Throughout the play ‘Macbeth’ it becomes apparent that the character of Macbeth is subjected to significant character development. At the outset Macbeth is a brave, honest soldier who is loyal to his king, following this he becomes a deceitful, murderous traitor intent on becoming King and finally Macbeth is unstable, discontentful and regrets his murderous deeds. This essay should analyse the several character alterations Macbeth undergoes in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.
Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ has a substantial amount of historical content. The play had direct parallels with what was occurring in Scotland and England at the time it was written and performed. It can be said that there are references to the Monarch at the time, this was James the First, he was the King of Scotland from 1587. James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots, he was against Catholics which led to the Gunpowder plot of 1605. The Gunpowder plot is relevant as it concerns the attempted overthrowing of a monarch, comparisons between Guy Fawkes and Macbeth are not unfounded as they were both leaders who conspired to kill their monarch and both paid for their crimes with their lives. Another factor which Shakespeare utilises is discussing subjects which were popular and controversial at the time.
In ‘Macbeth’ witchcraft is the subject he chose. Also James the First took a great interest in witches, having many killed, however most importantly he believed in witchcraft and its power. The three witch characters in ‘Macbeth’ are seen as evil. It could be concluded that they were responsible for creating Macbeth’s evil desire for the throne, therefore the audience may be influenced by Shakespeare’s portrayal of the witches and believe his depiction of their nature, thus supporting King James in his policy of witch hunts and general hatred and persecution. By using historical events and involving topics which were popular, the play is given a sense of poignancy and realism, an audience watching ‘Macbeth’ when it was first written would have been provided with a certain relevance to their own lives.
To analyse how the character of Macbeth changes throughout the play it is imperative to conduct an analysis of each of Macbeth’s seven main speeches. Furthermore, the factors for analysis have been defined as character, structure, language, modern relevance, stagecraft, moral and philosophical outlook, historical relevance, genre and appeal to the audience.
The initial speech being in Act 1, Scene 3. This speech is based around Macbeth asking questions and continuing to answer them himself, the structure is based around the explanation of ill and good as the following quotation demonstrates:
“This supernatural Soliciting,
Cannot be Ill, cannot be Good. Iff Ill
Why hath it given me Earnest of Success”
(Act 1, Scene 3, lines 129 and 130)
It is this quotation which is the central focus of the first speech as Macbeth is asking himself if the ‘supernatural Soliciting’ is bad or good, whether what the witches have
predicted is ‘ill’ or ‘good.
Another example within the structure of the first soliloquy, which uses the contrasting elements of ‘good’ and ‘ill’ is that immediately before Macbeth speaks Banquo speaks and he also interrupts Macbeth at the end of his speech. This again emphasises the good and bad contrasts as, Banquo is seen as the good character and Macbeth the villain.
Certain aspects of this speech are emphasised. Firstly by the use of metaphors, Shakespeare, in this speech, uses theatrical metaphors, as revealed by:
“-Two truths are told,As happy Prologues to the swelling Act”
(Act 1, Scene 3, line 126)
The word selection here is good. ‘Swelling’ not only implies growing-the growth or inflation of Macbeth’s personality and ambition but it also creates an image of things unhealthy. A swelling tumour [from Latin tumere = to swell], this is unknown to Macbeth but the audience would see that Macbeth’s growing ambition was not healthy. The audience can see that his ambition could lead to his demise. This is an example of dramatic irony. Shakespeare uses repetition in order to create dramatic ambience especially concerning the contrasting ideas of ‘good’ and ‘ill’ which can be paralleled as the contrasting characters of ‘Banquo’ and ‘Macbeth’. Another factor which is prevalent is alliteration. This is shown by “This supernatural Soliciting” and “Shakes so my Single State”. Using alliteration is very successful in emphasisng certain words and sentances which are more important than others.
