Interpretations of Macbeth Essay

Interpretations of Macbeth Essay

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As with all great works of literature, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth has spawned countless essays concerning its interpretation. Two such essays, “Shakespearean Tragedy” and “General Macbeth,” produced by two eminent literary critics, A.C. Bradley and Mary McCarthy, find themselves in conflict. The essays’ respective authors diverge on subjective points such as interpretation of character, original intent, and meaning. Bradley’s Macbeth is courageous and encumbered by the dregs of guilt, while McCarthy’s version takes a less orthodox path.
A.C. Bradley’s interpretation of Macbeth finds him human, conflicted, and comparable to his wife, Lady Macbeth, in many respects. They share a common ambition and a common conscience sensitive enough to feel the effects of their ambition. But the story, Bradley contends, is built upon the traits that set them apart. He focuses mainly on Macbeth. Macbeth is a character of two battling halves: his reason, or ambition, and his “imagination.” Bradley attributes the hysterical nature of Macbeth’s visions, the dagger, the specter of Banquo, and other ghosts, to his wild imagination. He “acts badly” (Bradley, 136) and loses his composure whenever his imagination triumphs over his practical side; however, Bradley also asserts that Macbeth’s imagination is “the best of him, something usually deeper and higher than his conscious thoughts” (133). Macbeth is therefore unable to make use of the “better” imagination with which he was endowed and instead only appears “firm, self-controlled and practical” when he is “hateful” (136). A product of these clashing sides, Macbeth’s murder of Duncan is borne of his inability to properly acknowledge the conclusions drawn by his imagination. In his soliloquies and in...


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...nd his morality. His practicality ties him to the throne. A part of him still depends on approval, on the “worldly symbols” he was never truly able to relinquish.
Macbeth is a tragic character, fallen from the great general he once was. If he lacks something, though, it is not conscience. He never forgets his crimes, and he is anything but a common man; he is complex, as conflicted as A.C. Bradley’s interpretation of him. If McCarthy is correct in any of her assertions, though, it would be that Macbeth is a play about nature. Shakespeare plumbs the depths of human nature, of man’s innate desires, and procures a disturbing reality. Macbeth is not a simple character, but the same can be said for anyone; no one is as plain as he or she may seem. As such, the fate of Macbeth is, in the end, the fate of any man.

Works Cited
Macbeth, Shakespearean Tragedy, General Macbeth

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