Shakespeare wrote the play Macbeth building up some relation with the reality in it. To introduce the historical context, this play has been written in 1606 while the reign of James 1st of England. This King was preceded by Queen Elisabeth. In the play, two characters are compared to her: Duncan, because she had the habit of gracing her favoured Nobleman just as Duncan graces Macbeth, and Macbeth, because she was ruthless, just as he is. As for James 1st of England, he wrote a book about witchcraft, called Daemonology. As a boy, he had been told many times of how his family descended from Banquo. In 1606, he watched a performance of Macbeth and was very pleased. All of this to say that when writing this play, Shakespeare had it well adapted to the historical context.
Macbeth is seen as a dramatic character because he has got the attributes needed to be a tragic hero. For this, there are several important points: the character must have a high stature; indeed Macbeth is a nobleman, a Thane: “I know I am Thane of Glamis” (I, iii p.7), he must commit an act which will begin his downfall; Macbeth’s downfall starts when he kills King Duncan in Act II scene ii, and he must die in or at the end of the play; which is the case in Act V scene viii “Macbeth slain”.
Macbeth’s ambition to become King leads him to fit the dramatic model of a tragic hero. It makes him move from a nobleman to an evil and violent character. But this ambition wouldn’t be as imposing if he hadn’t meet the three witches; indeed their prophecies pushed this ambition forward and made him start to kill.
The murders Macbeth commits appear in Act II scene ii and in Act III scene iv.
This first one is of course King Duncan’s murder. Macbeth commits this murder by himself, with the help of Lady Macbeth for some little mistake at the end.
Before and after the crime, he’s very tense and anxious. He is especially terrified by the blood: he imagines that by washing the blood of his hands they “will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red”. The vocabulary he uses belongs to the lexical field of murder: “daggers”, “blood”, “dead”, “murder”. All of this shows this scene is one of the most important ones of the play.
For the second crime, Macbeth engages murderers to kill Banquo. He doesn’t tell his wife, what will scare and derange her; this is shown by the change of the length of her lines between the beginning and the end of the scene. We also notice a lot of pauses. These suggest thoughtfulness. This scene is also full of images; Macbeth refers to the body, blood and to animals: “Thy bones are marrowless”, “Thy blood is cold”, “Russian bear, The arm’d rhinoceros, or th’ Hyrcan tiger”, “If charnel-houses and our graves must send those that we bury back our monuments shall be the maws of kites”. These images also contribute to this stressful atmosphere.
So his ambition and the murders he commits seem to make him turn mad, which shows clearly that this is his downfall.
The witches’ prophecies affected Macbeth and made him curious to why they predicted he would become King. Because of this, Macbeth’s ambition seemed to be one of his strengths, the other ones being courage and honour, but after he murdered Duncan, it became his fragility.
Soliloquies also contribute towards Macbeth’s dramatic model of a tragic hero. They show his ambition, as well as his plans or intentions. They allow the audience to go through his feelings, then to understand his behaviour and his decisions further.
Here is the example of Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act I scene iii.
In the beginning of this monologue, Macbeth “anticipates a mighty drama”. This shows he knows and he has got an idea of what he’s going to do: “As happy prologues to the swelling act of the imperial theme”.
But then some uncertainty comes in for the rest of the soliloquy; Macbeth asks himself questions: “Why hath it given me earnest of success, commencing in a truth ?”, and some ‘seesaw’ rhythms express this uncertainty: from “This supernatural soliciting” to “Against the use of nature ?”.
His state of mind is showed by his way of speaking: he uses an irregular grammar and the meaning of his words is different. We can see this in the quotation “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, shakes so my single state of man that function is smother’d in surmise”.
This soliloquy is important; it actually is Macbeth’s first soliloquy of the play. It is significant because as Macbeth makes his speech, the audience starts to discover how he thinks, understands and interprets facts and ideas, as other people won’t especially use the same way(s) and method(s) of analysing the situations.
