Macbeth is introduced to us as a military general of extraordinary prowess, who has covered himself with glory in putting down rebellion and defeating the foreign invaders. In these conflicts, he showed great personal courage, a quality which he continues to display throughout the drama in regard to all earthly happenings and earthly dangers. The early impression that we get of him is that of a great warrior, a man who inspires fear and admiration. He was thought to be honest or honorable; he was trusted, apparently, by everyone; and Macduff, a man of the highest integrity, “loved him well”, In fact, there was much good in him.
The phrase, “too full of the milk of human kindness” is applied to him by his wife in a mood of impatience; she did not fully understand him; but he was surely not wanting in humanity and pity. At the same time this man was exceedingly ambitious. Soon ambition becomes a passion with him. This is in Macbeth one marked peculiarity which is the key to Shakespeare’s conception of him. This bold ambitious man of action has, within certain limits, the imagination of a poet-an imagination on the one hand extremely sensitive to impressions of a certain kind” and on the other, productive of violent disturbances of mind and body.
Through this imagination he is kept in contact with supernatural impressions and is liable to supernatural fears. And through it, especially come to him, the intimation of conscience and honour. Thus his imagination is the best part of him; it is something deeper and higher than his conscious thoughts; and if he had obeyed it he would haven been safe. But his wife quite misunderstands it and he himself understands it only partly. The terrifying images which deter him from crime and which follow the commission of the crime, and which are really the protest of his deepest self, seem to his wire the creations of mere nervous fear.
It is a mistaken approach to this man to represent him as a coward, cold blooded, calculating and pitiless, who shrinks from crime simply because it is dangerous and who suffers afterwards simply because he does not feel secure. In reality his courage is frightful. He advances from crime to crime, though his soul never ceases to bar his advance with shape of terror. There is ample evidence of Macbeth’s double nature in the first 3 acts. There is no doubt about Macbeth’s double nature, for if he is the devilish Macbeth, he is also something else. From early in the play we get a report of Macbeth’s loyalty and courage.
He is “brave Macbeth”, “valiant cousin”, “worthy gentleman” and “noble Macbeth”. He has earned all these compliments by his deeds against the rebels and the foreign invaders. At the prophecy of the Witches he feels startled and seems “to fear things that do sound, so fair”. we can say that he felt startled because he had already been harboring criminal impulses which responded to the Witches’ words, but what is more important is that his apprehensiveness suggests both an apartness from others and a self-division that will make us see in him a good deal more than the blackguard.
It cannot be said that Macbeth commits crime and suffers at the end. In fact, he sufferings starts even before he commits his first criminal action. And after committing his first criminal action, namely the murder ¬of Duncan, he is afflicted with doubts and has a premonition of the sleeplessness that will now begin for him. His feelings after the murder are the same when the murder has been committed. He has almost gone mad with horror, but it is not the honor of detection. What troubles him is that he could not utter the word “Amen” on hearing one of the men-say in his sleep: “God bless us!
”. His wife has heard the ‘scream of the owl and the cry of the crickets but what he has heard was the voice that cried: “Macbeth doth murder sleep”. When there comes a sound of knocking, It should be perfectly familiar to him but at this moment he does not comprehend whence comes this knocking. He looks at his hands and starts violently. The blood upon his hands is enough to dye the whole ocean red, he says. Now all this has nothing to do with a fear of the consequences. It is his soul speaking to him; it speaks to him in the shape of his imagination.