeth because you can see who the dominant one in their relationship is from the language they use with each other. Shakespeare has expressed her passion and determination through alliteration: ‘Hie thee hither’; this sounds strong willed and powerful and gives her speech a scene of urgency as if she wants to get on with the murder and won’t back down giving no choice but for Macbeth to agree with her.
It also creates negative imagery as it sounds as if she is hissing, through the use of sibilance, which again relates her with evil. Lady Macbeth is shown to ‘chastise’ Macbeth often showing how easily she can manipulate him. It also shows her superior nature and strength over her husband. To ensure that Macbeth follows through with their plan, Lady Macbeth wants to share her evil with him: ‘I may pour my spirits in thine ear’ – she wishes to influence him so that he will be stronger as she believes she is superior to him.
Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as evil using the symbolic ‘raven’ to do so. The ‘raven’ doesn’t only symbolise Lady Macbeth but also death and foreboding. This expresses her power and how she has managed to get her own way through her lies and deceit. When she says ‘the raven himself is hoarse’ it symbolises Macbeth’s weak nature and how he will give into her so they will not fail as Lady Macbeth thinks she is always right. To show Lady Macbeth’s ambition her character uses many imperative statements: ‘unsex me here, from crown to the toe’.
This also shows she is anything but willing to back down and she is very demanding by her forceful nature. Lady Macbeth wants to be seen as more masculine so results in asking the spirits to take away her femininity because she doesn’t think she’s string enough as a woman. This is also shown when she directs the spirits to ‘take (her) milk for gall’ and ‘make thick (her) blood’; this ruthless attitude shows how much she wants it and how she’d do anything to get it again also showing how she believes she can beat nature.
Her extreme evil attitude and her enthusiasm is shown through alliteration and superlative adjectives e. g ‘direst creulty’. When she uses the description of ‘murthring ministers’ it emphasizes her passion and determination. Her ‘dark’ vocabulary associates her with evil and the witches and creates negative imagery as the witches are connected to villainous things. The personification Shakespeare uses gives the impression of foul changes and how they are against nature: ‘Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark’.
This verifies Lady Macbeth’s evilness as she is putting herself in the opposition to all that is good: her husband, Heaven and God. This gives a strong affect as it emphasises and hints at his increasing change towards evil. Shakespeare also uses similes to show how Lady Macbeth is starting to control Macbeth more and more quickly. She orders him to ‘look like th’ innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t’ which means hide your feelings and emotions so that he doesn’t get caught when committing the ‘deed’. This is another imperative statement showing she dominates him.
In many of the phrases that Shakespeare uses in his play, Macbeth can be interpreted in more than one way for example, ‘he that’s coming must be provided for. ‘ This associates Lady Macbeth with the witches because it emphasises her control over Macbeth and how the witches have the same control over him. But it also connects her with darkness and the devil as she is preparing a feast but actually is planning on the death of the King. At this point Macbeth is starting to agree with his wife as she has manipulated him through her twisted words so that it sounds like the right thing to do.
Macbeth’s soliloquy is very powerful, at the beginning of scene 7, as he is debating whether to go through with the ‘assassination’. The scene in which this is performed represents his feelings. This is because the ‘torches’ represent how he is not completely decided. They show how he’s still half in darkness and half in light symbolising half in evil and half in good showing the darkness is slowly consuming him but hasn’t yet. This can also be seen as the light symbolising of Duncan’s life and how it is ending and later when the torches have gone out, he will be dead.
The darkness also creates suspense and an eerie atmosphere leading to the unknown. Macbeth’s loyalty and kindness is shown clearly in this part of the play to show he would go through with ‘the deed’ if there were no ‘consequence’s and it could ‘end all here’. Although as this is not what would happen then it would all be lead back to him and his reputation would be ruined. This shows the morality in how he feels uneasy about doing this and how he has be forced against his will and been persuaded into it. He shows fear and remorse by trying to talk himself out of their plan.
Macbeth feels that he should be loyal towards the king as he has done no wrong towards himself and he has treated him well recently. Duncan is the guest so Macbeth should be protecting him not bringing harm or death to him. He also thinks Duncan is a good King so does not want to hurt him and as he is he’s ‘kingman and subject’ then he should be again protecting him against any other more obvious evil predators. Another way Macbeth’s conscience is seen is when he is talking to his wife. He sounds very unsure and unwilling to go through with the murder.
It is easily seen as he uses euphemisms to replace the words death and murder for example, ‘this business’ or ‘taking off’. This shows he is uncomfortable with the task and he doesn’t want to come to terms with it. He thinks he has no reason to do it and that he us too afraid to; there’s no other reason but his ‘vaulting ambition’. This is shown through the language and vocabulary that Shakespeare has used. The ‘surcease, success’ is emphasised through alliteration and sibilance, which again draws attention to how they have not failed with the murder yet.
His use of personification is strong and bold: ‘tears shall drown the wind. ‘ This helps Macbeth persuade himself not to do it and shows he is valiant and trusting, as he wants to get out of the situation. Using a soliloquy to show this makes it more personal which emphasises his emotions; this then builds tension making the scene more intense for the audience. Despite how much loyalty Macbeth has and how much he doesn’t want to perform the dreadful deed, Lady Macbeth is powerful enough to overrule his decision and persuade him to carry it out.