At the outset of the speech Macbeth’s ambition to become King is revealed, there
is an insight into his greedy character as he has only just been made Thane of Cawdor and already he yearns for more power. The impression of an undecided air is given as the focus of the speech is him asking questions, he states that he has not decided upon killing King Duncan yet:
“My Thought, whose Murther yet is but
(Act 1, Scene 3, Line 137 and 138)
This quotation shows that Macbeth’s idea to murder King Duncan is still only a fantasy and is not reality, indicating he is unsure and may need persuasion either way. At this point in the play he is undecided. It is also apparent that towards the end of the first speech the language used by Macbeth is very negative:
“and nothing is
But what is not.”
(Act 1, Scene 3, Line 139)
This is the first time in ‘Macbeth’ where the main character has voiced his opinions. This would appeal to the audience as it is a change to normal dialogue between two or more characters. The audience may also be interested because of the way the character is asking himself questions, therefore they may be provoked to think about the answers. It can be said that this soliloquy is powerful, by the language used and the subject matter is quite disturbing and therefore, again, appeals to an audience.
The underlying idea to this first soliloquy is Macbeth’s mind struggling to comprehend whether what the witches said was an honest and reliable prediction for the future or whether they were merely evil witches whose words meant nothing. Macbeth is attempting to find out if what they told him was irrelevant to him and they were simply attempting to scare and provoke him. In summary, this soliloquy is the primary insight into the mind of the main character and what Shakespeare portrays is a greedy man with the foundations of a murderous scheme. However he is a little unsure and perhaps afraid.
The next speech to be assessed is somewhat shorter and can be found in Act 1, Scene 4, Lines 47-58. This is a soliloquy which tackles Macbeth’s views on who was the currant heir to the throne – the Prince of Cumberland. Upon examining the methods of stagecraft it can be said that for the actor playing Macbeth to be able to speak freely he would have to move away from the King whom he was previously in conversing with and create his own space. The actors tone of voice can be an insight into how the character is feeling at a particular point in the play, the first line for example:
“-The Prince of Cumberland: that is
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,
For in my Way it lies.
(Act 1, Scene 4, Lines 47 and 49)
This line may be spoken in an inflamed, angry voice to show the characters anger and jealousy at this point. Macbeth is stating that the Prince of Cumberland is in his way on his quest for the throne. Macbeth knows he must deal with the prince somehow, or else he will be beaten by him. As the speech progresses so Macbeth’s anger reduces until towards the end his tone is more calm and controlled. One theme which arises during this second speech is one of light and dark
“Let not Light see my black and deep Desires”
(Act 1, Scene 4, Line 51)
As a continuation of the script onto the stagecraft the lighting used on stage could be designed in such a way it would coincide with an added effect to link to two medias with an outcome which would be interesting, dramatic and pleasing to the audience. It may also be appropriate to utilise colours be it in costume or scenery or otherwise as an obvious theme is uncovered – colour. Shakespeare and other playwrights use colours to depict emotions and the powers of good and bad. Here the more powerful colours being the dark and fiery colours “hide your Fires” and “black and deep” showing the dark and sinister nature of what is occurring.
The structure in this speech is fairly simple and there is little to comment on concerning this aspect. Bar the fact that immediately previous to macbeth speaking the king says “My worthy Cawdor” this is a statement of praise and it shows how the King has placed his trust in Macbeth and he sees him as worthy. This is ironic as post this statement Macbeth is scheming against him and the king is too naive to see this.
It is in this soliloquy the progressive imagery concerning hands commences:
“The Eye wink at the Hand; yet let that be
Which the Eye fears, when it is done, to see.”
(Act 1, Scene 4, Line 53)
This imagery is found quite frequently throughout the play and is also used by Lady Macbeth when she speaks of washing hands to wash away their evil murderous deeds. The progressive imagery found in ‘Macbeth’ is very effective in giving the play an underlying theme. This aspect of the language creates a feel of the play as a whole becuase it connects each scene, act and speech where the hand metaphors are found.
