William Shakespeare the author of Macbeth was born in April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. He is generally regarded as the greatest playwright ever to have lived. During the time of Shakespeare (which was the Elizabethan times) the theatres in which his plays were performed were very basic. They had no scenery or sets so they used simple items such as a stool, which would represent an indoor scene. He theatres were also very small, the fortune theatre only being 80ft square.
The stage had three tiers; the main stage where most of the scenes would be performed, the tiring house which was used for scenes such as the witches’ cave in Macbeth and the gallery (upper stage) which was used for scenes such as the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet.
People in the Elizabethan times were extremely religious and believed in a “chain of being”. This is a hierarchical society that is divided into three sections, Heaven, Hell and Earth.
They believed that everybody was born into a level and this could not change or chaos would ensue. Due to this belief the killing of king – known as regicide was regarded as the worst crime in the world as the king was god’s messenger on Earth.
Macbeth was written for King James in around 1605. Because of whom it was written for Shakespeare had to change the character of Banquo to a “good guy” as it was one of James’ ancestors (Shakespeare actually borrowed the idea for the play from Ralph Holinheads’ chronicles). The play is about a Scottish nobleman ‘Macbeth’ who becomes king by murdering the previous king. The world is then thrown into disarray until eventually ‘Macbeth’ himself is killed and the true successor to the throne is crowned when order is restored.
There are many themes in Macbeth many of which recur throughout the play. These include masculinity. Lady Macbeth always questions ‘Macbeth’s’ manhood whenever he doesn’t want to go through with something, which leads to ‘Macbeth’ doing whatever she wants him to. Linking with this is femininity, during the play Lady Macbeth refers to this when she calls for the spirits to “unsex” her. There is also the theme of darkness, which creeps up a few times during the course of the play.
‘Macbeth’ says to the stars as he is about to murder Duncan, “hide your fire, let not light see my black and deep desires.” Lady Macbeth also asks for darkness when she says, “come thee thick night, and pull thee in the dunnest smoke of hell.” Evil is regularly associated with darkness and these references show that there is an evil side to ‘Macbeth’ and Lady Macbeth. Perhaps the most important theme in the whole play however, is fate. Every character except from ‘Macbeth’ accepts fate and the fact that they don’t have any control over it. In the first scene ‘Macbeth’ is said to “disdain fortune” and later on in the play the witches lead ‘Macbeth’ to believe that he can have complete control of his destiny, which, he later realises he cannot.
The ‘tragic hero’ is a character used quite often by Shakespeare.
The tragic hero is a character who is noble, brave and good but always has one fatal flaw. In ‘Othello’ the fatal flaw is jealousy and in Macbeth the fatal flaw is ambition. The tragic hero’s fatal flaw will inevitably result in their death, hence the name ‘fatal flaw’.
I am now going to work through the play discussing the question ‘Macbeth’-Hero or “Hellhound”.
The play starts with thunder and lightning, which is seen as a reference to the Gunpowder Plot, which occurred around the same time as the play. The Elizabethan audience would recognise this and see the relevance because in both the case of the Gunpowder Plot and the play the intended victim was the king.
The meeting of the witches is the first scene in Macbeth. This shows that the witches are a very important part of the play and they will be very influential during its course. The audience will know to be afraid of the witches because of the society of the time. To the Elizabethans witchcraft was a fact of life. We also discover that the witches are definitely a source of evil when they say, “fair is foul, and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air.” This shows that the witches are trying to disrupt the natural order, which, according to the chain of being will throw the universe into chaos.
In the second scene we learn of ‘Macbeth’s’ bravery in battle. This where he is said to “disdain fortune” which shows us that he doesn’t believe in fate. We also find ‘Macbeth’ is a very strong fighter and that; he and other people believe that he is unbeatable in battle. An example of this is when the captain says, “yes as sparrows eagles: or hare the lion.” This is a reference to ‘Macbeth’s’ fighting ability and the fact that he is as scared as a lion would be of a hare.