Uncertainty and doubt is also shown by his vocabulary and the type of phrase he uses. So we notice questions, but also small sentences, small affirmations: “I am Thane of Cawdor”. The vocabulary he uses is peculiar: “supernatural”, “horrible imaginings”, “fantastical”. It suggests that Macbeth is somewhere else, lost in his thoughts, and therefore, confused and uncertain.
So in this soliloquy, which is Macbeth’s first one, doubt and hesitation are shown by different ideas and by his behaviour as it is strange and unusual.
Another important soliloquy of Act IV, scene ii, in which Macbeth reveals his plan, of killing Macduff and his family, to the audience: “The castle of Macduff I will surprise […] His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls”. When he says this, we feel his plan is all ready for him to execute.
This shows again that soliloquies are for Macbeth a way to reveal himself and to communicate with the audience.
Lady Macbeth helps Macbeth to fit in the dramatic model of a tragic hero, partly because she was the first one to have the idea of killing Duncan.
These two characters have a close relationship; for Lady Macbeth’s very first speech, she reads a letter her husband, Macbeth, wrote himself. Furthermore, they share a secret that could kill them and they support each other in the difficult moments, like before and after the murders scenes: “Macbeth leaves the state dinner, suddenly worried by what he us planning to do. But Lady Macbeth stirs up his spirits again”.
For example there is Act II scene ii when Macbeth comes back from Duncan’s murder.
In this scene Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s dialogue is very rapid. They both speak with short sentences or words. This shows they’re both tense and anxious. This brevity and this rhythm suggest they feel terrible about what they’ve just done. It shows they’re dramatic and emotive. For example, when Lady Macbeth answers “Donaldbain”, we hear silence. In fact, she could have answered by a sentence. But the atmosphere is so stressful that the reader doesn’t even expect a long answer.
Guilt actually could intensify the drama by creating some uncertainty in the characters’ minds. We can feel this uncertainty within the numerous questions they ask and the short answers they built: “As I descended ?” “Ay.”. The props used, such as the dagger and the blood actually help the actors to build a dramatic situation. They’re also there to intensify the terror of the atmosphere in this scene because a dagger and blood have a very negative signification; they symbolize murder and death.
So in this scene we have an atmosphere which is both tense and guilty and which unveils uncertainty.
Then, in the scene that follows, Macduff discovers the murder. Here, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth act and lie to hide their real identity and thus to keep their secret. They do this well, but then Macbeth starts to exaggerate a little his reaction; he uses the initiative and pushes the murder further: “Who can be wise, amaz’d, temp’rate, and furious, […] Courage to make’s love known?”. In the first sentence of this speech, the chiasmus “wise, amaz’d, temp’rate, and furious” accentuates his words and his initiative even more.
In Act III scene iv, for Banquo’s murder, Macbeth doesn’t warn Lady Macbeth immediately what disturbs and scares her. This lets us discover Lady Macbeth slightly more by looking at her reaction to the strange behaviour of her husband. And she actually starts to worry about him what proves she cares for him. But we can see she feels excluded from Macbeth’s latest plans and this may add up some anger to her feelings.
In Act V scene v, Macbeth learns about his wife’s death. His response to the news is very significant because he really emits the feeling that he doesn’t care; his reply starts by “She should have died hereafter” and this is absolutely the opposite of what the audience expects. Moreover, it is an officer, called Seyton, who tells him Lady Macbeth’s death, in an aggressive and very direct way: “The queen, my lord, is dead”. The pronunciation of this officer’s name, Seyton, remembers Satan who actually represents evil. This gives us the impression that evil in itself comes to give the news to Macbeth and this also suggests that Lady Macbeth went to hell. So we can conclude that nothing but a unexpected reaction and a secondary persona can even make a character like Macbeth more tragic than he already is.
The tragic hero Macbeth plays is revealed by three essential points: his character, as well as his wife, Lady Macbeth, and his ambition, involving the three witches. They all help and contribute to the dramatic persona in which he lives, feels and dies.