William Shakespeare, a world renowned English writer, wrote a play which went down in history – “Macbeth”. This was the last of his four tragedies and was written in the early 1600’s. It was written for James I and was first performed in 1606. The focus is on the psychological effect of the crimes he commits upon Macbeth and the nature of his relationship with his wife. “Macbeth” tells the story of a man who acts, urged by his wife and foretold by witches, committing regicide in order to gain power. It is William Shakespeare’s most powerful and emotionally intense play, and has had a great effect on its audiences throughout the years.
During the play we see Macbeth, a hero that fights for his king and country turn into a dangerous man, driven by evil. Shakespeare uses Macbeth to show the terrible effects that ambition and guilt can have on a man and how they can drive him to destroy himself, however despite being the tragic hero and therefore in charge of his own destiny, we feel that Macbeth is not entirely to blame for his own fate – the downfall of Macbeth is also the result of the actions by those around him in being able to exploit his flawed character.
The play places Macbeth very firmly in the middle of a fierce battle that is being fought between Scotland and Scottish traitors and then between Scotland and Norway. Our first impression of Macbeth is that he is a fearless hero and that he would never reduce himself to such a low standard of evil as those he is fighting. Macbeth’s loyalty and fearlessness is emphasised when he is described as being one of “two spent swimmers that do cling together and choke their art… ” this simile followed by an ellipsis is much more effective than a graphic description.
It gives the impression that the two armies are in a state of exhaustion, as two swimmers would be after having swum until they can swim no more. Both clinging onto one-another and pulling each other down, running the risk of destroying each other and creating a chance of complete, merciful, total defeat. The position that Macbeth is in during the battle is that the odds are stacked against him when his enemy MacDonwald is described as having “the multiplying villainies of nature …… warm upon him”.
This can give two impressions, one of which is that he is drawing all evil towards him – wishing to destroy the natural order and the other being that he himself possesses all the characteristics and attributes of evil and he is the epitome of all that is bad. It is almost apocalyptic, good and evil fighting to the death and evil at the moment with the advantage, making clear the bravery of Macbeth as he continues to fight even though the odds are stacked against him.
Even something as notoriously fickle as luck seems to have forged an allegiance with evil. “And Fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling, Showed like a rebel’s whore; but all’s too weak: For brave Macbeth” The tables have now turned, good and evil are so evenly matched it is now possible for either side to triumph, but Macbeth is determined. Fortune is not favouring the brave; Macdonwald is in need of all the luck he can get at this point in battle, with Macbeth being as strong and courageous as he is.
Luck is personified as a prostitute; it has no loyalty and can desert one person and move onto the next. A prostitute or luck will always go where it will most succeed. It appears as though there are two questions that could be associated with this quote, Is Fortune smiling on his rebellion as his loving whore but part of the “all’s too weak” to deny Macbeth his stunning victory? , or does Fortune abandon Macdonwald like a fickle whore when Macbeth appears?
But luck is of no use as Macdonwald and his army aren’t strong enough and are no match for Macbeth. When Macbeth is referred to as brave, it shows that he is representing the epitome of good – he is a leader that had the power to change the fortune of the battle almost single handed with the help of “his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution, like valour’s minion carved out his passage till he faced the slave;” Macbeth’s heroism increases further.
He is being praised by the sergeant showing that society values bravery and audacity. His sword is smoking with “bloody execution” because he is in the thick of the battle, moving at such high a pace and executing so many enemies as he moves, his sword is hot with smoking blood and hasn’t had the time to cool. Shakespeare’s use of the word “carved” emphasises Macbeth’s strength and ferocity, also the use of “valour’s” meaning courage shows that as Macbeth is hacking down all men that get in his way, he’s fighting for a cause.
Macbeth continues to execute men in battle until he faces Macdonwald, “Till he faced the slave” this will then be the ultimate test, good against evil and only one will prevail. It is comparing Macdonwald to a slave, in the face of Macbeth’s power he is nothing more than this. There was no introduction and no welcoming; this final meeting was only to leave one survivor.
Eventually Macbeth’s determination, strength and courage shine through as Macdonwald is defeated and the Thane of Glamis is victorious and proven successful in battle when he “un-seamed him from the nave to the chops, and fixed his head upon our battlement” cutting him up the middle, symbolising total defeat, the end for evil. Although it’s just the beginning for Macbeth and the others, who represent all that is good. This act that Macbeth commits without any hesitation shows the start of his soul being corrupted by evil.
Lady Macbeth has talked Macbeth into murdering Duncan after he was foretold by witches that he would become king, it was then immediately thought by Lady Macbeth that for this to become reality, Duncan’s reign has to come to an end. As the day of the deed approaches Macbeth begins to doubt whether or not he should commit this act of treason, he is torn between two ways “if it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well – it were done quickly; if th’assassination could trammel up the consequence” These words spoken by Macbeth show that he is confused and doubtful, Shakespeare has used euphemism to emphasise this.