The imagary is used to help describe Macbeth’s situation and his state of mind. What is portrayed is that although what he is doing is not very pleasant and he doesn’t like to see himself do it it is imperative. This speech is one of the more poetic and dramatic. Using words which are very deep and also possibly over dramatic, as demonstrated by the following quotation:
“Stars, hide your Fires;
Let not Light see my black and deep Desires”
(Act 1, Scene 4, lines 50 and 51)
Using language such as this helps to make the audience realise that this is an important section of dialogue and that it is relevant. Macbeth’s state of mind at this point can be gauged by how he is speaking. It is apparent that he is more decided then the previous speech as no questions are asked, showing his state of mind is less doubtful. Although he is angry, especially at the speeches outset, macbeth seems more clear in his mind about his plans concerning gaining the throne as shown by this quotation:
“-The Prince of Cumberland: that is
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,
For in my Way it lies”
(Act 1, Scene 4, Lines 47-50)
This is a quotation in which Macbeth states he must beat the Prince of Cumberland, as it is him who is the current heir to the throne. Macbeth detests the Prince as he is naturally in line to the throne he begrudges the idea of coming this far to be beaten. Instead of wondering how and if he should overcome the Prince he is clear that he will deal with the Prince. The content of this speech describes how Macbeth hopes that no one will find out about his plots, it is very deceptive and at this point the impression is given that Macbeth still is worried about how other people will see him. He wants to continue being seen as a loyal, brave and honest man. It is clear however that even he is not completely at ease with is underhand dealings as he says “yet let that be, Which the Eye fears” meaning that what his mind fears and what he doesn’t want to see himself do should and will be done.
The main change in Macbeth’s character from the previous speech is that he is more certain in his mind as to his actions. He is more decided and in addition he is becoming increasingly deceptive.
The third of the soliloquies in ‘Macbeth’ is somewhat longer, it occurs in Act 1, Scene 7. This speech is set at a point in the play where Macbeth should be relishing his promotion as he has become the Thane of Cawdor – King Duncon has showed him a
lot of respect. Macbeth is speaking as his servants are preparing for Duncon’s arrival at Macbeth’s castle. This is also a time when Macbeth realises that what the witches predicted is beginning to come true.
Upon investigating the language used it can be said that Shakespeare, again, uses metaphors as demonstrated below:
“And pity, like a new-borne Babe,
Striding the Blast, or Heaven’s Cherubin”
(Act 1, Scene 7, Lines 21 and 22)
In this quotation Macbeth is saying that if Duncon was murdered people would be extremely sad, he compares there sadness to that of the pity felt for a new born child which is vulnerable. However in this case the impression is given that even a baby can see Macbeth’s evil. Peoples pity is also compared to angelic children again showing a huge contrast between Macbeth and heavens angels. Certain words used by Shakespeare are especially effective in this speech “Plague” is used and this is related to words such as “ill” and “swelling” used in the first speech. This gives a play a long running theme and ties the soliloquies together. Another word utilised is “knife” which creates images of murder and death and also the weapon which Macbeth uses to kill Duncon is a knife. There is also an example of alliteration in this speech:
“If th’ Assassination
Could trammel up the Consequence, and catch,
With his Surcease, Success”
(Act 1, Scene 7, Line 4)
This quotation is describing that as a result of the murder of King Duncon Macbeth hopes to achieve success. The phrasing provides an ironic reminder that the kind of success Macbeth seeks is an irresponsible violation of the rightful succession to the throne.
The speech is very much an internal one, this could be demonstrated by having a close up face shot as there was in the film ‘Macbeth’. To make this even more dramatic the previous shot was very wide showing the castle and surrounding area immediately followed by a close up of Macbeth to symbolise that the dramatic focus is on him.
It is important to note how in this soliloquy Macbeth reveals to the audience his lose morals, because the theme of this speech is that he regards murder as worthwhile and thinks there is nothing wrong with it if you benefit. However Macbeth recognises that it is his ambition to become King that will lead to his downfall.
“But in these cases
We still have Judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody Instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague th’ Inventor”
(Act 1, Scene 7, Lines 7-10)
This quotation shows how Macbeth is aware that his bad deeds will come back and “plague” him, this is a major factor which occurs in nearly all of Shakespeare’s tragedies – where the main character contributes to his own downfall.
