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Witches nowadays are seen as a bit of a joke and a laugh since they are used for entertainment like in the ‘Harry Potter’ novels, or when it is Halloween and children (and sometimes even adults) dress up as witches for fun or for trick and treating. Overall, Witches in modern times are not taken seriously but people were a lot more superstitious back when Queen Elizabeth I reigned as Queen of England; people in those times had a real fear and belief of witches.
Their superstition was the product of the church’s teachings, yet, when Queen Elizabeth died and the new King James I of England and Scotland, succeeded to the throne; he was someone who was both obsessed and intrigued by witches.
This new King was fascinated by the subject, a fact that William Shakespeare had to take on board. Shakespeare had to impress King James in order to enter his good books and keep his high status and wealth.
This is because William Shakespeare was Queen Elizabeth’s official playwright and when she died, he risked losing his living and high social status. By using his playwright’s talents, some background research on the King’s ancestors and his fascination of witches to his advantage, he created his infamous play, ‘Macbeth’, which captured King James’ attention and kept Shakespeare as the official playwright.
Macbeth was a successful soldier in the army of King Duncan. After the battle, Macbeth meets three witches who tell him that he is to become Thane of Cawdor and King.
As part of the same prophecy, the Witches predict that future Kings will be descended not from Macbeth but from his fellow army captain, Banquo. “(First Witch) All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Glamis. (Second Witch) All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Cawdor. (Third Witch) All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter”. Banquo also receives a prophecy from the witches, “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none”. Shortly after, Macbeth receives news that King Duncan has honoured him with the title, Thane of Cawdor. Although initially prepared to wait for fate to take its course, Macbeth is ambitious and sudden confusion arises when King Duncan nominates his son Malcolm as his heir. Macbeth is tempted and writes to his wife giving her the news.
Lady Macbeth, upon hearing Macbeth’s promotion, calls upon evil spirits to help them achieve greatness; she dabbles with the dark arts and performs witchcraft in order to help her and her husband make the witches’ prophecies come true. It is here that we see Lady Macbeth’s true colours, it shows us that she is the more ambitious of the two as she has immediately taken steps to fulfill the prophecy and that she is the one who is more dominant in her actions. “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be what thou art promis’d: yet do I fear thy nature, it is too full o’ th’ milk of humane kindness, to catch the nearest way.” (Act 1, Scene 5) Returning to his castle, Macbeth’s ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, tells her husband of her plan to murder Duncan and persuades Macbeth. It is here that we see the status of their relationship and realize that Lady Macbeth is “wearing the trousers” in this relationship. She is in control and can easily manipulate her husband.
Macbeth realises that the murder of the king is the quickest way to achieve the destiny that her husband had been promised and when King Duncan pays a royal visit to Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth sees this as the perfect opportunity to bring the prophecy to life. It is here that we see the dramatic irony take place. Both Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the audience know that King Duncan will die once he stays over at Macbeth’s, but King Duncan himself does not know that his fate has been sealed. Here, we see the couple call each other endearments, for example, Macbeth calls Lady Macbeth “My dearest love” (Act 1, Scene 5), which suggests that they are a loving couple but at first Macbeth hesitates about killing King Duncan and Lady Macbeth is outraged, she takes control and scolds him, prevailing upon him again and again, which shows us she pushes and blackmails him revealing the positions in their relationship.
She questions his manhood, “When you durst do it,” she says, “then you were a man”. Lady Macbeth wins out, she drugs the guards of the king’s bedchamber; then, at a given signal, Macbeth ascends to the King’s room and murders him while he sleeps. Lady Macbeth says she could not have killed King Duncan because he resembled her father, a figure which Lady Macbeth loved and cared for. “Had he not resembled My father as he slept, I had done’t”. Haunted by what he has done, Macbeth is once more scolded by his wife. It is here that we see Macbeth weaken and Lady Macbeth take almost complete control of their relationship. Suddenly, both are alarmed by a loud knocking at the castle door, but again, it is Lady Macbeth who takes control.
The drunken porter of Macbeth’s castle opens the door to Macduff, a loyal follower of the king, who has been asked to awaken Duncan in preparation for the return journey. Macbeth, concealing the bloody truth, signals the location of the King’s room and Macduff heads towards it. He discovered the King’s body. When the murder is revealed, Macbeth kills the prime witnesses, the sleepy guards of the king’s bedchamber, and Lady Macbeth faints. The lords of Scotland present, including Macbeth, swear to avenge the murder. The King’s two sons flee in fear that they might be next, and this action raises suspicion that they might be the culprits. Donalbain flees to Ireland and Malcolm flees to raise an army in England.
Macbeth is crowned the new king of Scotland, but, because of Banquo’s knowledge of the witches’ prophecy, Macbeth sees no other choice but to kill his friend, Banquo and his son Fleance, as he will be the successor after Macbeth. They both pose a threat to Macbeth but Macbeth does not tell Lady Macbeth of his plans this time, this shows he still cares for her and does not want her hands to be covered in blood anymore, thus taking on a more dominant role in their relationship. The hired murderers kill Banquo but Fleance escapes. At a banquet that night, Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost at the dinner table and the audience see Macbeth weaken greatly as the ghost appears.
