Shakespeare’s Macbeth centres around a general whose fate takes a devious twist. He meets three witches who later predict his future to become the King of Scotland. After his wife hears of the prophecies, her ambition and desire to become Queen takes control of their relationship, so much so, that she persuades Macbeth into assassinating the King.
At the time of the play, the King of England, James I, was petrified of witches, to such a degree, that he passed a law condemning anyone, thought to be involved in witchcraft, to death. Witchcraft was so feared; people associated it with evil, the devil and hell. Witches were believed to see into the future, had the ability to make people go insane and were able to cast spells, by chanting. These all play an imperative role in “Macbeth.”
Macbeth and Banquo return from a winning battle, over a Scottish heath, as the atmosphere turned foul and menacing.
“So foul and fair a day”
The repugnant witches they were about to encounter earlier used the oxymoron. The dark and grim atmosphere could even be reflecting on what was about to happen. Macbeth was stunned to silence on viewing the ‘creatures,’ commanding them with short and simple questions.
“Speak, if you can. What are you?”
The witches start chanting Macbeth’s name and predicting his future, furthering to Macbeth’s silence. As mentioned earlier, chanting would have been able to cast a spell on to Macbeth, therefore were the witches about to control Macbeth’s future? The witches predicted Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor, followed by the King, as they buried certain objects such as a dagger, later to be an illusory by Macbeth. At the time when the prophecies were rolling out, Macbeth was bewildered as to how they knew his name and his current position in society. Banquo, on the other hand, was concerned about his future, not afraid whether the predictions were good or bad. They greeted Banquo with the same respect, once again giving ambiguous predictions. From the oxymorons, Banquo learned he will not be King, but his children will be…
“Thou shalt get kings, though tho be none.”
As Macbeth finally finds the courage to speak, he’s intrigued to find out more from the witches. From Macbeth’s actions and speech we can reveal he was both anxious and confused, speaking in question upon question, not giving the witches time to answer. After leaving the scene Macbeth and Banquo talk about the earlier incident using sarcasm, wondering if they just heard, what they thought was the impossible.
Although Macbeth tries to ignore the witches prophecies, in Act 1 Scene 3 part 2, he is announced Thane of Cawdor. In a soliloquy Macbeth considers taking the creatures seriously. He even considers killing the King.
“Of the imperial theme…”
After he became Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth realised he could be becoming one of the most important persons in Scotland. The witches have made Macbeth very indecisive, as well as placing sadistic thoughts into his head. This confusion that Macbeth seems to be experiencing is displayed in the text as he contradicts himself on several occasions. For example…
“Cannot be ill, cannot be good…”
The ‘cannot be ill’ referring to gaining wealth and power whilst, ‘cannot be good’ relating to the image of having to kill the King. Although, we are still under the impression he doesn’t want to break the bond he has with the King.
“…Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair…”
This referring to the illustration of brutally slaying King Duncan, although Macbeth still appears to have respect for the King as in a figure of speech he says it will make his hair fall out. He is so indulged with his thoughts Banquo comments on Macbeth not noticing him. This implies Macbeth was taking the prophecies very seriously. Continuing with the monologue he decided to let destiny take its course and do nothing.
“If chance will have me King, why chance may crown me. Without my stir.”
Was Macbeth letting destiny take its course, or was he letting the witches control his destiny? Unfortunately fate wasn’t on Macbeth’s side as in the next scene, based at Duncan’s castle, new promotions were announced. Macbeth realises he will have to change his plans to become King, due to Malcolm being next in line to the throne. This came to Macbeth’s surprise as he put lots of faith in the witches’ prophecies. Due to his numerous awards and achievements he thought he would have been elected King after Duncan. Macbeth knew the only way to become King was to kill Duncan as soon as he could. If he was any more hesitant, Malcolm would have gained the experience and become a suitable age to become King. Macbeth needed his wife’s help, so, in Act 1 Scene 5, Macbeth decides to let Lady Macbeth know about the latest happenings. This was the first chance Macbeth had to make contact with his wife. Was he home-sick or seeking advice and guidance possibly implying she is the dominator of their relationship?
Lady Macbeth reads the letter in a soliloquy, verbalising her thoughts. She comes to the conclusion; the witches’ prophecies are true and believes Macbeth doesn’t have the physical or mental abilities to become King.
“…yet do I fear thy nature”
“It is too full o’ the’ milk of human kindness”
Lady Macbeth doesn’t place confidence in Macbeth, suggesting Macbeth has too many foibles to become King. She continues to speak her mind which later reveals she desires the power and wealth, which would arrive if she became Queen. This is also displayed with the little pauses, reflecting she’s excited about the possibility of becoming powerful and wealthy.
“And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impectes thee from the golden round”
Lady Macbeth wants to cajole Macbeth into becoming King, doing what ever it will take. An element of cunning also shines through, as she’s even willing to indoctrinate her husband.
Once again we were able to witness her emotionless and manipulative character as she tells Macbeth to hurry home, possibly to get him prepared to kill Duncan and to become King.
The eradication of the King was to happen sooner than they both thought. Lady Macbeth receives news that King Duncan is to come and celebrate with them at the castle. After hearing of the news, she addresses ethered spirits, probably because Lady Macbeth feels, being a lady carries certain implications, which would stop her from murdering the King.