An example of euphemism can be found in this quote; Macbeth refers to the act of murder as “it” on numerous occasions, giving the impression that he is trying to avoid what he is actually contemplating on doing, not once does he actually use the word murder. It sounds as though there is an actual reason for killing Duncan, but the only reason is Macbeth’s own greed and desire for power. The use of conditional words such as; “if” “when” “then” and “could” and the use of midline pauses and caesuras suggest hesitation and introduces the element of uncertainty.
There also appears to be a slight chance that due to Macbeths crave for power, he may lose control of his own destiny. Shakespeare suggests that the murder of Duncan “could trammel up the consequence” meaning that this one act could lead to a chain of events and there will be consequences beyond Macbeths control, as if it’s a trigger and when that trigger is pulled it can change everything. “But in these cases We still have judgement here: that we but teach Bloody instructions, which being taught return To plague th’inventor;”
Shakespeare has used some interesting language and techniques in this speech making you feel as though you are inside Macbeths head and can completely understand what he is thinking. The words “these cases” are used, once again avoiding the issue that this act is murder it also gives the impression as though it happens often and is a common action. Macbeth is concerned about the judgement of Duncan’s subjects and the kingdom, although not once does Macbeth mention or have any concern about the judgement of god or his wisdom.
We get the feeling that Macbeth is terrified of being caught if he does go through with the evil deed, but he doesn’t think about the effect it will have on himself, only the thought of others for example; Duncan’s subjects. This enables us never to lose sympathy for Macbeth. Shakespeare suggests that we as humans “teach bloody instructions” meaning what goes around comes around, possibly that if he carries out the act of murder it’s almost as if he is making a set of instructions and many people will follow his lead.
These words are prophetic, and the audience in the 1600’s would have known to expect Macbeth’s death even at this early stage in the play. “To plague th’inventor” makes you think that he is likely to suffer in some way, if he commits the injustice there will be a reparation and he is highly likely to be punished in some way. Macbeth has had the chance to turn back but has chosen not too and therefore the murder that he is about to commit is also premeditated and morally wrong. Regicide is the most heinous type of evil possible, killing the king.
Strong both against the deed: then as his host who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself” Macbeth is weighing up in a way, the pros and cons of killing his king he’s doing this in a way that is cold blooded. Searching for justification for what he is about to do as though it is acceptable. The language that Shakespeare uses emphasises Macbeth’s twisted state of mind, contrasting between goodness of the victim and the nature of his act. Duncan is a good king and is valued by his kingdom, he’s gentle and not a tyrant nor a dictator, he’s a good honest king.
Although through the language used we get the impression that Macbeth thinks that Duncan is a weak king, and his qualities are impediments. “Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against The deep damnation of his taking off” This Quote is odd as you wouldn’t think of angels as pleading; this could possibly be suggesting a sense of desperation. The contrast between the words “angels” and “damnation” is very effective as you would not associate these two words together they are completely opposite. William Shakespeare is de-humanising Macbeth at this point in the play, as he becomes almost devilish.
The impression we get of Macbeth from Shakespeare’s writing and language used is that he is totally willing to carry out this act influenced highly by his wife, he has now discovered that he is able to stop this from happening and chooses against doing so, when he states “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself” suggesting that there is nothing driving him on but his own ambition with no justification. The use of elemental language and metaphors increases the will he won’t he feeling that Shakespeare is giving his audience.
When Macbeth says the words “which o’erleaps itself” which suggests that if you want something so badly you can over do it, miss what you were aiming to achieve and damage yourself. When the dagger appears before Macbeth, symbolising destruction and evil, he hesitates repeatedly before he grasps it. At first there is a sense of uncertainty when Macbeth asks himself “Is this’ a dagger which I see before me the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee” the dagger is showing the chaos that Macbeth is about to unleash.
The fact that Shakespeare begins this speech with a rhetorical question on one hand emphasises the uncertainty and on the other hand it emphasises the dedication and strive that Macbeth is feeling. You are given the impression that Macbeths mind has now been consumed by evil, that there is not much of a hero left inside of him. There is a great contrast between this speech and the previous speech’s. Macbeth is no longer a strong and loyal character, he is becoming less in charge of his own fate and destiny by the day. His heroism is deteriorating.
This could symbolise Macbeth’s future in a way, showing that one action or decision – no matter how insignificant or life threatening can change a person or the natural order. When Macbeth cries “Come, let me clutch thee” it’s almost as if he is pleading with the dagger, as though it is in charge. Somehow evil has overtaken him. The word “clutch” seems desperate as though it is his final chance, it’s almost ironic as towards the end of the play Macbeth does become desperate, although unlike in this case, he is desperate for his life to end and for it all to be over as quickly as possible.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. 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 heat oppressed brain? ” The many pauses during this part of Macbeths speech, indicate that there is an uncertainty, the pauses used by Shakespeare give the impression that Macbeth is giving himself time to think, him making a scale trying to balance out the good and evil of this act.
