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The play ‘Macbeth’ is a very tragic one. It is about the downfall of a hero who is led by temptation to mass murder and cruelty. Shakespeare uses various styles and techniques to display very evidently how Macbeth’s character develops as the story progresses, and thus we see how Macbeth turns from good to evil, from a “valiant cousin” and “worthy gentleman” to a “bloody butcher.” The play tells the story of how a noble warrior, Macbeth, descends into evil after meeting with three witches – supernatural beings who prophesy Macbeth’s destiny. He is told he will become King of Scotland, and this idea of gaining power leads him to murder the king, take his throne and then continue his ‘murder spree’ on seemingly whoever he feels like. Eventually Macbeth is slain and order is restored in Scotland.
From the very start we have progressively come to abhor Macbeth, however, we cannot help but feel a certain admiration for him. But much more we have a sense of irony and waste: irony because some sterling qualities have been put to such evil use, waste because Macbeth was a potentially great man who was lost. . Macbeth is a play concerned wholly with the battle between good and evil – throughout the play we continually see signs of a supernatural struggle between the two, with evil ‘winning’ over good when Macbeth murders the king, but then good finally defeating evil when Macbeth is slain. In fact, in the very opening scene we see signs of supernatural happenings and evil – the witches: “Fair is foul and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air”
Here we see that, to the witches, what is evil is good (“foul is fair”) and what is good they find repulsive (“fair is foul”). This seems to be their attitude to life, but it could also be a warning to the audience that things to follow are not what they might seem. The first we hear of Macbeth is with praises to his name. He is called ‘brave Macbeth’, ‘valiant cousin’ and ‘worthy gentleman,’ fighting a war for God, king and country. “For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name – Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, Which smoked with bloody execution…” However, it is in scene III that good and evil collide, when Macbeth meets with the witches.
Some say that this is the beginning of Macbeth’s downfall, as in his first soliloquy he has already thought of the idea of murdering his king. This small seed planted in his mind will soon sprout and he will indeed commit treason. Already, the audience loses their adoration for Macbeth as we see his mental frailty and evil intention. The question at hand is what Macbeth should do; is he determined on evil intent or is divine intervention the answer? He contemplates this, and decides that it is not worthwhile to throw everything away for one guilty conscience, instead the solution is murder.
We are soon introduced to Lady Macbeth, and it becomes clear that she is the ambition, the ‘driving force’, behind her husband. To Lady Macbeth, her husband is brave, loving, ambitious yet he is too noble to fulfil the third prophesy. Lady Macbeth then calls upon evil spirits to make her ruthless so she can kill Duncan. “Come you spirits, That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the top toe-full Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood.”
After reading the letter, she already has a plan brewing. However, she fears Macbeth’s nature. ‘yet I do fear thy nature, it is too full o’th’milk of human kindness’, ‘Thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it’, ‘What thou wouldst highly, that wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false, And yet wouldst wrongly win.’ The planning of the murder of Duncan is one of the most important sections of this tragedy. Here we see a conflict in Macbeth’s character, one side wants him to commit the murder, while the other wants to let fate take its course. In a way it is due to his wife that Macbeth is finally persuaded into committing treason. This shows one of the flaws in his character, which Shakespeare exposes.
A while after Macbeth has certain misgivings about the affair. In his mind he argues out the advantages and disadvantages. The good side of him says that ‘he’s here in double trust’ ‘I am his kinsman and subject’, ‘as his host who should against his murderers shut the door, not bear the knife myself.’ The more cunning party says that ‘ his virtues will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against the deep-damnation of his taking off’, ‘but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other’,’twere well it were done quickly’, ‘but this blow might be and the end all here’, ‘bloody instructions, which being taught, return to plague th’ inventor.’ Yet he cannot maintain this spark of morality as, under the influence of his wife he commits treachery.
After the murder Macbeth experienced remorse, guilt and regret, still revealing his nobility. “I am afraid to think what I have done” he says. He is troubled by his conscience, he realizes that he is cut off from heaven. He is in fact so hampered in his actions by the conflict between his knowledge that he has committed the crime and his abhorrence of it, that he becomes immobile. Macbeth’s evil is so great that he cannot even say amen to his prayer “,I could not say amen.” By now he realizes he is too deep into his acts of violence to turn back. Macbeth has confused the values of good and evil. That is, he has confused fair and foul, which confusion has all along been the devil’s aim. Macbeth has completely committed himself to evil.
Macbeth still thinks of himself as a man, and as such would rather die than suffer the indignity of being ‘baited with the rabble’s curse.’ This feeling in him reminds us of the worthy Macbeth at the beginning of the play. We also see that he still has the courage to act on his convictions, desperate though that courage may be. For he knows now that he must die. He fights as a man. Macduff and Macbeth fight which signifies the ever on-going battle between good and evil. Eventually Macbeth is slain and the evil has been stopped in Scotland – good has triumphed, as Malcom is crowned the new King.