The task that I have been set is to explore the portrayal of Macbeth within Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’ commenting on how the audience responds to him. To fully understand the nature of Macbeth you have to understand the times in which Shakespeare wrote the play. Macbeth was written in 1606, late into Shakespeare’s life, at was a time of great political and social unrest. There was a vast conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants and in 1603 the Queen of England, Elizabeth 1st the first had died, unmarried and with no children.
She was a Protestant. James I took over England as King, but he was also the King of Scotland, so this did not make him very popular with the English. We know this because some English Catholics tried to blow him up in what is now known as ‘the Gunpowder plot’. James was also not very popular with witches, as he was a great witch hunter and burner. The story of Macbeth is closely linked with this real life situation and it was very brave of Shakespeare to write a play so closely linked to the real Monarchy in times like they were.
Shakespeare wanted the people to think about Kingship, the qualities of a good king, the responsibilities of power and loyalty and friendship. In the story of Macbeth, Macbeth murders the rightful Scottish king and takes his place as king. Guilt laden and untrusting he becomes a tyrant, driving his wife to suicide until he is challenged and the rightful heir to the throne is restored in power. As you can see this is not exactly the same as what did happen in reality but it is similar. Shakespeare wrote about a Scottish king, who is killed and replaced then eventually justice is done.
That is the background behind the time Macbeth was written. It was a troubled time and Shakespeare could have been in trouble for writing such a provocative play in such unstable times. Luckily for us though people liked his plays so we can study then today. In the 17th century the English language was at one of its most expressive periods so we are very fortunate we had such great writers like Shakespeare to bring it to life for us. ‘Macbeth’ is one of many great plays Shakespeare wrote and in this essay I intend to explore its main character Macbeth in greater detail.
I will be examining each scene to explore the character of Macbeth, linking evidence and examining the underlying themes of cunning plans, deceit, death, and murder. As customary as it is to start with the beginning I will start with scene 1 of the play. Scene one is rather short and does not really give you much of an insight into the rest of the Act but the audience does meet the three witches suggesting that there may be more evil on the way in the play. The setting is in the middle of a barren heath in the middle of a storm.
In Elizabethan times storms were connected to a disturbance in nature, this could give you and inkling that something bad or evil was going to happen later on. The quote ” Fair is foul and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air”, suggests the notion of something vile, the word foul especially. The three witches tell you that they are going to meet with Macbeth maybe to spread their evil. In scene 2 we actually hear about Macbeth as a person. We still do not meet Macbeth but we hear tales about him in battle against Norway.
We hear from the sergeant that Macbeth would not give up against overwhelming odds. When the sergeant says, “For brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name”, he is saying that Macbeth deserves to be called brave because quite simply he is. We also find out in this scene that Macbeth is a skilful warrior and extremely courageous. The sergeant also says “Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps, And fix’d his head upon our battlements. ” this shows us that Macbeth is not terrified about killing a man, he revels in his powers as a soldier.
Duncan also says “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman! ” which shows that even the king, Duncan, regards Macbeth highly. As you can see already, Macbeth is shown to you, the audience, to be a man of valour and bravery, a great soldier who lives to fight. We hear about his strength and skill but not much about his personality or his weaknesses as of yet. In scene 3 we are reintroduced to the evil of the witches before we meet Macbeth in person. This interconnection with evil and Macbeth again is shown to us, the hags cast a spell and then go to meet with Macbeth.
The three witches approach Macbeth and hail him as ‘Thane of Glamis’, which he is, they then hail him as the ‘Thane of Cawdor’, which he is but does not know it yet and they finally hail him as ‘King hereafter’. Macbeth does not say anything for quite some time because Banquo is challenging the witches, they give Banquo his prophecy as well but it is not as clear and concise as the prophecy they gave Macbeth. After this Macbeth also speaks to them and asks them how all this is possible, but before the answer him they disappear.
Shortly after this happens Ross comes along and tells Macbeth that he is to be Thane of Cawdor. He is amazed and starts to think a little. Macbeth says to himself ” Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs,” this shows that Macbeth has had the first evil thought about killing the king and it scares him. He thinks if two of the prophecies are true why not the third one? This is the first time he begins to think about murder and corruption but he quickly blocks these terrible thoughts from his mind.
Earlier on in the scene Banquo warns Macbeth that “… ftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betrays’s in deepest consequence”. Banquo is warning Macbeth that sometimes evil will tell you something that is not true and they deceive you. These prophecies have already triggered Macbeth’s ambition to become King. Scene 4 is the scene where more of Macbeths darkness comes out. He is almost certain that Duncan is going to name him as heir to the throne because of what the witches said and because of the years of service and protection he has provided Duncan with. Duncan has also honoured him before.
Duncan says “Thou art so far before, that swiftest wing of recompense is slow to overtake thee; would thou hadst less deserv’d, that the proportion both of thanks and payment might have been mine! Only I have left to say, more is thy due than more than all can pay”, this really makes Macbeth believe that Duncan will name him. Then Duncan names his son, Malcolm, heir and then to add insult to injury he tells Macbeth that his reward is to be the host for the party. Macbeth’s innermost feelings come out for the audience to hear. He feels angry about not being chosen as heir to the throne.
