When he is alone, Macbeth mulls about the act he is about to commit. The protagonist in this play is aware of the repercussions of murdering the king, but he is nevertheless driven by self-doubt stemming from his fear of vengeance both on earth and in heaven, as well as his perceived lack of prestige. Nonetheless, in the first act, his wife dismisses those concerns with a realistic accent. Several factors in Macbeth’s world persuade him to carry out the heinous deed as intended.
The soliloquy contained in Act 1’s seventh scene, from the first to the 28th line, depicts Macbeth arguing whether or not to kill the king. When the central character and his wife rethink about the loyalty and the noble qualities that they feel towards Duncan, it feels like a grave and an outrage to them to murder their ruler in cold blood when he is in their guest room. The assertion is evident when the two state in the first act that “[h]ath borne his faculties so meek—I am his kinsman and his subject” (Shakespeare et al. 6). The act goes further to recount on the fear that the couple had towards murdering their king thinking that the consequences might be dire to them. Again, this is clear when they say “[w]e still have judgement here, that we but teach / Bloody instructions which, being taught, return / To plague th’inventor” (Shakespeare et al. 9). The couple is cognizant of how the murder that they are meditating would lead to a sinful and a dark world. Nevertheless, Macbeth admits that his ambition is to kill. Towards the end of the soliloquy, it seems that the protagonist goes through a change of mind and decides not to carry on with the ambition.
Things seem to change in the second act of the play. In this act, Macbeth has just confessed to murdering the king, and the crime also seemed to have been followed with supernatural portents. “Whence is that knocking?— How is’t with me, when every noise appals me? What hands are here! Ha, they pluck out mine eyes” (Shakespeare et al. 12). The language used in this act is full of mystery. The protagonist hears a strange knocking from his gate, which the audience suspects to predetermine doom. The enormity of the crime that Macbeth has just committed awakened a powerful sense of guilt in him that hounds him in the entire play. The blood that the king shed is a symbol of guilt that will keep haunting the protagonist. The crime that he has now committed makes him realise that there is no better way to make things better again. Ostensibly, all is lost according to the language used in this plot. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather-The multitudinous seas incarnadine—Making the green one red” (Shakespeare et al. 19). However, nearing the end of the play, Macbeth’s wife shares the sense that the murder of Duncan has stained them with blood irreparably.
Throughout the play in Act 5, Macbeth’s wife says, “Out, damned spot; out, I say. One, two,—why, then ’tis time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier and afeard?” (Shakespeare et al. 27). Earlier in the play, the audience is aware that the protagonist’s wife possessed a sense of purpose and a stronger resolve as compared to that of her husband. In fact, it is known that she was the mastermind of the plot to murdering the king. When Macbeth was sure that killing Duncan would get his hands dirty and probably have dire consequences, his wife still convinced him to go ahead and do it anyway. Even so, based on how she talks in the play, things are clear that she also starts realising that the murder was a big mistake and that the outcome was not going to be so far from downing on the two of them. Lady Macbeth seems to descend into madness, and the audience can see that she is disturbed by guilt. Even so, it might still be a reflection of her emotional and mental state that her language cannot be picked from a verse. The inability of the woman to sleep was predicted in the voice that her husband allegedly heard while murdering Duncan. The delusion that Macbeth’s wife is going through relating to the bloodstain on her hand acts as imagery in the play. Many people believe that it was a sign of guilt that followed the protagonist’s wife after the killing of the king. She believes in her assertion that as long as their power is secure, the crime they committed of murdering the king could not bring them any harm. “What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account?” (Shakespeare et al. 36). The couple, in their language and power, has created their hell where they can now wait and see themselves being tormented by insanity and guilt.
“She should have died hereafter—There would have been a time for such a word—Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow—Creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time” (Shakespeare et al. 39). Macbeth uttered these words after he hears about the death of Lady Macbeth. Owing to the strong love between the couple, the response of the protagonist towards the demise of his better half is oddly muted, though segues hastily into a speech of despair and pessimism. The main character in the play is cognizant of the fact that the audience knows how the ruin of his power has undone Macbeth as well as the death of his wife. The critical analysis of the language that the author used to depict the central character shows that the speech he delivered to the audience neither had purpose nor meaning in real life. Instead, the audience and the readers can tell how, with his armies marching against him and his wife dead, Macbeth succumbs to pessimism. Even so, there is also a self-justifying and defensive quality to his assertions. If not everything does portray meanings, then the awful crimes of Macbeth are to some point made to seem less awful, since, like any other thing, they also signified nothing.
The statement of the protagonist that “[l]ife’s but a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage” can be viewed as the author’s deflating alarm of the illusionary picture of the theatre (Shakespeare et al. 57). If anything, Macbeth is merely a player who is focusing on strutting on the Elizabethan’s stage. Like any other play, there is a conspiracy of different types between the actors and the audience since both of them would always pretend to accept the reality that is in the play. The comments by Macbeth require attention to the conspiracy, and some point explodes it. The nihilism shown by the protagonist does embrace not only his life but also the whole play. If language is taken to heart, the play may also be viewed as an event that is full of fury and sound, signifying nothing.