Again, his wife tries to strengthen Macbeth. We see Lady Macbeth showing some of her irritation towards Macbeth, she is genuinely worried about him as she cannot see what he can and is trying to calm him, but on the other hand, she is also scolding him, desperate to save her neck and his, as she is trying to stop him from confessing Duncan’s murder. “O proper stuff: This is the very painting of your fear: This is the air-drawn dagger which you said Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts (Imposters to true fear) would well become A woman’s story, at a winter’s fire Authoriz’d by her grandma: shame itself, Why do you make such faces? When all’s done You look but on a stool.” (Act 3, Scene 4).
In the next scene, Macbeth returns to the Witches. The Witches not only confirm that the sons of Banquo will rule in Scotland, but they also add a new prophecy: Macbeth will be invincible in battle until the time when the forest of Birnam moves towards his stronghold at Dunsinane, “Macbeth shall never be vanquish’d be, until Great Birnam Wood, to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him.” (Act 4, Scene 1). They also predict that no man born of a woman shall hurt Macbeth, “Be bloody, bold and resolute: Laugh to scorn The power of man: for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” (Act 4, Scene 1). Ignoring both of these predictions because he thought they were nonsense, Macbeth prepares for invasion.
When he is told that Macduff has deserted him, Macbeth begins the final stage of his tragic descent. His first move is the destruction of Macduff’s family; his wife and children. In England, Macduff receives the news at the very moment that he swears his allegiance to the young Malcolm. Malcolm persuades him that the murder of his family should act as the spur to revenge, “Be comforted. Let’s make medicines of our great revenge, To cure this deadly grief.”
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Lady Macbeth has been taken ill: She walks in her sleep and seems to recall, in fragmentary memories, the details of the murder. It is here that she has no control over their relationship, moreover, her own sanity. Macbeth hears of her sanity deteriorating, yet he does not sound like he cares in the slightest, he sounds cold, emotionless, all he does is tell the doctor to “Cleanse the stuff’d bosom, of that perilous stuff Which weighs upon the heart”. In the end, she eventually falls to her death from the castle’s battlements. We do not know whether it was her insanity that caused her suicide, or the evil spirits that consumed her soul.
Macbeth hears her scream, as he is informed of Lady Macbeth’s death, he acts as if he doesn’t care, he cold-heartedly said “she should have died hereafter”, his speech is pessimistic and full of despair which spells the end of their once loving relationship. Malcolm’s attacking army is advancing while Macbeth’s defenses are preparing. When Malcolm’s army disguise themselves with sawn-off branches from Birnam Wood, Macbeth sees what appears to be a wood moving towards his stronghold at Dunsinane. When he finally meets Macduff in single combat, his sworn enemy reveals that he came into the world by caesarean section; he was not, precisely speaking, “of woman born”, (Act 4, Scene 1). On hearing this news, Macbeth rejects one final time the Witches’ prophecy. With a loud cry, he launches himself at Macduff and is slain thus revealing the final twist to this tragedy. In the final scene, Malcolm is crowned as the new king of Scotland, to the acclaim of all.
At first, Macbeth had a casual, loving relationship with Lady Macbeth. However, both their ambitions led them astray. Firstly, the relationship began to change when Macbeth became more dominant. This was when he ordered Banquo and his son Fleance murdered. “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck”, by saying this, not only is Macbeth protecting his wife, he is also taking on a more dominant role in their relationship. Clearly, he still loves his wife as he is protecting her. However, there is another twist in their marriage. In act 3 scene 4, we see the appearance of Banquo’s ghost at the banquet which only Macbeth can see, because of this; Macbeth is reduced to a weak, helpless man. Meanwhile, his wife, unsure of what is going on, appears to be sure footed and most definitely stronger than her husband. She scolds him and questions his manhood, “Are you a man?”
Drawing to the end of the play, we see Macbeth take control again, while Lady Macbeth is slowly deteriorating along with her relationship to Macbeth, her mind is flooded with guilt and paranoia. We see the end of their relationship when Lady Macbeth falls off the battlements of the castle to her death. We do not know whether it was her guilt that caused her to commit suicide, or the evil spirits consuming her soul and driving her to die. Macbeth feels no emotion upon hearing of her death; instead he says life is meaningless and has no purpose, “is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” This is the end of their relationship.
The audience initially has a good impression of their relationship. They called each other endearments and protected each other. In act 3, scene 2, we see Macbeth protecting his wife from finding out the bloody truth, even though he had performed evil deeds, the audience would’ve thought of him as a ‘good person’ or a loving husband beneath the blood stained ambition. In act 1, scene 5 however, Lady Macbeth reveals her true colours by calling forth evil spirits to aid her ambition to kill Duncan. Also, in act 4, scene 1, we see Macbeth’s true colours when he meets the witches for help. The audience now sees him as too deep in the blood for him to carry on, his time will come. When Lady Macbeth dies, he shows coldness, which creates hatred from the audience towards Macbeth. Indeed, his time comes, when he faces Macduff, and is slain. The audience now sees the classic victory over evil, performed by the good.
In conclusion, Macbeth’s relationship with lady Macbeth slowly deteriorates throughout the course of the play, it seems that the more blood drenched onto Macbeth’s hand, the more dominant he grew and this weakened Lady Macbeth’s mental state. The audience sees them as a loving couple at first, calling each other endearments protecting each other, but their actions caught up with them, and they faced the consequences of meddling with the evil spirits. Their relationship is like a candle, slowly burning, burning through the wax, slowly deteriorating, until there is nothing left.
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