When the opposition army is refreshed and with new troops the captain says, “As cannons overcharg’d with double cracks, so they doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe.” This shows the audience how ‘Macbeth’ but will make them wonder is he too bloody and over the top?
‘Macbeth’s’ first words in scene three are, “so foul and fair a day I have not seen.” The audience will pick up on this as it links in with what the witches say at the beginning of the play. The audience may also be a little disturbed by the way that ‘Macbeth’ seems to be acting now. The witches know what ‘Macbeth’s’ name is and this startles ‘Macbeth’ and the audience. They say “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Glamis.” The audience will now begin to realise just how powerful the witches are as this is little known information. They then say “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Cawdor.” Of course by now the audience will know that the Thane of Cawdor is a traitor but they don’t know how the witches have this knowledge. This will scare the audience and make them wary of the witches’ behaviour.
Banquo mentions to ‘Macbeth’ that he should be happy by this news, “Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear things so fair?” This shows us that the witches have also startled ‘Macbeth’. Does this mean that ‘Macbeth’ can’t be too evil as he is scared of the witches or he is just shocked because he has already thought of murdering the king?
Banquo also says that ‘Macbeth’ seems “rapt withal” so we wonder if he is deep in thought or under a witches spell. If ‘Macbeth’ is in fact under the witches’ spell then his actions throughout the rest of the play can’t really be seen as his fault.
Banquo seems to be aware that the witches are evil although ‘Macbeth’ isn’t. “Cannot be ill. Cannot be god.” Is he just reassuring himself or is he really not aware that the witches are bad?
‘Macbeth’ thinks of murdering the king and is scared by his thoughts:
“Why do I yield to that suggestions whose horrid image doth unfix my hair, and make my seated heart knock at my ribs, without the use of nature.”
Again Banquo says, “look how our partners rapt” so again we wonder if he is under a spell or just deep in his thoughts. The way that this idea of ‘Macbeth’ being “rapt” could be Shakespeare’s way of telling the audience that ‘Macbeth’ is being controlled by something more powerful than just his mind or ambition.
In the next scene Duncan announces that the successor to the throne will be his son. ‘Macbeth’ also declares his loyalty to the king when he becomes thane. The audience will already know that ‘Macbeth’ has had thoughts about killing the king and therefore will see this as ‘Macbeth’ being very two faced. ‘Macbeth’ also says in this scene:
“the Prince of Cumberland: that is a step, on which I must fall down, or else o’erleap for of in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires let not light see my black and deep desires.”
This reveals a lot about ‘Macbeth’s’ current train of thought. He is basically saying that the Prince of Cumberland is in his way and must be overcome. ‘Macbeth’ also becomes quite scary in this speech when he says the part about “Stars hide your fires”. This will symbolise to the audience that he is moving into darkness from light or more worryingly from good to bad.
In scene five Lady Macbeth is introduced. She offers quite a lot of insight into ‘Macbeth’s’ character that hasn’t been mentioned before. She says, “Yet I do rear thy nature is too full of the milk of human kindness.” This is a feminine quality; she is basically that ‘Macbeth’ is not masculine – bloody enough. She also says that he is, “without the illness that should attend ambition.” This means that his ambition is pure but does not having that “illness” mean that ‘Macbeth’ doesn’t have a conscience? She says that he wants to do things the right way, “holily”, “wouldst not play false” and also that ‘Macbeth’ fears to do things. This shows us that Lady Macbeth has, perhaps, a confused idea of masculinity and femininity and also good and evil.
Lady Macbeth’s behaviour echoes that of the witches as she calls upon the spirits to “unsex” her. We can also links with ‘Macbeth’ when she says, “come thee thick night, And pull thee in the dunnest smoke of hell.” Here she is calling for darkness like her husband did previously.
‘Macbeth’ arrives home at their castle and tells Lady Macbeth that Duncan will be staying for a night, to which Lady Macbeth says, “O never shall sun that morrow see.” This is a clear indication that she too wants the king to die. She tells ‘Macbeth’ to “look like th’ innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.” ‘Macbeth’ says “we will speak further.” This shows the audience that ‘Macbeth’ hasn’t yet decided whether or not to kill the king.
