During this essay I am going to be reading through and analysing Act 1, scenes 1-7 of “Macbeth” written by William Shakespeare in the 17th century. The play itself is set in 11th century Scotland, which was a time of war over territory, which partly is what the play is about. Macbeth is the main character of the play, and I am going to analyse what impression the audience or reader is given of him, I will also decide whether he is a hero or villain, and maybe consider if he was forced into the acts he did, by other characters.
Scene one is the shortest scene in the play, but it is also the most important because it creates a huge amount of atmosphere for an audience. The scene is set on a battle field and its thunder and lightening, this would create a great amount of tension for the audience or reader. Especially for the first scene, this atmosphere would give the impression that the play is going to be very atmospheric and tense. Also from how the witches seem to talk;
“When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightening, or in rain?
“When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost, and won”
-The audience will find that they seem to talk in rhyme, which will make them think badly of the witches because it seems like they are speaking in some sort of spell. As the three witches talk among one another, one of the witches actually mentions Macbeth;
“There to meet with Macbeth” (Said by the Third Witch)
-So from this, any person would assume that Macbeth is an evil character, because in the 17th century, witchcraft was very popular but most people thought it was evil.
As the scene comes to a close the three witches seem to speak some sort of spell to each other;
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair,
Hover through the fog and filthy air”
This may actually be some sort of spell or cryptic message against “Macbeth” and may leave the audience quite puzzled.
As the scene changes to scene two the audience will find there is a complete change of atmosphere, it’s not so spooky anymore. The scene is set in the King’s headquarters, and as a result the audience may become relaxed as the scene is more serious and the pace of the play is slowed down. The second scene is about the King, Malcolm, Dondaldbain and Lennox talking about how successful Banquo and Macbeth fought in a battle. And because of Macbeth’s efforts he rewards him with a new title – The Thane of Cawdor.
Firstly, the characters in the scene, talk about the war against the rebel army. The captain talks about how neither of the sides of the war seems to be winning;
“Doubtful it stood,
As two spent swimmers that do cling together”
He also mentions how the leader of the rebel army is a worthy opponent.
As the captain continues to talk he mentions Macbeth and even though the audience has not met the character yet, there is a completely different opinion of him.
“For brave Macbeth-Well he deserves that name”
From this part of the captains speech, the audience could now well be confused, as of the first scene, any member of the audience would have thought Macbeth was an evil character.
After this sentence, the captain basically “brags up” Macbeth making the audience think that he is a truly heroic character.
Continuing through the rest to the scene, Duncan and the Captain seem to really be impressed with Macbeth as all they seem to do is praise him. In Line thirty five in the play, the Captain even seems to be sarcastic toward him.
“Yes, as sparrows, eagles, or the hare, the lion,”
And it emphasizes how astounding he is; even at about line fifty of Ross’s speech, he even compares Macbeth to the God of War;
“The Thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict,
Till that Bellona’s bridegroom, lapp’d in proof”
At this stage the audience might begin to believe these characters over the witches, they may think if they talk about him this much, he must be really incredible. And apparently from Ross’s description, Macbeth has personally confronted a main rebel and captured him. All of the characters in this scene seem to honor Macbeth, for his good deeds, and for them, King Duncan wants to name Macbeth Thane of Cawdor.
“No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive
Our bosom interest. Go pronounce his present death
And with his former title greet Macbeth”
Once the play has progressed to scene three, the atmosphere has again changed, and the audience will find that their tension will build again, as the scene is very similar to the first; the heath and thunder, which is pretty supernatural.
The scene begins with the witches talking again, and from what they say the audience or reader may think they have done evil;
“Where hast thou been, Sister?”
From this, it could give the image that they have done something sinful. The witches then continue to talk to each other in the riddle like way, and it’s bizarre, but it would make the audience uncomfortable, and it’s a really good way of creating tension.
As the witches talk in their rhyme they are interrupted by a drum. An interruption like this could be a relief to the audience because it has stopped the witches speak in rhyme, but also it could create even more tension, (depending on the type of person) and send questions to the audience’s head, such as “What’s going to happen now?” “What is the drum for?” Etc.
The third witch then says;
“A drum, a drum;
Macbeth doth come”
Meaning the drums are signaling that Macbeth is nearby.
This is the first time that the audience meets Macbeth so they can find out themselves what type of character he is. The first sentence Macbeth says;
“So foul is fair, a day I have not seen.”
– It shows there could be a connection between the spell/message the witches said in the first scene, as Macbeth has just said part of it, and it may give audience a bad impression of him. When the First Witch talks she calls Macbeth the “Thane of Glamis” (Which he already is) but when the second witch greets Macbeth she calls him “Thane of Cawdor”. Could this be some sort of prediction? Or just a mistake? As the audience will know at this point that Macbeth has been awarded with this title, but Macbeth does not know, so how could the witches know? These could be some of the questions the audience might come up with, when watching the play.