He says “The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step on which I must fall down or else o’er-leap, for in my way it lies”, he thinks he must somehow get past the step of becoming heir or just forget about becoming king altogether. In scene 5 we are introduced to Lady Macbeth who is reading Macbeth’s letter to her. Macbeth is excited and wants to tell her about what the witches have said. She knows that Macbeth will not have quite enough ambition to go through with killing either Duncan or Malcolm, she says”… Yet do I fear thy nature; it is too full o’ the milk of human kindness”.
She is the one that wants him to become King; she wants to influence him. You can tell she is the stronger party of the two of them. She asks the spirits to “unsex” her so that her tenderness, love, and pity are taken away so she can carry out the terrible act. She is very evil and corrupt and has more ambition than Macbeth at this stage. She has to manipulate him so he is up to the task as well and that is just what she is going to do. The audience is shocked at what Lady Macbeth has said, they think that she has more ambition for Macbeth to become king than Macbeth himself does.
Scene 6 is rather short and has little mention of Macbeth and is really used to set the scene of Macbeth’s castle be a quiet idyllic place, but in reality it houses great darkness and evil which is Lady Macbeth and later on Macbeth himself becomes evil. Duncan and Banquo meet with their hostess, Lady Macbeth and she welcomes them into her home. Scene 7 is a very important scene for learning about Macbeth. From line 1 up to line 28, Macbeth is talking himself out of doing the terrible act of killing his King. He shows doubt about going through with it.
He says “… Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, not cast aside so soon. ” he does not want to lose what he has just acquired, he is scared of failure, and if something went wrong, if someone found out it was him. He tells himself that Duncan is a great king and it would be a crime against heaven itself to kill him, he says “… Besides, this Duncan hath bourne his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead like angels, trumpet-tongu’d, against the deep damnation of his taking off”.
He weighs up the pros and the cons of the situation deciding his only real reason to kill Duncan is his ambition, so he decides not to go ahead with the trail of murder and killing. This shows that Macbeth thinks about things before going ahead and doing them, he is quite moral and will not just kill without reason. The audience is relieved, as a member of the audience you desperately do not want Macbeth to go through with the murder. The audience feels that, once again, Macbeth is a good man who is strong in all respects. Enter Lady Macbeth, Macbeth tells her of his plan not to go ahead with this and she is not pleased at all.
She attacks him, not physically but verbally; she attacks his pride, his manhood, and his masculinity. She practically tells him if you do not do it you are not a man. Macbeth does not fight back against this attack; instead he just sits there and takes all this abuse. Finally he asks her “if we should fail–” which means that he has come round to her side. She tells him “But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail”, she says that if he is strong and brave they will not fail. Macbeth then completely comes around to her side and agrees to do the murder, he says “I am settles, and bend up” meaning he is ready to go.
At this point the audience are disappointed that Macbeth is going to go ahead with the murder and angry at Lady Macbeth for using such harsh persuasive methods to get him to do so. The next main area I will be looking at is the way Shakespeare uses dramatic techniques to portray Macbeth. Shakespeare uses a variety of different dramatic techniques that can be shown in three main categories, language setting and music and lighting. The first section I will explore is the language. Shakespeare uses two main language techniques, the first of which is soliloquies.
Shakespeare uses these soliloquies to get Macbeth’s feelings across to us but none of the other characters can hear him. We get to see into Macbeth’s mind and know what he is thinking about. Shakespeare also uses powerful descriptions in this play to really let you understand and visualise what it is he is telling you about. He uses the classical reference to Golgotha, in reference to the great battle Macbeth was fighting for example. In this act there is a strong theme of deceit and evil. The witches appear a Twice and they are portrayed as decrepit old hags who are evil and deceitful, which again runs through this act.
The setting also plays quite an important part in this Act. In the first scene you have the storm on the heath which is meant to be a disturbance in nature. This meaning that somewhere something has gone wrong, in this case Macbeth has become corrupt through his wife and the witches predictions. The battle scenes where there is chaos, death, and turmoil reflect what will happen in the future and set the stage for the evil to come. So overall the dramatic techniques are used portray the evil and deceit that is coming later on in the act and the rest of the play.
The corruption of Macbeth is also another theme that runs through this act ending with his wife successfully twisting his mind to the route of evil and death. In conclusion the purpose of this Act, in my opinion was to introduce Macbeth and the theme of evil and deceit that is in the play to the audience. This Act also introduces many of the important characters in the play, the audience gets to see what they are like, and how they think. This is especially apparent with Macbeth. You, as the audience, see how Shakespeare has portrayed Macbeth and how he has changed in the act.
This act implants some of the key themes into your mind. These key themes are evil, reflected through the witches and Macbeth’s thoughts and ambition which drives Macbeth for a short while but then he realises this is his only reason for killing his King, Duncan. Power is another theme. This is what Lady Macbeth really wants. Macbeth himself seems to be content with what he has. You get to see Macbeth’s strength as a warrior and his weaknesses as a thinker, you see his flaws. The audience also gets to see the themes of deceit and manipulation in practice with Macbeth deceiving Duncan and Lady Macbeth manipulating Macbeth.
As the audience you get to see the political framework and you get to know which people like or dislike others. As the audience you experience a lot of feeling in this act, you feel sorry for Macbeth having to live with the dominant Lady Macbeth, you desperately don’t want Macbeth to give into her and to stand up for himself but he doesn’t. In the end though you are anxious to get to the next Act to find out whether they pull off the murder of Duncan or not and to see the consequences of its actions of this flawed individual.