“The raven himself is hoarse…”
The raven is a symbol of evil or death. Contacting the malevolent forces to diminish her venereal femines fates, and to replace them with devious traits.
“Come you spirits. That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”
Once again, she doesn’t feel she has the mental power to kill the King so she calls upon the dark spirits. Her role as a mother was imagined as if she wants the spirits to feed off her.
“Take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers.”
Her quest to be filled with evil continues, as she wants the darkness of hell to consume the castle.
“And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell”
Macbeth enters soon after, not to be welcomed but to questioned about Duncan’s visit, which displays Lady Macbeth’s desire to become Queen as if she doesn’t love her husband for the natural reasons but because she is using him to gain control and wealth. Lady Macbeth explains how he is going to become King tonight and how his future is now. She also learns that King Duncan is leaving tomorrow which means the time is short to complete the murder.
Shall sun that morrow see.”
Macbeth soon realises what Lady Macbeth is thinking – King Duncan will not be leaving the castle alive and will be dead by tomorrow’s dawn. She instructs Macbeth to act normally but have hidden intensions, displaying who is the real driving force behind the murder of King Duncan. Macbeth isn’t ready to speak about the incidents and is shocked whilst confused, as the welcome from his wife was the plan for her to become Queen and for him to become King.
“We will speak further.”
Lady Macbeth doesn’t like the feeling of uncertainty so regains control of the conversation and her husband.
“To alter favour ever is to fear
Leave all the rest to me.”
Once more, revealing she has been planning this murder for several days and implying to Macbeth, ‘there will be no problems as you can leave it all to me.’ Unfortunately for Lady Macbeth, Macbeth tells her forget about her plans…
“We will proceed no further in this business.”
This would clearly make Lady Macbeth tempered and now she must persuade Macbeth into wanting to become King, which of course would also mean killing the King. She does this by tormenting Macbeth.
“Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?”
Metaphors were used about Macbeth changing his mind, passing implications that he’s a coward, using the word drunk to explain his boost in confidence, which can no longer be found. It also refers to the amount of time, as being drunk would only last for a relatively short time, just like Macbeth’s thoughts of killing King Duncan. Her passage continues with many rhetorical questions symbolising confusion.
Lady Macbeth prefers her own way, so she doesn’t stop provoking Macbeth, using the same techniques as earlier, when she calls him a coward hoping he’ll prove her wrong.
“And live a coward in thine own esteem”
There’s an aspect of irony throughout her speeches as she would like Macbeth to stand up for himself and to kill King Duncan but Macbeth is standing up for himself against his wife, which due to her character could prove for him to have more courage.
“What beast was’t then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?”
The word beast purposely used instead of man, as if to suggest he could be so much more powerful as he was when he suggested the plan. She makes him feel inadequate by mocking his man hood other known as emotional blackmail.
“How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me…
…Have done to this.”
The manipulative harsh comparisons continue as she brainwashes Macbeth. At no time does Lady Macbeth suggest that she murders King Duncan, but we do have the sense that she wants to murder the King more than Macbeth. Lady Macbeth would like to commit the deed but not have the blame, as her expertise is at changing people’s minds. Lady Macbeth suggests he’s not courageous enough to kill the King, although he fights in great battles, this displays Macbeth’s morals that is to put his job first and to respect the King. Lady Macbeth on the other hand has the mind to be a murder, but can’t do it. All she can do is indoctrinate Macbeth. It works and Macbeth asks questions…
“If we should fail?”
Lady Macbeth has gained his attention and he’s obviously thinking about the consequences after he has completed the murder. She replies with a laugh and a giggle performing her confidence as if nothing could go wrong. Lady Macbeth talks Macbeth through her plan. This is some of the first evidence we have of Lady Macbeth being the driving force behind the murder of King Duncan.
From her speech of plans we learn she wants to drug the guards with alcohol, but then the plan takes a devious twist.
“What cannot you and I perform upon
Th’ unguarded Duncan?”
Lady Macbeth doesn’t want to have complete control of the murder or any blame so she lets Macbeth continue with the plan. Macbeth suggests to frame the guards by smearing them with Duncan’s blood. This is what Lady Macbeth thought but gave Macbeth chance to answer so she can explain how it wasn’t her plan if anything was to go wrong.
At the beginning of this scene Macbeth was adamant that he wasn’t to take part in the murder, as he was too loyal to the King but now contradicting his decision he is going to kill the King. Another contradiction from earlier is that he is now composed and tranquil…
“I am settled”
The word settle implies a calm and relaxed atmosphere, whilst also meaning he is ready to Kill the King.
Act 2, Scene 2 we witness the aftermath of the murder. Lady Macbeth is nervous, not using many pauses in her speech, although she tries to hide her uneasy feeling convincing herself everything has gone to plan.
“It was the owl that shrieked the fatal bellman,”
She believes this sound of the owl indicates King Duncan’s death. Macbeth has the same feelings as Macbeth uses short, quick and pause less sentences representing the jumpy and edgy mood.
“Who’s there? What ho!”
Again, short question and exclamation displaying his fear of becoming caught. He is already experiencing his guilty conscience, and wishing he hadn’t committed the deed.