Macbeth: King of Scotland.
Filed under Drama 3: Macbeth
Macbeth and his wife form an unusual power couple by the standards of their time. Very rarely does the wife hold power over the husband, particularly one that is a military man. Macbeth is a man who is insecure about his own masculinity, despite being a battle-hardened thane. When Lady Macbeth goads him about his lack of fortitude and willingness to murder King Duncan, she questions his masculinity, knowing that Macbeth’s response will be to heed her demands. Masculinity in Macbeth is tied to ideas of blood and violence. Lady Macbeth knows that by emasculating her husband, she will induce in him the desperation that drives King Duncan’s murder.
Although Macbeth commits the actual murder, I would argue that he is but Lady Macbeth’s pawn. Lady Macbeth bears a greater responsibility than Macbeth does for orchestrating the murder of the king. Without her repeated goading, Macbeth would not have had the will to murder Duncan. There is a great difference between entertaining the thought of killing someone and actually doing so (although both are immoral in the first place). Just because Macbeth entertains thoughts of murder, does not mean that Macbeth will carry out said murder. It is Lady Macbeth’s ambition, rather than her husband’s, that seals their fate. The Macbeths’ are united by their crimes, their madness, and their isolation from the Scottish court.
It is ironic that Lady Macbeth succumbs to madness before her husband does; bear in mind that she was the one who incited in Macbeth the will to murder Duncan. Upon hearing of her suicide, Macbeth does not demonstrate much sadness for her death. He does, however, sink into pessimism and depression, saying that life “is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” By believing that life has no purpose or meaning, he lessens his guilt over Duncan’s murder. This is Macbeth’s last-ditch attempt at redemption. If life means nothing, then his murder of Duncan is rendered insignificant and meaningless as well.
Macbeth is eventually killed by Macduff. Shakespeare is implying two claims here. One, that death only begets death. The Macbeths’ decision to murder without reserve brought about their suicide and slaying, respectively. Two, that true masculinity does not comprise of violence and blood, but of heart and emotion. Macduff is a man who values both. When his family is murdered, he states, “But I must also feel it as a man/ I cannot but remember such things [his family] were/ That were most precious to me.” Macduff’s victory over Macbeth demonstrates the victory of one idea of masculinity over another, that is, heart over violence, and emotion over destruction. True masculinity, and true life, therefore, is not so much a celebration of blood and death, but a celebration of family and emotion.
The theme of fate, is yet again, seen in Shakespeare’s work titled Macbeth. Ever since the weird encounter with the “witch sisters,” Macbeth is haunted by the prophecies. Even though the prophecies promised him the most honorable position, it does not instill in Macbeth a sense of peace. Instead, especially since coming home to his wife and telling her of what he’ dust learned, Macbeth is at a struggle. The prophecy brought him joy and anticipation, yet caused him inner turmoil. Although he is initially depicted by Shakespeare as a fearless warrior, this image quickly crumbles when the readers get a glimpse of his behavior around his wife. It very clearly showed his weak character, being able to neglect his moral conscience for his wife’s constant incitements. I would not classify Macbeth as being inherently evil, instead I would say that Macbeth is a weak character that is controlled by his wife’s greed for power.
After Macbeth committed the murder, the psychological consequences follow. They remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, especially the character in the renewed Tell-Tale Heart. In the stories, the psychics of both of characters betrayed the otherwise perfect mask they put on. This shows that no matter how hard a person tries to put down his moral conscience, the moral conscience does not let go. The disturbed reaction to a murder and psychologically debilitating aftermath – it is part of being human.
I have never been a fan of the supernatural world and when I saw that the supernatural realm is involved in this play through the movie we watched, I became slightly disinterested in reading the book. Yet, at the end of the day I thoroughly enjoyed reading the play and was actually intrigued by it. The most interesting thing was the constant use of the adjective “weird” – or its synonym – in this play. Along with bringing to mind the supernatural and unearthly, the word also forces one to consider the nature of the word’s antonym – normality. Macbeth’s emotions and actions become progressively more disjointed through the course of the play. When ultimately he loses his ability to feel emotion, Macbeth also loses his humanity; in other words, he becomes ‘weird’. The prophecy catalyzing Macbeth’s demise comes from the “Weird” Sisters and the idea of ‘weirdness’ became prevalent throughout the play. For instance, Ross says, “Threescore and ten I can remember well: Within the volume of which time I have seen hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night hath trifled former knowing.” Ghosts appear frequently in Macbeth, as do paranormal occurrences. What appeals to me is that Shakespeare does not use supernatural elements merely to drive the plot, however. Essentially, elements of weirdness help elucidate Macbeth’s tragic flaw by forcing the reader to define normality.
