The Tragedy Of Macbeth Essay
The Tragedy Of Macbeth
William Shakespeare is arguably the most famous playwright in the entire history of English Literature. He is known for his comedies, tragedies, histories and even sonnets. Particularly, his tragedies have enthralled audiences for a very long time. In his illustrious list of creations, Macbeth finds a special place. The simple story of ambition, in which the Scottish general Macbeth plots and kills to gain the throne but ultimately falls prey to his own misdeeds, Macbeth has drawn audiences for its narration, the motifs, the symbols, the mythological connection between humans, nature and supernatural. These are the key ideas that form a very important part of the play. This paper attempts to explore these key ideas in considerable depth.
Throughout the play, we find the specter of deception runs thick and deep. Things appear to something else, they are different. Everything from the characters to their dialogues, from the prophecies to the events, appears to delude the characters as well as the audience. In the fifth act, this discrepancy between the appearances and reality becomes clear. The prophecies that Macbeth listened in the fourth act appeared to point towards his immortality as they suggested that no one born from a woman can slay him and he will be safe from death till the Birnam Wood moves t Dunsinane Hill. This lured Macbeth into a false sense of security.
I look’d toward Birnam,
And anon, methought,
The wood began to move
‘Quote’ (Act V, Scene v, column II, lines 33-35, page 399)
The woods have of course, not started moving of their own accord. The soldiers of Malcolm’s army have disguised themselves as trees and are moving towards Macbeth’s fort. Similarly, Macduff, who was born of a caesarean operation and thus not literally from a woman, kills Macbeth. Thus the prophecies’ appearance and their reality dawn upon Macbeth as well as the audience.
The story of Macbeth, the general, is steeped in debates between reason and desire. It is a tale of ruthless ambition and in more than one instances, reason and desire clash.
in double trust……………..
Not bear the knife myself.
‘Quote’ (Act I, Scene vii, column II, lines 13-21, page 357 )
In this soliloquy of Macbeth, he is reasoning for and against killing the king. His ambition and desire to wear the crown is compelling him to perform the vile act of murder. However, reason mediates and argues that as the King’s loyal subject and his host, Macbeth should refrain from this heinous deed. Also, he himself agrees that the king is noble and just and there is no reason for him to murder the king except for his own ambition and greed. He would, in normal circumstances, not even have thought of such a cruel act but the prophecy of the witches’ instill in him the lust for power so much so that desire wins over reason.
The prophecies and the witches form an important part of the play. In the first act itself, we hear the three witches’ prophesizing that Macbeth shall be the king but Banquo’s lineage shall inherit the throne. The prophecy comes true because Macbeth kills the king and assumes the crown himself. After his crowning, he goes to the three witches again for finding out more about the future in the fourth act. It is here that the witches make many prophecies all of which come true.
Rebellion’s head, rise
never, till the wood
Of Birnam rise, and our
………and mortal custom.
‘Quote’ (Act IV, Scene i, column II, lines 10-17, page 383)
The witches tell Macbeth that he shall rule peacefully until the Birnam Wood moves towards Dunsinane. The apparition of the bloody child reveals that Macbeth’s death will be brought about by the one who is born of a caesarean. The procession of kings suggests Banquo’s progeny who shall inherit the kingdom. The prophecies, those in the first as well as the fourth acts, are all seen to come true in the subsequent scenes. Though Macbeth tries to change some undesirable parts of the prophecies, his attempts are futile.
The prophecies made in the first act about Macbeth being promoted and then wearing the crown come true in the second act. Macbeth is however, disturbed by the fact that his children shall not inherit his throne according to the prophecy. He tries to change this portion of the future by hiring assassins to murder Banquo and his son Fleance.
It is concluded.-
Banquo, thy soul’s flight,
If it find heaven, must
Find it out to-night
‘Quote’ (Act III, Scene i, column I, lines 22-25, page 372)
Macbeth tries to alter the future according to his whim. He does not succeed in his evil plans. The murderers he hired are able to finish Banquo but his son Fleance flees and Macbeth’s plot does not get the desired end. This reveals that though humans can find some solace by listening to what is going to happen in future, they can do little to alter the fate.
The responses of the characters to the prophecies are an enlightening insight into their mind’s intricacies. When the first time the victors Macbeth and Banquo listen to the prophecies in the first act, they react with cautionary indifference and wonder. However, once it becomes clear that the part in the prophecies about Macbeth being promoted has come true, both of them begin to wonder whether the other parts will also come true.
I dreamt last night of the
Three weird sisters:
To you they have show’d
‘Quote’ (Act II, Scene i, column I, lines 6-9, page 360)
Banquo with no evil intention in his mind openly reveals that he has been dreaming and thinking about the prophecies. However, Macbeth, whose mind is hatching immoral plans replies that he hasn’t given much thought to the prophecies even though he has thought of little else since then. The guilty hides his thought, the innocent spills them forth.
The responses of nature to the misdeeds of humans are also noteworthy. It is obvious that nature doe not approve of the act Macbeth has performed in killing the noble king, who was his master and his guest. The night of the murder is full of nature’s warnings as well as anguish over the turn of events. Weird happenings take place that night. Unprecedented and unheard of behavior of animals as well as the rough weather, all signifies that nature’s response to Macbeth’s deeds is not positive. Ross says,
Thou seest, the heavens,
as troubled with man’s act.
Threaten his bloody stage:
‘Quote’ (Act II, Scene iv, column I, lines 31-35, page 367)
The sky is so dark that even daylight is not seen. The symbols of the falcon being killed by the owl, King Duncan’s well trained horses killing each other and the thunder storms and probable earthquake, all lend evidence to nature’s fury over man’s immoral acts.
Macbeth’s story is a story of human ambition and desire and of human capability of going down to any levels to fulfill his wishes. This entirely human emotion of ambition has been described through supernatural ideas like nature’s responses, prophecies, witches and deception. Reason surfaces many times but it is always quelled by the lust for power that defines Macbeth’s and his wife’s character. The plot is one of the simplest in all of Shakespeare’s plays. Yet, the supernatural elements and the distinction between appearance and reality keep the play alive. Probably for this reason, a story as uncomplicated as this continues to enthrall audience to this date.
William Shakespeare, “Shakespeare Tragedy- Macbeth”, Classic Paperbacks, New Delhi, 1998