To conclude, this speech is a point in the play where the audience may start to really dislike his character. He is showing no signs of doubt or even thinking what he and his wife are planning to do is wrong. It shows he can not differentiate between good and evil because he is so ambitious he is focused only on becoming King and it does not matter to him how he achieves his goal.
The fourth speech is situated immediately before the Murder of Duncon, when Macbeth is waiting to hear the bell which is the sign for him to go to Duncon’s room and kill him. This is a very nervous time for Macbeth his mind is tormented thus him hallucinating, he sees a dagger.
“Is this a Dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my Hand?”
(Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 32 and 33)
Making Macbeth see things – a dagger – makes the play more interesting this speech is very much building up to the murder and it is very effective is adding an air of apprehension. There is a sense that there is no going back. The general tone of Macbeth would be nervous perhaps whispering and the set would be that of a dark and gloomy corridor in his castle. The bell which Lady Macbeth rings is a sign for the act of murder to begin, this adds to the intensity of the speech, it may make the audience jump. The importance of the bell is great, as it marks the beginning of the end for Macbeth, his character can never return after this night, and his deeds become more and more gruesome and evil as the play progresses.
This is one of the most appealing of the soliloquies in ‘Macbeth’ as it combines the characters intense mood with interesting stagecraft and language. There is the use of props – the dagger, many stage directions within the speech itself, the metaphors used are disturbing and powerful and the bell provides a certain ‘scare’ factor.
As mentioned previously the metaphors in this speech are perhaps the most dramatic and exaggerated to be seen so far in the play. Macbeth himself seems to have an exceptionally low view of himself at this point, he compares himself to a rapist, a ghost and a wolf or beast.
Whose Howl’s his Watch, thus with his stealthy
With Tarquin’s ravishing Sides, towards his
Moves like a Ghost.”
(Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 52-54)
It is easy to see how much Macbeth despises himself for what he is about to do, it shows weakness in his character because he is willing to sacrifice any sort of morals which he previously held to satisfy his greed. At the end of the speech a rhyming couplet is used:
“- Hear it not, Duncon, for it is a Knell,
That summons thee to Heaven, or to Hell”
(Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 62 and 63)
This quotation is Macbeth talking about the bell, he is hoping Duncon won’t hear it because it is the thing which is prompting his death, and whether he will go to heaven or to hell. This is effective because the rest of the speech does not abide by a rhyming pattern so it stands out when the rhyming couplet is used – it highlights the importance of that sentence and helps to bring the speech to a conclusion.
At this point Macbeth’s character is caught up in his own nerves, he is merely thinking about his immediate actions and fears and not at all about the consequences of these actions. There is a sense that for him there is no turning back – and that he has gone too far. The morals involved here are that of exploiting trust and also of rushing in without thinking of consequences not only for you but the other people which your actions effect.
The fifth soliloquy, Act 3, Scene 1, is of a contemplative and reflective nature. Macbeth is now the king, so theoretically he should be happy and content as he has achieved his goal – this is not the case. This speech mainly concerns Banquo, Macbeth still feels threatened by him, as the witches told him that Banquo will “get kings not be one” meaning his sons will become kings, this scares Macbeth. In this speech allot of Banquo’s qualities are mentioned such as how wise he is, how bold he is and is keen to know the further and also his bravery, there is a definite similarity to these qualities and how Macbeth himself was described at the outset of the play. Here we can see how Macbeth has changed because he now has a very high view of himself, even though he is now a murdering tyrant.
“My Genius is rebuk’d, as it is said
Mark Antony’s was by Ceasar.”(Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 54 and 55)
This quotation reveals how Macbeth sees himself as a genius and also compares himself to previous great emperors such as Mark Antony.
Still at this point quite well into the production Macbeth refers back to what the witches said, it is obvious they were a big influence on the play and on Macbeth’s actions.
“They hail’d him Father to a Line of Kings.
