A critique on the main character in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” This is a famous quote by Macbeth, the antagonist in William Shakespeare’s classic work, The Tragedy of Macbeth. This one line takes place when Macbeth and Banquo are returning from their victory in battle over the Norwegians. Following this quote further it could be looked at in a broader spectrum of Macbeth’s triumphs and failures. He goes from a warrior hero to a murderer, and lastly, his tragic flaw brings him to his death. When critiquing Macbeth the main points to look at are his actions, blind ambition, excessive pride, and lastly, his boldness and impression of personal invincibility which eventually leads to his death. See how he can be at the height of his life one moment and in his grave the next due to a few prophecies by witches and his blind ambition.
To begin, looking at Macbeth, his actions are obviously a major flaw. In the beginning of the tragedy, his actions are looked at as heroic with his destruction of the Norwegians and King Sweno in battle. This is crucial to the play, because a tragedy depends on the downfall of an already great man. In an outside source, it is said that the lines when Macbeth killed Duncan (“unseam’d him from the nave to the chops, and fix’d his head upon our battlements”) are meant to foreshadow Macbeth’s death at the end of the play. However, as the play progresses, the major action occurs when, although Macbeth is filled with misgivings, he ascends to King Duncan’s chamber and murders him in his sleep. This shows that he is willing to kill his loyal king so that he can make the prophecies come true that he may someday be king.
Following this, when Macbeth thinks back to the witches’ prophecy regarding Banquo that one of his descendants will become king. Macbeth looks at this as a threat to his own position. Unable to undo these thoughts, Macbeth hires two murderers to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. During the Banquet the murderers contact him and explain that Banquo is dead, but Fleance escaped. Macbeth explains that he is not worried with Fleance. The final action that dooms Macbeth is when he kills Macduff’s wife and child. Macbeth goes to the Weird Sisters to hear a series of apparitions to predict his future. This first apparition is Macduff’s head warning Macbeth that a bloody revenge of Duncan’s son, Malcolm is soon to come. When he is threatened again for his position of kingship Macbeth looks for further political survival and is also angered. He arranges the death of Macduff’s wife and children. This ultimately hurts Macbeth because it angers Macduff more, and he sides with Malcolm for revenge on Macbeth. Moreover, throughout the play Macbeth’s life if completely subverted and undermined by his insatiable ambition.
At the start of the story he was reasonable enough to keep his ambition under control, although it eventually became to strong and overpowered him. However, he did control his ambition much longer than his wife who was overcome once she heard that King Duncan was coming. The first sign of Macbeth losing his ambition is with the three witches and their prophecies. Although he questions their motives, he doesn’t believe that they are in fact pushing him down a path of evil and despair. He says that their visit “cannot be ill, cannot be good.” This scene shows that Macbeth at first questions the motives of the witches, and the moral implications of killing King Duncan. He also sees his ambition forming when he doesn’t refute the title as King and in fact accepts the title of Thane of Cawdor. This shows in the lines – If Chance will have me King. Why/ Chance may crown me.” (Shakespeare; I, iii, 141-142) Macbeth’s ambition doesn’t take off until it is fueled by his wife’s great ambition. An interesting character in the story is Banquo.
He parallels Macbeth in the beginning but when they both hear the prophecies he is much less accepting of them. I believe that the contrast was created to emphasize Macbeth’s tragic flaw. One critical perspective views Banquo’s function as essentially symbolic: he is portrayed as a man who, like Macbeth, has the capacity for both God’s grace and sin; but unlike the protagonist, he puts little stock in the Weird Sisters, prophecies and does not succumb to their temptations. Banquo’s reluctance to dwell on the witches’ predictions therefore underscores, by contrast, the nature of Macbeth’s descent into evil. (Scott; 238)To reiterate, looking at Macbeth’s ambition throughout the tragedy, I came to one conclusion.
As time passes, a once moral man cannot hold off the temptations of the power he could achieve. This idea is stated in the following passage: “One of the most significant reasons for the enduring critical interest in Macbeth’s character is that he represents humankind’s universal propensity to temptation and sin. Macbeth’s excessive ambition motivates him to murder Duncan, and once the evil act is accomplished, he sets into motion a series of sinister events that ultimately lead to his downfall.” (Scott; 236) As one can clearly see, Macbeth’s ambition clearly got to him and he couldn’t overpower it.
Furthermore, the last flaw in Macbeth is his boldness and impression of personal invincibility. Toward the end of the play when Macbeth approaches the witches for three more prophesies, which seem impossible. The first prophecy is the head of Macduff warning Macbeth of a bloody revenge by Malcolm. The second is a blood-covered child who explains to Macbeth that he cannot be harmed by any man “of woman born”. The third is a child wearing a crown that explains Macbeth cannot be defeated until Birnam Wood physically “uproots” itself and moves to Dunsinane hill. Macbeth is not worried because he believes, as anyone would, these predictions are impossible. However, as the play progresses he hears from a servant that a large army is moving toward Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth ignores the warning, as he believes he is invincible. These are the beginning signs that we see that Macbeth may be ignoring his own doom due to his belief in personal invincibility.
In addition, in the last portion of the play we find that English and rebel Scottish armies who march to Birnam Wood have been directed by Malcolm for each soldier to cut a branch and carry it in front of them as camouflage “to shadow the numbers of our host.” When Macbeth hears word that this has happened, he begins to realize that the prophecy has come true, but he still is trying to deny it. When Malcolm and his troops finally reach Dunsinane hill under the “leafy screens” of branches the apparition has come true: Birnam Wood has come to Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth puts on his armor and goes to battle with his army. On the battlefield Macbeth and Macduff at last come face to face.
Macduff reveals to Macbeth that he entered the world by being “untimely ripp’d” from his mother’s whom. Under these circumstances he was not strictly “born” of woman. When Macbeth hears this he realizes his struggle for survival has come to an end. He realizes how foolish he was for believing in his invincibility. Macduff kills Macbeth with anger in his heart for the death of his family. These final couple scenes really show that Macbeth’s boldness and belief in invincibility end his reign of power, and cause his death.
In conclusion, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” Is a very appropriate quote by Macbeth for the battle at the start of the play, but also for the path of his life. In William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Macbeth, he created a character that will live on for years to come. The character Macbeth is a great antagonist because he is bought up to be a hero in the beginning of the play but because of his actions, blind ambition, boldness, and impression of personal invincibility he finds his death. This play was clearly my favorite by Shakespeare solely because of the character Macbeth and how, I, the reader could sit back and realize all of the mistakes he is making, before he realized it and was too late.
1.) Free Essays – Blind Ambition in Macbeth. 123HelpMe.com. 02 Jan 2008.
2.) Macbeth. Cliff Notes. 26 Dec. 2007.
3.) Scott, Mark W. (Editor). Shakespeare for Students. 1992. Gale Research Inc.
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