I also like the way the plays are full of dialectic speech and paradox. The Weird Sisters’ speech is full of statements such as “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” Macbeth repeats the paradox in a prophetic way: “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” Thus from the beginning, we are inclined to question the opposite of a statement or scene. For example, Lady Macbeth asks the murdering ministers to un-sex her. What is the opposite of an un-sexed woman? Not man but instead a sort of ‘not-woman’ who cannot be defined without reference to her opposite. So it is that Macbeth’s tragic flaw as ‘weird human’ cannot be understood without first defining a normal human. It is clear that in the beginning of the play, Macbeth is a fully normal human who is well respected by the highest-ranking men of his society. Immediately after meeting the Weird Sisters and hearing their prophecy, Ross addresses Macbeth with the title Thane of Cawdor. Surprised, Macbeth replies, “The Thane of Cawdor lives; why do you dress me in borrow’d robes?.” Here, it is evident that Macbeth still has the ability to connect emotions with actions and speech. Here, Shakespeare skillfully made a philosophical assertion that what makes a normal human is the dialogue between mind and body, emotion and action. It follows that the disintegration of the body/soul connection signals the end of one’s humanity. In the later parts of the play, Macbeth has become a tragic hero who has lost his ability to feel emotions. For example, when told that Lady Macbeth is dead he says listlessly: “She should have died hereafter”. Crying exemplifies the connection between mind and body that defines normal humanity – one feels, and tears emerge. If Macbeth cannot cry, or no longer has sensory perception, he has clearly become an abnormal – or ‘weird’ – human.
In the play, Shakespeare makes the case that being human is not merely physical, but rather, to be human one must also have emotions and that anything less makes one ‘weird.’ With Macbeth’s tragic flaw Shakespeare probes the gray area between biology and philosophy. Although an explicit discussion of this connection does not arise in the play, Macbeth’s tragic flaw does provide insight into how one can avoid departing this world a “dead butcher”, one who has lost his emotions and thus his humanity. Shakespeare’s way in showing this is truly commendable and made him one of the greatest writer to date.
Macbeth is a highly intriguing tragic drama. From the myths surrounding the curse of the play itself to the role taken on by Hecate and the witches, this play is steeped in the supernatural – something I’ve always found exciting. However, upon reading it and watching the reinterpretation, I’ve found that there is so much more to the story than creepy witches using creepy chants to conjure even creepier entities from their cauldron. When I hear “Macbeth”, I think of violence, masculinity, ambitions gone wrong, and of course, fate.
The role of fate in setting in motion the events in a story isn’t foreign to us in this course, as it echoes some of the themes in Oedipus Rex, Lord of the Rings, and Things Fall Apart. In Macbeth, the theme of fate emerges upon the entrance of the “weird sisters”, imparting the prophecies (albeit versions of them that are meant to confused). We find out later (through Hecate’s entrance) that their intentions are to hurt Macbeth (though we don’t know the reason). In that, they do succeed. In an attempt to bring into reality the events the witches prophesied, Macbeth and his wife (well, mostly his wife) decide to bring matters into their own hands. I find this a little strange and hard to understand – if something is fated to happen, is it still necessary for you to take action to make them happen? Or are you fated to try to get to your fate through your own means? It’s a very strange concept. It seems that the traditional understanding of fate suggests that you don’t have to do anything to directly bring the prophecies to life – Banquo’s passivity towards the prophecy shows this. If so, why does Macbeth and his wife decide to take action? Their logic escapes me. Ultimately, Macbeth’s downfall shows that no matter how much you try to control your fate, it is simply not something you have the power to master.
Now, on to the violence in Macbeth. Shakespeare didn’t blindly include violence in the play to arouse the crowd – there’s a message for society. In the play, violence is like a snowball rolling down a hill. It is still at first, but as it goes down, it speeds up, grows in intensity, and brings about greater and greater destruction. At first, Macbeth isn’t exactly a violent man. However, when his wife gives him the push and gets the ball rolling, his acts grow increasingly violent and he turns into a tyrannical leader. His increasing violence is directly proportional to the degree of his rise in power. These things suggest two ideas – once one commits acts of violence, they are more likely to commit more acts of violence. Furthermore, greater power and status seem to induce a greater tendency to achieve selfish means through violence. It is interesting how violence has an eroding effect on Macbeth’s psyche – as the play progresses, his grip on his humanity is weakened. It’s almost like he’s dehumanizing himself through his actions, even more so than his wife – even his wife cracks first under the weight of the guilt. This however doesn’t show that he is the stronger person, in fact, it shows that he is the weaker one, as he has a psyche that is much easier to corrupt, poison, and delude.
The themes of manhood and ambition are slightly more straightforward in moral value than that of fate and violence. In the play, there is a clear struggle over what constitutes manhood. The play seems to conform to the traditional idea of manhood meaning strength and power and violence, especially when Macbeth’s wife begins ranting about wanting to strip away her femininity to be able to carry out the deeds that have to be done. This is echoes when one of the men asks about the manner in which his son was killed by Macbeth. Upon hearing that it was a wound inflicted from the front, he is content. For some reason, this comes across as a value of manhood to that man – that he could be at peace with his son’s murder just because it was an “honorable” one. I don’t agree. Shakespeare provides another side of this argument, however, when Macduff is grieving. He shows that a real man may have an emotional, tender side. Shakespeare also provides a foil to Lady Macbeth’s belief that a real man must be able to take at will what he desires through Banquo, who restrains his desires. I am inclined to side with the latter argument, that a real man can be emotional, and a real man can have restraint. Shakespeare seems to do so to, by associating the stronger, more morally upright characters with the latter argument.
