The play Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare between 1603 and 1606 this play is loosely based on King Macbeth of Scotland, it explores the far reaching effects of a man’s ambition, it is a tragedy, this is defined as a dramatic composition, often in verse, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically that of a great person destined through a flaw of character or conflict with some overpowering force, as fate or society, to downfall or destruction.
The play is a tragedy because it is the rise of Macbeth who at the beginning of the play is a national hero and co-leader of the Scottish army who’s greed forces him to fulfill the witches prophecies and becomes King and his eventual downfall due to flaws in his and his wife’s personalities. In Shakespeare’s time our ancestors didn’t have the same understanding of the world. They had different explanations for things, like the idea of witches. Once Christianity was established, the devil was associated with witchcraft.
People believed that witches could: turn people mad and that they should never be trusted no matter how pleasant they seemed and were basically evil; they were said to be able to predict the future and bring disease to people. In 1564 a law came into force making murder by witchcraft punishable by death. In Scotland alone it is believed that around eight thousand witches were burned between 1564 and 1603 James I became personally involve with witchcraft and published the book ‘Demonology’ in 1597. The execution of witches didn’t cease until the end of the 17th century.
In 1603 the year thought to be when Shakespeare began writing the play. Shakespeare’s company of actor’s came under the patronage of James I they became known as the King’s men. In these times people believed that God chose the king (a divine order) and anything unnatural was against this. King’s were seen as God’s agents an action against a king was therefore an act of the devil, through witches and evil spirits. So this shows the true magnitude of the murder of the King. At the beginning of the play Macbeth is one of the most powerful men in Scotland the co-leader of the Scottish army.
He is widely respected not just by the King “I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people” it shows how great a warrior he must be because that it is the only method he had previously used to get where he was. Macbeth’s soliloquy at the start of act 1 scene 7 gives away his doubts over the proposed murder of King Duncan. “If it” he cannot bring himself to call it murder, clearly showing his conscience and his continual use of euphemisms for murder to hide hurt, he knows this could cost him his place in the afterlife. Quickly” this means efficiently to him but leaves place for mistakes, everything in this scene happens too quickly. There is an extended metaphor of fishing in the scene “And catch… bank and shoal”. The euphemisms continue throughout “Blow” this is much milder perhaps trying to decrease the evil in what he’s saying.
“The end all” he realizes that with this one simple deed that his could fulfill his destiny. But soon after he recognizes the consequences “We’d jump the life to come” he remains conscience of the deed and the eternal damnation because of the divine order. To plague the inventor” He fails to reassure himself here maybe he has already subconsciously accepted his fate and this doubt becomes contagious. The use of “Justice” reiterates a key theme in the play. There is a religious reference made, but not to God to Satan “Poisoned chalice” maybe he has decided to swallow his guilt ‘the poison’, is Macbeth selling his soul like Dr. Faustus? “He’s here in double trust” some more doubt is apparent here, he knows what he plans is wrong. He’s a trusted well respected man why should he blow it all away and risk the afterlife.
He has morale’s he knows he shouldn’t be doing it “Not” it shows he has doubts it will take someone to push him into it. “So meek, hath been so clear in his great office” he is such a well loved, humble and great King, why would he kill him? “His virtues will plead like angels” this is a key point in the play, because too much virtue is a vice as we see with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. “Taking off… horrid deed” he continues the euphemisms showing his fear and his own self consciousness at this awful deed. New born babe” the image is very innocent but perhaps not because “Fair is foul and foul is fair”. “That tears shall drown the wind” he has accepted what he has done and is preparing for the evil coming to him. “Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itse;f, and falls on th’other. ” He is now so sure of failure he predicts his downfall, there is a link between here and line 9-10 “Full of scorpions in mind” all of the virtues Macbeth was at the beginning of the play and now he has done this to himself.
Lady Macbeth Enters after this soliloquy and Macbeth immediately forces his opinion on her, “We will proceed no further in this business” clearly stating he wants an end so any further advances must be against his will, he is so determined only to be knocked back. Recently he’s been praised “Golden opinions” it isn’t just any praise, golden has connotations of the best and being honorable, all this will be gone if he goes through on the murder. It’s not as if he’s had all these accolades for a long time “Newest gloss, not cast aside so soon.
Newest has an obvious meaning and gloss implies that they shine and ought to be treasured, rather than thrown away without any consideration of his greatness. Lady Macbeth immediately senses weakness in him and begins to emasculate him and try to get him to do what she wants. “Was the hope drunk” alcohol can be beneficial but becomes a vice if done excess, but it is ironic because saying he would commit the murder makes him seem more like a drunken fool than him back tracking on it.
She rarely appeals to his intellect her persuasiveness comes from emotional blackmail. “From this time such I account thy love” If he loved her he would do it, but really if she loved him surely she would not push him into doing what the witches said. She seems to be like the 4th witch here trying to get him to fulfill there prophecies, she then questions his masculinity to try and blackmail him into doing something to make him masculine in her mind, “Art thou afeared to be in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire? she says that he talks big but is not tough enough to ask, nobody else is in doubt of Macbeth’s bravery, and he should recognize this.
But as she plays with his emotions he thinks she would only wants what is right for him and pays no attention to logic. She again questions his bravery which nobody else doubts, “And live like a coward in thine own esteem, Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, like the poor cat I’ th’adage” it is incredible that Macbeth does not realize she is playing with him, nothing about Macbeth is a cat like he is a tiger powerful and brave.
Macbeth then takes the initiative and realizes he is a man “Who dares do more is none” he tells what he needed to learn ambition is good but too much is a vice, excess does not make a man. She again questions his masculinity “What beast was’t then that made you break this enterprise to me? ” This is an obvious lie Macbeth never wanted to do this, it was her plan and she manipulated him into doing it. She says he is no longer a man “Unmake you” she is saying she has lost his nerve, he is no longer the man she loved, again only applying to emotion not intellect.
She shows that she has a loving maternal side briefly “I have given suck, and know how tender ’tis to love the babe”, this is quickly dashed as again she could be described as the fourth witch and the figure of extreme evil “Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, and dashed the brains out” this is so evil and unnatural for a mother only a monster could do this. Macbeth only gets in a couple of words to emphasize how dominant his wife is “If we should fail? ” four words after a long speech shows that Lady Macbeth might have had such an influence Macbeth really has lost his bravery.
I would have the actress’ reply “We fail? ” said with scorn and amazement at such immaturity to question her ever growing influence. Again the fourth witch being able to prophesize future occurrences (her presumed success). “Screw your courage to the sticking place” She is trying to build his belief in the plan telling him to stick to the plan, and involving him in it “We’ll not fail” even though it is her plan and nothing to do with him. There is a continued metaphor of drunkenness “Swinish sleep” this is also a metamorphosis of the guards into pigs, however if the guards are degenerate so is Macbeth.
As this speech goes on Lady Macbeth becomes more assured and confident of success “What cannot you and I perform” She even begins to believe what they are doing is right, ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ she refers to the murder as “Great quell” but still using euphemism to show underneath she knows it’s wrong no matter what she acts like superficially. Finally she has had an effect on Macbeth he has agreed and is going at it gung-ho “Undaunted” the fear has melted away so quickly could seem like witch craft again likening her to the witches.
Bring forth men-children only” dominance of men over women at the time, but this is complete opposite of the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Even after Macbeth agrees to the murder he still shows a sense of morality “Terrible feat”. But he is aware that once they begin it will go on forever “With fairest show: false face must hide what the false heart doth know” it is exactly that a show they have to pretend they are innocent they know they are risking it all and have to act to protect themselves.