The writer of this play outlines some of the common themes that cut across the play. The most prominent theme is that of the corrupting power of the unchecked ambition (McElroy 12). The theme follows the destruction wrought when the moral constraints fail to check the ill ambitions in the play. The expression of the theme finds its power in the two characters of the play. That is Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The central character, who is also a trained general from the Scottish army, shows a lot of courage in the play. However, it is also worth to add to the account his moral place in the play. He gets his hand dirty in the killing of the king not because he is committed to evil practices but in the fight for power. He murders the king through his wife’s pressure and later lives in paranoia and guilt. Nearing the end of the play, Macbeth goes down to a typically frantic and boastful madness. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth focuses on her goals with a high level of determination. She cannot withstand the consequences of her immoral deeds (McElroy 19). She convinces her husband to remain strong and be ready to deal with the murder repercussions while for her she finds it hard to deal with the aftermath of Duncan’s bloodshed, which ends up distracting her conscience. In both cases, the undying ambition drives the couple to get involved in their terrible atrocities. The problem that the play seems to suggest is that once an individual opts to use violence as a tool for his or her quest for power, it becomes almost impossible to stop. In any form of leadership or throne, there is usually potential threats and opposition from the critics in power.
The other theme presented in the pay is that showing the relationship between masculinity and cruelty. The characters in the play are occasionally captured while dwelling on the issues of gender. At first, for instance, in the first act of the play, the audience is made to believe that the idea of bringing down the throne of King Duncan was conceptualised by the protagonist’s wife (Mehl n.d). She influenced the decision of murdering the king even when it was against the wish of Macbeth. The woman manipulates the decision of her husband by questioning his manhood and trying to allude that she could be unsexed. In the same way, in which Macbeth’s wife goads him on to murder, the protagonist provokes the murders he pays to murder Banquo by putting their manhood under questioning. The acts mentioned above only demonstrate how the two main characters in the play equate naked aggression with masculinity (Mehl n.d). It is also important to note that whenever the couple talked about manhood, violence would follow soon. The understanding of the two players concerning manhood gives room for the political order shown in the cast to result in chaos.
Even so, at the same time, everything is made clear to the audience concerning the perception against women. Of course, women are attributed to evil and violence from the analysis of the play. The prophecies of the witches spark the ambitions that Macbeth had. Thus, encouraging his violent and unruly behaviour. Women in the play are synonymous to providing insights. Precisely, the play traces the roots of evil and chaos to women, which has seemingly made this play to be misogynistic. Whereas the rate of violence between the male and the female characters are prone to evil and violent, the female characters’ aggression sounds more striking since it contravenes the prevailing expectations of how women are expected to behave in the society. The behaviours of Lady Macbeth prove that just like men, women can also be cruel and ambitious (Mehl n.d). Regardless of the fact that it is a societal constraint or because she is not fearless enough to murder someone, Lady Macbeth relies on manipulation and deception rather than violence to meet his ambitions.
The theme of hallucinations and vision also reoccurs within the play. The theme plays a role of a reminder of the couple’s joint culpability for the body count (McElroy 27). When Macbeth is almost murdering King Duncan, he sees a dagger floating in the air, full of blood and facing the chamber of the king. The dagger stands for the bloody course which the protagonist is just about to go back to accomplish. Later in the play, the narrator tells the audience that Macbeth sees a ghost sitting on the chair at a feast, instigating his instincts by reminding him that a former friend died in his hands. The only woman in the play gradually gives ways to visions since she believes that her hands are stained with blood and that no any amount of water can wash the stains. In every case, it is ambiguous whether the vision, according to the writer is real or is merely a pure hallucination that the character experience. However, in both situations, the couple read uniformly as a supernatural sign of guilt.
Finally, yet importantly, the play draws the theme of violence. One interesting part of the play is how violence is manifested within the scenes. Throughout the cast, the main characters give the audience a gory description of the carnage from the start of the play where Banquo and Macbeth wades into the blood of the battle, to the endless reference to the bloody hands of the couple. In the first part, the audience is shown how Macbeth fights against the intruders and defeat them. Consequently, he is beheaded and slain by Macduff in the second episode. However, the actions between the play contain several murders that are not shown to the audience (McElroy 29). Concisely, the two main characters played significant roles in developing the themes mentioned above throughout the play. The cast of Macbeth has been presented like one that fulfils the requirements of a tragic hero, who is described as a resolute, brave general and a bold man of action.
McElroy, Bernard. Shakespeare’s Mature Tragedies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Internet resource.
Mehl, Dieter. Shakespeare’s Tragedies: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Internet resource.
Shakespeare, William, Liammóir M. Mac, and Hilton Edwards. Soliloquies and Scenes for Actors. New Rochelle, N.Y: Spoken Arts, 1962. Sound recording.