Upon my Head they plac’d a fruitless Crown,
And put a barren Sceptre in my Gripe”
(Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 58 – 60)
Here it is said by Macbeth that the witches had told him that Banquo would have sons who would become Kings, and he would not have children who would become heir to the throne. At this Macbeth feels bitter and jealous because he has fought and given up so much to become king and now he feels it was all pointless, perhaps he is beginning to regret all his evil deeds.
“For them the gracious Duncon have I murther’d”
(Act 3, Scene 1, Line 64)
This line tells the audience that Macbeth regrets killing ‘gracious’ Duncon and shows that he might be feeling guilty.
There is not many examples of stagecraft but it would be sensible to use the tone of voice to create sympathy for Macbeth, he could talk in a down-hearted or depressed way although there are certain points where anger is necessary. The speech is cut short when a servant interrupts.
Shakespeare uses language which creates images of violence and refers back to the dagger and knife used earlier in the play:
“Our Fears in Banquo
(Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 46 and 47)
In addition throughout this speech there is religious and royal language used, such as the mentioning of a ‘sceptre’ and ‘Vessel of my Peace’ also:
“his Royalty of Nature Reigns”
(Act 3, Scene 1, Line 47)
This type of language my be used here because Macbeth is now the king and the subject matter is that of who will be his heir. Also certain words seem more important than others such as ‘fruitless’ and ‘barren’ these may have a double meaning as they are also referring to how Macbeth’s children can not become kings so therefore him being King is without point.
To summarise, this speech Macbeth knows that he has sacrificed a great deal but is still not allot better off, and still it is Banquo who is prophesied to be the happy one – with his children being part of a long line of Kings. Macbeth is beginning to see his own demise and his heart is beginning to be filled with regret and fear, however outwardly he is still confident and happy to carry on murdering if he feels it can save him.
The sixth of the soliloquies can be found in Act 5, Scene 3. From the outset of this speech it can be said it is one which provokes sympathy for a now broken man. As the first words are “I am sick at heart” this is quite a ground breaking statement as it is Macbeth declaring he is depressed and he is emotionally troubled, his heart is ill or perhaps his feelings polluted with regret and with all the evil he has committed, and for what? There is no material gain for Macbeth and certainly no emotional gain. There is even a sense of suicide about this speech as Macbeth expresses “I have liv’d long enough”. He uses colours again to symbolise how he is feeling at the time and also autumnal metaphors, mentioning “the Yellow Leaf” which implies that he has passed his time, he is now the yellow-wilting leaf whom is dying and will drop to the ground and be forgotten. Also keeping in line with the theme of preparing to fight which underlies this soliloquy the language used is quite aggressive.
The speech is broken up by the continued shouting by Macbeth for his servant Seyton, this adds interest to the speech by breaking it up. It adds a dramatic interest to the speech because Macbeth is speaking primarily to himself but then suddenly shouts out to Seyton. Macbeth calls to his servant to request his armour to be brought to him so he can prepare to fight, he is preparing to fight the English who at this time are approaching Macbeth’s castle. This is an excellent example of the irony used my Shakespeare in Macbeth as Macbeth is calling out for his armour, he is preparing to fight and inevitably to kill again but as he does this he is acknowledging the fact that it is fighting and killing which has made him the sad, lonely and depressed man he is at this point.
This is overall a sad soliloquy as it is shows the audience Macbeth’s absolute regret and his acceptance that what he has done did have consequences, in that he has lost all his honour, he is not loved, he is incapable to be obedient and is lonely – without a friend in the world.
“As Honour, Love, Obedience, Troops of Friends,
I must look not to have”
(Act 5, Scene 3, Lines 25 and 26)
In this quotation Shakespeare uses a military metaphor saying ‘troops’ this may be a signal that Macbeth’s whole attitude and outlook on life is a military one and not a personal one, it shows that Macbeth’s job as a soldier has overwhelmed his whole personality and he finds it difficult to differentiate between military life and personal life where it is absolutely unacceptable to deal with problems by simply killing someone.