After the witches have greeted them both of them properly, Macbeth seems to be interested to the fact they have called him “Thane of Cawdor”;
“By finel’s death, I know I am Thane of Glamis,
But how of Cawdor?”
It seems to interests him, and at the same time, it doesn’t seem to interest Banquo at all;
“To th’selfsame tune and words-who’s here?”
Banquo seems to start to talk about it, but then changes the topic, and it shows he doesn’t care about what the witches have said.
Ross and Angus now enter the scene, and have come to talk to Macbeth. They talk about how grateful the king is of him for the success Macbeth has had in battle, and they then say;
“He bade me, from him, call the Thane of Cawdor”
– This could really shock the audience, as they will now realize that the witches were telling the truth. It not only shocks the audience but it shocks Macbeth and Banquo too.
“What, can the devil speak true?”
– Which Banquo says, obviously shows he is shocked, but could also there could be a slight hint of jealousy within it. Angus then explains that the current “Thane of Cawdor” lives, but he is under judgment to whether he keeps his life or not. The audience will then find that Banquo is a nice character as he tries to warn Macbeth about the witches and evil spirits, and he shouldn’t trust them.
“The instruments of darkness tell us truths;
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.-”
From what Banquo has just said, that audience may seem to favour Banquo over Macbeth as he seems to look at the truthful side of it, rather to Macbeth it interests him. As the play progresses through scene four Macbeth has an aside. (The audience hears his thoughts) And straight away within his thoughts he thinks of murder, which unsettles him and the audience;
“My thought, whose murder yet but is fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that is function
Is smother’d in surmise, and nothing is
But what is not.”
This aside in scene three, would give a strong dark opinion of Macbeth to the audience, because he is already thinking of murder as an option. Banquo and Macbeth then talk about the title he has been given and the scene then comes to a close.
Scene four takes place within “The King’s Headquarters and once again, the atmosphere has changed. The scene is about King Duncan receiving Macbeth and Banquo with gratitude and then announces that his son Malcolm will be King after him.
At the beginning of the scene, the king is talking about the current Thane of Cawdor, and asking if he has been executed yet. He then goes on to talk about how he can’t believe people he trusted and what they are thinking by their face;
“There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face,
He as a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust”
It’s ironic because Macbeth is thinking of murder. Also the audience knows more than the characters, so they may think that Macbeth two-faced. Then as Macbeth, Banquo, Ross and Angus enter the scene. King Duncan praises Macbeth and tells him how grateful he is of him.
“O worthiest cousin,
The sin of my ingratitude even now
Was heavy on me.” – showing how grateful he is.
Macbeth then answers to what Duncan has said;
“The service and the loyalty I owe,
In doing it, pays itself. Your highness’ part
Is to receive our duties, and our duties
Are to your throne and state, children and servants…”
From how Macbeth has answered the King Duncan, and how he has been thinking of killing him, the audience will find that Macbeth is quite a two faced sort of person and will definitely think that he is an evil character.
As Duncan continues to talk he thanks Banquo slightly, but not very much compared to how much he praises Macbeth. Duncan praises Macbeth” so much that he is nearly in tears,
“My plenteous joys,
Wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves
In drops of sorrow. Sons, kinsmen, thanes…”
But then King Duncan then mentions that Malcolm, his son, will take the thrown after him.
“Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter
The Prince of Cumberland, which honor must
Not Unaccompanied invest him only…”
This statement said by King Duncan, would also shock the audience as Macbeth has plans to become king, and now Malcolm will be, how could he?
Then toward the end of scene four Macbeth has another aside and he thinks of murder again, but this time it doesn’t;
“Let not light see my black and deep desires”
Which, in other words means he is glad that no one can find out he wants to become king. This may also make the audience think bad of his as he is now keeping secrets.
Continuing to the next scene, scene five, which is set in Inverness, Macbeth’s castle, It is about Lady Macbeth (Macbeth’s Wife) reading a letter from Macbeth before he arrives home, and then finding out that the king is coming to the castle.
“[Reads] they met me in the day of success, and I have learned by the perfectest report…”
As Lady Macbeth continues to read the letter, Macbeth writes;
“When I burned in desire to question them further…”
This could mean that he is saying it was a big ambition to ask the witches more questions, from what Macbeth has just written, the audience may think badly him again, as his interest in what the witches told him persists. As she reads more, Macbeth writes;
“Hail, king that shalt be.” This have I thought good to deliver thee, my dearest partner of greatness,…” This statement might confuse the audience as Macbeth says he has very strong bonds with a partner, but who could his partner be?
Lady Macbeth after reading the letter then says;
“It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness” – In other words, she is saying Macbeth is to kind to kill King Duncan and he is too weak to take his life.
Lady Macbeth then says;
“That I may pour my spirits in thine ear
And chastise with the valour of my tounge”
This could suggest that Lady Macbeth wants to give Macbeth her strength, because she is stronger than him, also from this, the audience might think that Macbeth doesn’t want to go through with the murder, and Lady Macbeth is trying to persuade him to.