Finally, the theme of ambition. Shakespeare shows that when we let our ambitions go out of hand – when we ignore societal and moral constraints because of our hunger and insatiable will to reach our dreams, there may be negative consequences.
Macbeth, I would have to say, happened to be one of those stories that I didn’t particularly find great interest since the beginning. I had schemed through the summary, and found myself disinterested. However, even though the play that we watched during class I felt was extremely poor – what with the actors being so hyperbolic and over the top, I felt the play itself deserves more justice. As I began to read the play slowly, I discovered that it actually contains more than it conveys on the surfaces. I became aware of the massive role of a woman that was portrayed in one of the early conflicts of the story. Macbeth’s wife, or Lady Macbeth had been the sole mastermind to the murder of King Duncan, fueled by selfish reasons of assuming the throne from the king. Macbeth’s masked desire of being king had only been unmasked after the support of his wife, convincing him that it was at his best interest that the throne belonged to him. I can honestly say that here, the presence of a female manipulation was a strong aspect to the occurrence of the first event that started off the whole story.
From the continuance of the story, I would say that it actually appeared to me that Macbeth was constantly paranoid. He was unsure of the power that he had achieved unethically, and he was always far too worried about the various prophecies that claimed that the power was going to be assumed by someone else. This paranoia caused Macbeth to behave like another ruler who manipulated his way up the ladder – Stalin. Constantly insecure and worried that someone else was going to take away the throne away from him, Stalin – much like Macbeth had “put away” all the possible threats. This mostly meant killing the people or possible heirs that were supposed to rightfully assume the throne after the death of King Duncan in the first place. Macbeth had taken an aggressive approach on both fronts – killing Banquo and attempted to kill his son as well, killing Macduff’s wife and children, which only resulted to vengeance that was wanted from Macduff. This was actually a fire back to Macbeth’s actions, because he was trying to avoid the throne being taken away from him, but he only created enemies that led him to his demise at the end of the book.
I was actually quite fascinated with how much the people within the kingdom still believes in the prophecies that it drove most of the stories’ direction. This was most evident through Macbeth, where most of his actions were justified through the prophecies that he had heard. The killings, even the paranoia of the man not born from a woman and the moving forest had all driven Macbeth to his inevitable demise. I would say that the uncanny theme of masculinity that was portrayed heavily by Macbeth, with his constant need to stay on top and using violence to demolish his “threats”. I guess this is partially caused by the time frame that the play was created, where war was much more common than nowadays. At the very ending of the play, I guess although I did not enjoy it as much as I did the other plays so far, I would say that it was actually pretty good. With the variety of drama as well as enticing characters, it was an enjoyable read!
Although a majority of the class did not enjoy Macbeth, I think that the play highlighted a few interesting themes throughout the plot. Macbeth has a plot line that is similar to Oedipus – the theme of fate & free will play a large role in dictating the actions of the protagonist in the spotlight. Early in the play, Macbeth is consulted by three witches, who all echo his name and prophesy that he was to become both the thane of Cawdor and the future king. The witches also prophesy that those of Banquo’s blood will reign and become greater after. It is these words that mark the beginning of Macbeth’s evil thoughts, paranoia and desire for power.
Many literary critics have often seen Macbeth’s wife as the antagonist – one constantly questioning her husband’s manliness in order to pursue her own agenda – her desire to be with a man in the Throne. She provokes Macbeth through a myriad of words that eventually causes Macbeth to concede to her desires to kill King Duncan, who is portrayed as an appeasing, kind hearted man. When King Duncan comes over for dinner in Macbeth’s home, the wife pushes to make sure Macbeth follows through with the murder.
It is not long before Macbeth commits the murder, followed by his wife placing the swords of blood in the hands of the king’s guards. Here, Macbeth’s guilt begins to rise. He says,
“Still it cried, “Sleep no more!” to all the house.“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.”
This foreshadows the amount of restlessness that Macbeth begins to feel from this point forward. When he attains the crown, his sense of guilt & paranoia escalate due to the presence of Banquo and Macbeth’s recollection of the prophecy the witches made about his descendants. It is this paranoia that constantly fosters Macbeth’s desire to control fate, shedding light to the theme of ‘the evil of desire for power’ and ‘consuming guilt’.
After killing Banquo, Macbeth eventually becomes consumed by his guilt. His wife soon commits suicide, followed by tragedy, after tragedy, ending with the death of Macbeth himself at the end of the play. As tragic as the exposition of the play is, the play served to highlight a number of didactic morals.
1) Don’t mess with fate.
2) Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
3) Manliness is not to be based solely upon military prowess.
4) Guilt will continue to grow and proliferate if it is not confessed.
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