Macbeth: Tyrant, Murderer, Victim

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When Macbeth was written and first performed in 1606, James I was on the throne of England. James had in fact become the patron of Shakespeare's acting company, and had bestowed upon the company the title of the `King's Men.' It is likely that Macbeth was not only written, but also first performed especially for King James. James, who traced his ancestry back to Banquo, was a Scot and had been James VI of Scotland before ascending to the English throne in 1603. Therefore, the Scottish setting of the play, and the references to the entitlement of Banquo's descendents to the throne of Scotland, would have hit the right note with James. The play's supernatural overtones catered to the King's fascination with the occult, as did the portrayal of witches. The equivocator, mentioned by the Porter in Act II, is a direct reference to a recent, but foiled, attempt on the King's life, known popularly as the Gunpowder Plot. King James took the position that he had a divine right to rule and that his entitlement to the throne of England was a part of God's plan - the natural order of things. An important message in the play is that the natural order of things has been upset by the usurper Macbeth and that the natural order can only be restored when the rightful claimant, Malcolm, regains the throne. Shakespeare's Macbeth was echoing events in the reign of King James in order to gain favour with his benefactor. In Macbeth, Shakespeare explores the nature and the effects of evil, and he does so much more thoroughly than in any of his other tragedies. The forces of evil, from the very first scene, are a palpable presence in the play. Evil permeates not only the play's action and atmosphere, but also the characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbe... ... middle of paper ... ... "I bear a charmed life, which must not yield to one of women born" (5.8.12), but has second thoughts about fighting to the death when Macduff says that he "was from his mother's womb untimely ripped" (5.8.15). This notion is fleeting however, when he realizes that he has no option but to fight to the end and says, "Lay on Macduff; and damned be him that first cries `Hold enough!'" (5.8.33-34). Hence, Macbeth was both a tyrant and a victim to himself. He was too ambitious to allow his conscience to stop him from murdering, and too full of guilt to be happy with the role of murderer. Although Macbeth was a brave and capable soldier, consuming ambition and self-doubt struggled within him for ascendancy throughout the play. Thus the play portrayed the terrible effects that ambition and guilt can have on an individual that lacks strength of character.
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