After Lady Macbeth has finished talking about Macbeth’s letter an Attendant then enters the scene.
“The King Comes here tonight.” (To Macbeth’s Castle)
And Lady Macbeth then answers;
“Thou’rt mad to say it.
Is not thy master with him? Who, were’t so,
Would have inform’d for preparation.”
She means, that she isn’t ready, but she’s says it in a way that isn’t polite so the audience may think she is an evil character (First opinion). She also is shocked but pleased as this is where she first realises they will have a chance to kill him.
After Lady Macbeth has had the conversation with the attendant, and he has left she says;
“He brings great news”
This obviously means that she is glad, because she now knows how she is going to kill the king and also tells the audience how she is very much, not a nice person. Also from what Lady Macbeth says, it may give an impression to the audience that she too is some sort of witch;
“Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe topfull”
She also mentions “Come, You Spirits”, which is another sign that could give the impression that she is a witch. She also talks to the weather towards the end of her speech which could also be another sign that she is some sort of witch;
“Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell” – This is quite strange, it could be proof that she is really a witch.
Macbeth enters into the scene, and Lady Macbeth greets him;
“Great Glamis, Worthy Cawdor
Greater than both, by all-hail hereafter…”
This is nearly how the witches greeted Macbeth when they first met him. Perhaps, there is some sort of connection between Lady Macbeth and the witches this could possibly be a technique William Shakespeare used to create tension – Repetition. Lady Macbeth then goes on to talk about when the king is staying at the castle;
Shall sun that morrow see.”
She is talking about King Duncan not seeing the sun again, which in other words means, she is going to make sure he will die.
This could really make the audience despise her, as she really wants King Duncan to die. Towards the end of the scene, Lady Macbeth seems to take over the plan, of the plot against King Duncan;
“But be the serpent under’t. He that’s coming
Must be provided for…”
She then also butts in as Macbeth tries to tell her that they will speak again;
“We will speak further –”
“Only look up clear;
To alter favour ever is to fear.
Leave all the rest to me”
It shows that she is trying to take control of the plot, and she obviously doesn’t want anyone to know that Macbeth is going to do something bad. From this, the audience would now think even worse of her, and maybe feel slightly sorry for Macbeth because he is being told what to do.
Scene six is a short scene that doesn’t involve Macbeth and has just been written to make the audience wait, and add extra tension to the plot at hand. The scene doesn’t really have anything significant about it, its simply the king and his sons, Banquo, Lennox, Macduff, Ross, Angus and some attends on the approach to Macbeth’s castle. Also for most the scene it shows how much of a kind and generous man King Duncan is. This will make the audience have sympathy for him as Macbeth is going to murder him, and also it will make the audience dislike Macbeth even more.
As King Duncan talks, just after they arrive at the castle, as Lady Macbeth is entered into the scene; it shows how he is a kind and loving person who doesn’t deserve to die.
“See, see, our honour’d hostess.-The love
That follows us sometime is our trouble”
“Give me your hand;
Conduct to me to mine host; we love him highly.”
It really shows why this play has been know as a tragedy, because King Duncan is not the type of person so be murdered. It may also make the audience really dislike Macbeth” and Lady Macbeth as because of what they are trying to do.
That’s basically all the scene has to offer. The scene is mostly just a tension builder and at the same time and shows that Duncan does not deserve to die.
The final scene of act one, scene seven is really about Macbeth thinking of reasons for killing Duncan, and reasons against killing Duncan and weighing up whether he should commit the murder or not. The scene does show that Macbeth does have two sides; One side where he doesn’t mind killing Duncan but he fears the consequences he will face, and the other side he doesn’t want to kill him because Duncan is a really nice person.
Firstly the audience will notice the bad side of Macbeth as he says he is happy to kill Duncan, so long that there are no consequences in doing so.
“…Could trammel up the consequence and catch
With his surcease, success, that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all-here,”
This really shows that he has no heart and he doesn’t want to suffer for what he does, it will also give the audience the same impression of him, evil.
The audience will then see the “Good” side of Macbeth as he disagrees with himself, and then describes Duncan as a pleasant person.
“Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels…”
He also describes that if he kills Duncan it will be like killing a new born baby;
“And pity, like a naked newborn babe”
This would make an audience start to think, maybe after all, he doesn’t want to kill Duncan, he’s just being persuaded, but then again they will then think bad of him as he says;
“Vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself
And falls on the’other.
This shows, the only reason that he has for killing Duncan, is his own ambition in becoming king, and this persuade the audience to dislike him even more.
As the scene then moves on Lady Macbeth enters into the scene, and because Macbeth doesn’t want to go ahead with the murder, she seems to attack his masculinity;
“And live a coward in thine own esteem”
Lady Macbeth at this point is really trying to manipulate Macbeth, and it would make the audience feel sorry for him as he is being forced into something he doesn’t want to do.
And she keeps trying to manipulate him, explaining that he was a man when he said he would kill Duncan, but now he is a coward as he saying no.