In scene six the king arrives at ‘Macbeth’s’ castle.
In scene seven ‘Macbeth’ argues against killing the king by saying, “he’s here in double trust.” This means that it should be ‘Macbeth’s’ duty to protect the king and not try and kill him. He also says to Lady Macbeth, “we will proceed no further in this business.” Lady Macbeth retaliates to this by saying that ‘Macbeth’ is a coward and she follows it up by saying something extremely shocking. She says that she has had children but would rather rip the baby from her and kill it then break her vow to kill the king.
This shows to us that it may not just be the witches who are proving to be a bad influence on ‘Macbeth’s’ mind. This causes ‘Macbeth’ to change his mind. Lady Macbeth outlines a plan to kill the king. Her idea is to get the king’s guards so drunk they fall asleep then Duncan will be unguarded. Once Duncan has been killed she will pour blood on the guards to make it look like they murdered him. ‘Macbeth’ ends the scene by saying, “I am settled.” He has decided to kill the king. We wonder whether this was perhaps his intention all along or was it Lady Macbeth’s intervention that pushed him to do it?
In Act two scene one ‘Macbeth’ starts on his mission to kill the king. A dagger appears before him. There are lots of interpretations about what this means. Is ‘Macbeth’ going mad and just imagining it? Is the dagger really there? Is it a witches’ spell making him see it? Some versions of Macbeth actually show the dagger appearing before him while some don’t, as if it is in his mind.
In scene two ‘Macbeth’ kills the king and is in a terrible state. He says, “I could not say amen.” This could be evidence that he is under a spell because if he was just evil it wouldn’t bother him that he couldn’t say amen. He also says, “me thought I heard a voice cry, sleep no more.” This shows that ‘Macbeth’ is both hearing and seeing things. This will make the audience wonder if ‘Macbeth’ has truly gone mad or if he just feels guilty about it.
In scene three we see the chain of being has been disrupted and chaos is ensuing when it is said, “some say the earth was feverous, and did shake.” Also in this scene Macduff finds the king dead. ‘Macbeth’ kills the servants. Is this ‘Macbeth’ being careful and cautious or just bloody?
In the first scene of act three we realise that Banquo suspects ‘Macbeth’ of getting in to the position he is in more by foul play than coincidence. “I fear thou play’dst most foully for ‘t.” We wonder whether Banquo suspects ‘Macbeth’ because he knows that ‘Macbeth’ is capable of doing this.
‘Macbeth’ says, “to be this is nothing but to be safely this.” ‘Macbeth’ is pondering whether he should kill Banquo, after all he saw the witches and he knows what ‘Macbeth’ is doing. He also says, ” come fate, into the list.” ‘Macbeth’ is personifying fate again, which links with when he is said to “disdain fortune.” This is very important because it shows that ‘Macbeth’ is now acting against the witches as he has decided to kill Banquo and his son.
This time however ‘Macbeth’ gets “murderers” to kill Banquo. Is this because he is too scared? Does he still feel some loyalty to Banquo? Or is he just being more devious? He says to Lady Macbeth, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chick.” This is a huge step for ‘Macbeth’ because the murder is all his own planning and no witches or wife are persuading him. He also says, however, “O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife.” This shows that, again, ‘Macbeth’ is showing some remorse. This shows us that ‘Macbeth’ does not become purely evil immediately.
In scene four Lady Macbeth says ‘Macbeth’ is “womann’d.” In Shakespeare language this means that it is good to be kind, good to be scared. Theses are all necessary parts of being a hero, not a villain.