It’s almost as though he is trying to prove to himself that what he’s doing is acceptable. There once again is the chance for him to turn back, the chance for him not to take the dagger and to return home, the fact that he doesn’t shows that his ambition is still a huge part in this murder. Shakespeare has chosen effective words in this speech, words that contrast showing Macbeths confused state of mind. For example the words “fatal” and “false” give the impression of evil whereas “creation” and “sensible” reflect hope and goodness.
The final pause after “fatal vision” emphasises the following sentence, giving it high importance when Macbeth doubts his sight at first when he says “sensible to feeling as to sight”, this almost suggests that he doesn’t believe it is real, as though he can see it but is unable to touch it, this emphasised the confusion. You are given the sense that Macbeth is uncomfortable with the use of the words “dagger of the mind”, these words give the impression that his mind is thinking of murder, not of his wife or his future only thoughts of murder, he has become a dangerous soul.
From here on Shakespeare’s use of language changes, from now on nothing has the power or ability to stop Macbeth , this is expressed when “it is the bloody business which informs thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one half world nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse the curtained sleep; now witchcraft celebrates” this gives the impression that Macbeth was previously in a panicked state, although this has now disappeared and he is set on completing the task at hand, with the influence of Lady Macbeth. It is suggested that the better part of the world is seen in the light and when darkness falls, it is then that all evil is released.
Night time and the dark are symbolic to evil, almost as though now is the perfect time for the murder to take place whilst it is dark and the light (goodness) is unable to be seen. When Shakespeare uses the term “the curtained sleep” he is almost suggesting that when the sun goes down and we draw the curtains, we have no idea of what mysterious evil could be lurking in the darkness. “With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm set earth, Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear”
Macbeth has to move silently or he may be caught, as though he is on the battle field ready and waiting. There’s a suggestion that he doesn’t want the earth to hear him as it is firm and he is not. Anything that is firm, pure and good has now become a threat to Macbeth. Suggesting that evil is never seen until it’s ready to attack. Shakespeare has used the words “towards his design” there is possibly a double meaning to this, it could mean either that the earth was created and should be fixed by god, almost as though Macbeth is putting the blame of his actions onto god.
It could also mean that gods design is that there are evil people and they shouldn’t be stopped, they should continue to murder, cheat and steal and allow nature to take its course. Shakespeare has created the language to become slightly mellow dramatic at this point, as if after he commits the crime and Duncan is announced dead, Macbeth will become a powerful and courageous hero, slightly ironic as this is what he was to begin with before the influence of greed, ambition and others got in the way.
Macbeth proves further to the audience how corrupt his mind is as he continues the speech. He tells the audience how he not only plans to kill Duncan but he intends to too it silently and discreetly. By cunningly planning to creep upon Duncan he plans to do it as most evil crimes are committed, ‘stealthy’, ‘ghost’ like and without the tell-tale earth giving his plans away. After talking for quite a while, Macbeth says “Whiles I threat, he lives: words to heat of deeds to cold breath gives”.
This implies that Macbeth is becoming more and more inpatient with himself and feels as though the deed is not being done quickly enough. This also suggests that Macbeth fells if he talks of the task ahead of him more then he may end up not doing it. This enhances the fact that he knows that he has to act upon instinct which is more animal like than human like. This also shows that the naturalness, that once was present inside every cell of Macbeth, is now absent. Macbeths place in the order of being has now dropped to a place that is close to animals and other violent beings.
After a bell sounds, which changes the tone to one of more seriousness, Macbeth talks to himself but aims his words at Duncan. “I go and it is done: The bell invites me”. This proves to the audience that Macbeth feels that this job is as good as done and there is no chance of it not being completed as swiftly as possible. The effect of this is instantly diminished because he says that the bell invites him. The word “invites” gives an impression of a choice given to Macbeth.
This makes the audience realise that all the way through the play Macbeth always has a choice and can back out of anything that he wants. However, the evil in Macbeths mind has ruled out the option of doing good, evil always prevails. Macbeth continues to say “Here it not, Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell’. Macbeth doesn’t want Duncan to hear the bell so he doesn’t fear his death that is coming. By adding ‘Or to hell’, he implies that Duncan is the evil one when he actually doesn’t realise that all the evil is consumed in himself.
As the play continues, Macbeths character and attitude changes due to the suicide committed by his wife. He still cares greatly for Lady Macbeth, although he has no time to grieve when he claims “she should have died hereafter; there would have been such time for a word” Macbeth is so sunk in his own despair; he gives the impression that her suicide should go unmarked, as if to dismiss the news. Shakespeare’s use of language slows down the speech and gives the audience the impression that Macbeth is depressed and just waiting for the day of his death.
To-morrow, ad to-morrow and to-morrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time” It’s almost as though today is just another day, as will be tomorrow and the next day. Time is now nothing but a part of his journey towards death. Human’s have the power to do things and come and go as they please, when Shakespeare personifies time as creeping it creates a sense of it being un-controllable. In this case it is passing slowly and with no energy, whereas time used to leap by. It’s almost as if all meaning has been lost. The words “petty pace” emphasise a tone of disgust and little hope or happiness.