Shakespeare uses many techniques, which makes her more dominant than Macbeth as she uses them to manipulate him. Firstly, Shakespeare uses rhetorical questions, one continuously after the other, which then makes Macbeth question himself through undermining him and patronising him: ‘Hath it slept since? ‘ This question leaves Macbeth finding himself without an answer leading him with no choice but to side with Macbeth. Another way that she does this is by attacking his masculinity and his soldier-like qualities using words like ‘green’ and ‘pale’.
She uses similes – ‘Like the poor cat i’th’a dage? – which makes his feel pathetic and like he has to do it because she is relating him to the poor cat in the old story. Her declarative statements about his manhood appeals to his self esteem and pride. She uses reverse psychology and tells him to ‘be so much more the man’ which makes him want to prove himself and show that she is wrong. This is also shown when she compares him to herself because she conveys how ruthless she is when she describes how she would dash the brains out of a baby and how if she said she would do something then she would follow through with it making Macbeth feel cowardly and weaker then his wife.
This is very important to his appearance because the social aspect in that time was thought that any man was suppose to overall a woman. Lady Macbeth persuades her husband by using influential adjectives such as, ‘dashed’, ‘plucked’ and ‘boneless’. This emotive language emphasises the harsh reality of her strength and creates clear imagery showing her passion, which then motivates Macbeth to go through with her plan. She also uses his weaknesses to get her own way and directs her orders to him personally.
‘Why did you leave the chamber? – she starts to distant herself to make the situation more serious and make Macbeth realise that she refuses to fail. The alliteration that is used emphasises her anger and passion towards this procedure. An example of this is ‘receipt of reason’, this is very harsh sounding phrase so seems as if she’s spitting out the words. Lastly she uses Macbeth’s words against him by mirroring and questioning them. ‘We fail’ – this makes her argument even stronger forcing him into agreeing with her. As she has an answer to everything he doubts he has no choice but to follow her in this devious arrangement.
Although it appears that Lady Macbeth is the stronger of the two, the majority of the play is written in blank verse showing that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are both equal to each other as their patterns of speech are the same. This could be interpreted that Lady Macbeth goes from weaker to stronger and then back to weaker again as she turns insane later in the play where as Macbeth still has his emotions throughout the play although they may start to slowly fade, like his conscience, as evil takes over him but this shows their equal status. Lady Macbeth uses manipulation and immorality to turn Macbeth’s view around.
This shows he is easily convinced as at the beginning of the play he was completely against her plot but then went through with it in the end anyway. In Act 2:1, Macbeth is portrayed as an evil ‘butcher’ rather than heroic. He says ‘A heavy summon lies like lead upon me, And yet I would not sleep’ showing that nature is defying his sleep even though he’s exhausted. Banquo uncovers how the chain of being has been interrupted reasoned by no ‘husbandry in heaven’. This seems as if there are no stars like heaven is saving energy. Macbeth’s evil increases throughout the play, which creates more and more evidence against him.
In this scene he uses a lot of negative imagery inferring he’s about to do wrong emphasising his evil. He talks about ‘witchcraft’ and ‘Tarquin’s ravishing strides’ as if it’s a good thing and he is comparing himself to him. In the part of Macbeth’s soliloquy, he sees a dagger. This motivates him to go through with the murder although it is not known who is doing this to him whether it’s him mind that is becoming more evil through Lady Macbeth’s teachings or the witches or he’s hallucinating because they have disturbed the Chain of Being. This makes it harder for Macbeth to refuse.
He also uses lots of phrases like ‘That summons thee to Heaven, or to Hell’ which is significant because it is associated to funerals and death. Although, at the beginning he was completely against this plan, he is now lying to Banquo his ‘friend’ and still calls him a ‘friend’ although he’s now become an enemy so its is ironic because he is the opposite. He seems, as he is almost comfortable with deceit and the whole idea. This is also shown when he says ‘Hear it not, Duncan’ showing that he is now determined and confident that Duncan will not find out.
Macbeth purposefully distances himself from good as he feels nature is against him. He is in great ‘fear’ that it will give his plan away and that people might hear him. This is also linked to the Chain of Being about how it has been unbalanced. The play shows how Macbeth’s personality unravels throughout, descending into evil. The people around him and the power that they withhold lead to his downfall. Shakespeare infers that Lady Macbeth is partially to blame for Macbeth’s behaviour. He depicts her character as manipulating and controlling over Macbeth leading to his actions of murder.
On the other hand, Macbeth is portrayed as a weak and cowardly character by not being able to defend himself and what is right resulting in his demise. The Chain of Being is an important theme in this play especially towards the end as everyone believed in it strongly and some even believed that it could tell you what happened next. For example, at the end of the play it is suggested that Macbeth will die because he has gone against God and interrupted the cycle. Therefore Macbeth’s rapid descend into evil and Lady Macbeth’s wicked nature both played an equal part in his transformation from hero to villain.
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