In this scene Banquo’s ghost appears before ‘Macbeth’. We wonder again, as with the dagger, is this a spell, a hallucination or just his guilty conscience playing tricks on him. ‘Macbeth’ says “I will to-morrow (And betimes I will) to the weird sisters, more shall they speak.” ‘Macbeth’ is going to see the witches. He knows that he has gone too far and cannot be good again. He has “embraced evil.” “For know I am bent to know the worst means the worst.” The audience will now wonder whether this is ‘Macbeth’ being brave or just purely evil.
In scene five the queen witch says that ‘Macbeth’ isn’t linked with the witches. The audience will wonder is the witch lying? And also is this good or bad? If ‘Macbeth’ is linked with the witches then they can be blamed for his actions but, if what the witches are saying is true then ‘Macbeth’ is responsible for his own actions.
Act four scene one. The witches produce apparitions as they talk to ‘Macbeth’. The audience will link this with the dagger and Banquo’s ghost and will now believe that the witches are the cause of these images.
The witches’ first warning to ‘Macbeth’ is clear. “Beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife.”
The second apparition is a bit more cryptic. “for none of woman born shall harm ‘Macbeth’.” The witches know that they are tricking ‘Macbeth’.
At first ‘Macbeth’ decides not to Macduff as he thinks he can’t be harmed by him but then changes his mind to be on the safe side. This is another example of one of the many times ‘Macbeth’ goes a bit over the top by killing people.
The third apparition tells ‘Macbeth’ that he will be safe until the wood marches up to the castle. This makes ‘Macbeth’ feel safe as he thinks, that the wood can’t march and that everyone is woman born. The audience however, will know not to trust what the witches say.
In act five scene two we see some peoples’ opinions of ‘Macbeth’. “Tyrant, mad and valiant fury” are all mentioned. The audience will know that ‘Macbeth’s’ reign is likely to come to an end.
In scene three ‘Macbeth’ learns that the English are marching into Scotland. ‘Macbeth’ says, “I’ll fight till from my bones, my flesh be hack’d!” This is another point in the play where ‘Macbeth’ is very bloodthirsty and over the top.
In scene five ‘Macbeth’ hears a scream. Lady Macbeth has died. He says:
“I have almost forgot the taste of fears, the time has been, my senses would have cool’d to hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hair would at dismal treatise rouse and stir as if like were in lit.”
This isn’t a good sign as it shows that ‘Macbeth’ has gone too far. He also says:
“She should have died hereafter, there would have been a time for such a word, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in the pretty face from day to day.”
This shows that ‘Macbeth’ is accepting that he will be defeated and wants death now.
‘Macbeth’ also learns that Burnham wood is coming to the castle. He says, “at least we’ll die with harness on our back.” The audience will wonder of this is noble and heroic or is he really mad? It also shows that ‘Macbeth’ “disdain fortune” once again.
In scene seven ‘Macbeth’ realises that he has been tricked by the witches when he says, “they have tied me to a stake, I cannot fly, but bear like I must fight the course.” The audience may now feel a little bit sorry for ‘Macbeth’, as all that he can do now is fight.
“Turn hell hound, turn.” Macduff yells to ‘Macbeth’ to which ‘Macbeth’ replies no. He decides that he doesn’t want to kill Macduff as he has already killed all of his family. Is this ‘Macbeth’ showing some compassion to Macduff by not fighting him or is it just arrogance? ‘Macbeth’ realises what the witches were talking about when Macduff says he was born by caesarean section – not born of a woman. Even though he now knows this he still wants to fight. The audience will wonder if this is ‘Macbeth’ trying to “disdain fortune” once again.
Macduff kills ‘Macbeth’ in the fight, as the witches predicted. Malcolm says, “this dead butcher.” This isn’t really a very good description of ‘Macbeth’ as he perhaps had good reason to kill some of the people that he did and some of his other murders could be seen as ‘Macbeth’ being cautious rather than bloody and over the top.
When the king’s named successor returns to the throne, the chain of being is back in order and the play ends. ‘Macbeth’ has been killed and order has been restored.
Cite this essay
Macbeth – Hero or “Hellhound”. (2017, Oct 14). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/macbeth-hero-or-hellhound-essay