There is a significant alteration in Macbeth’s character now as he now no longer possesses the desire to do anything with his life, he has lost all ambition and any drive towards anything, his attitude is acutely pessimistic.
The final of the seven soliloquies in ‘Macbeth’ is found in Act 5, Scene 5 and it is an intensification of the previous speech. The subject which it is dealing with is primarily Lady Macbeth’s death and then it progresses to a speech which generalises about the meaning of life.
An excellent example of just how demoralised Macbeth is at this stage of the play is his reaction to the news that his wife has died. His reaction is very understated, not mournful and there is not even any signs of sadness, he merely says that now is not a good time for her to die and there would have been an appropriate time for he to pass away.
“She should have di’d hereafter;
There would have been a Time for such a Word”
(Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 17 and 18)
This may be the reaction of a man now so familiar with death that it does not seem to effect him in a way which it would ‘normal’ people. Immediately after this speech Macbeth is told that the Birnum woods are approaching his castle at Dunsinane, this meant that what the witches had predicted was beginning to come true, so this may have added to Macbeths fear and depression, however he still felt confident because the witches had told him he could not be defeated by anyone born of a woman.
The language in this speech compliments the ambience of closure and depression. Certain areas are made more significant when repetition is used, there are two examples; “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” and also “Out, out, brief Candle”. Some words are chosen to heighten the powerful feeling created in this speech such as the verbs used in line 25: “That struts and frets”. This is a creative speech, language wise, there is an example of personification as Shakespeare interprets ‘yesterday’ as a person, alliteration is also present in the line “The way to dusty Death”. It is also worthwhile to note that the metaphors utilised in this final speech are of a theatrical nature, as we have seen previously in ‘Macbeth’:
“Life’s but a walking Shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his Hour upon the Stage”
(Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 24 and 25)
Not only is this similar to metaphors found previously in ‘Macbeth’ but moreover it can be paroled with lines in another Shakespeare work – ‘As you like it’. In that line life is described, by Macbeth, as a walking shadow this provokes the thought that life is out of place and as a walking shadow it is unexpected.
Throughout this soliloquy Macbeths state of discontent is extremely obvious as he states that all of his days have merely lit the way to his grave, this attitude is one of bleak pessimism. The final line of this speech is perhaps the most acute example of his attitude towards life:
“it is a Tale
Told by an Idiot, full of Sound and Fury
(Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 26-28)
This speech would have made the audience think about there own lives and still now it has a modern relevance as this is a matter which effects every single person as one thing which everybody has in common is that they will eventually die and people close to them will die and this speech makes everybody think about how they will spend there own lives. Will they be realistic and sacrifice everything for personal gain like Macbeth? This soliloquy is almost a warning showing an audience the consequences of such a selfish existence.
Throughout the tragedy ‘Macbeth’ the audience is taken on a journey through one mans inner battles of conscience, the seven main soliloquies being the main points if character alteration, after analysing them in detail it can be said that Macbeth began the production with the best intentions, he was a loyal and respected man, perhaps he had ambition although it did not seem that he was unhealthily ambitious. However the witches preyed on his ambition by planting ideas in his head of becoming king and ruling a country, these ideas were nurtured by his wife and Macbeth seemed to be quite passive at the beginning just going along with his wives plans, he was easily influenced and perhaps just wanted to appease.
Macbeth progressed into a murderous character who would stop at nothing he seemed to have no moral boundaries, killing people who were previously his closest friends, his colleagues and killing women and children all for his own personal gain. At this point the killing and deceit gripped him and he became a man obsessed with killing and obsessed with himself – a very greedy and selfish man. Throughout all this it was shown through hallucinations that Macbeth was not a stable man. It became obvious to the audience though that Macbeth would not emerge successful from all this carnage. As is the way with the majority of Shakespeare’s tragedies the main character contributes to his own demise and towards the end when it is obvious that he will come out of the situation the worst off Shakespeare tries to make the audience feel sympathy for the main character. In ‘Macbeth’, at the end, Macbeth is extremely depressed and bleakly pessimistic, and some would say he deserves what he has become.