Macbeth's Susceptibility to Wife and Witches

Macbeth's Susceptibility to Wife and Witches

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"Macbeth" is one of Shakespeare's best-loved plays. The title character is a tragic figure who is easily misled and often misunderstood. Macbeth is a complex character who shows us countless aspects of his personality throughout the play, as he transforms from an ambitious and noble man to a blood thirsty and merciless maniac. We can still sympathise with Macbeth after all the dreadful crimes that he commits because we see in full detail his susceptibility to his wife's ruthless ambitions and the superstitious predictions of the witches.

Before we even meet Macbeth we discover that he is a valiant man. Duncan, the King of Scotland, shows immense admiration and respect towards Macbeth. He declares, "For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name".

Shakespeare begins the play with three witches upon a moor. He knew – at that time - people were fascinated with witches and witchcraft. This story line would engross his audience from the very beginning. Shakespeare was also trying to curry favour with royalty, as he knew James I was interested in the supernatural and he had even published a book in 1597 called "Demonology".

The first sign of Macbeth's susceptibility is shown when he and Banquo encounter the witches. The witches predict that Macbeth and Banquo's descendants will become kings. Macbeth believes what the witches have prophesised, revealing his gullible side. We see this when he says, "stay you imperfect speakers". We can see that Banquo is a foil to Macbeth because he – unusually for the time - does not believe the old hags. Banquo's response contrasts with Macbeth's and presents Macbeth in a bad light. Macbeth displays his certainty that he will become king when he says, "Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor. The greatest is behind."

Macbeth shows that he can be scheming when he says that Malcolm, King Duncan's son, "is a step, on which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, for in my way it lies." He feels he must take matters into his own hands and kill Malcolm as he is the heir to the throne. I sense that he has become jealous of Malcolm and considers him as an obstacle to overcome. He also makes out that killing Malcolm is part of his quest to become king - almost as if it is his challenge.

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This is the first time we see Macbeth plotting to murder.

From Lady Macbeth's opening soliloquy we see that she believes Macbeth is too noble to ensure that the prophecy is implemented by force. Macbeth is portrayed as a dignified gentleman who admires and respects the King. When she tells him of her conspiracy to kill the King he shows admiration towards her. However, he is hesitant about the whole idea especially since he has always shown support and loyalty to him. Lady Macbeth urges him onwards advising him that her plans will not fail. She has become the catalyst who is the driving force of Macbeth's frustrated ambitions.

Before Macbeth kills Duncan he feels guilty as he realises what he is about to do is deplorable. He has entered another battle, totally different to that which he is accustomed. His mind has to choose between morals and success. This is when his uncertainty commences. He imagines a dagger leading him to Duncan's chamber. He says, "Is this a dagger I see before me, the handle towards my hand?" His mind is in turmoil and he has become delusional but he executes the deed. Later, he returns with the blood stained daggers, which he was meant to leave at the murder scene. He says, "Look on't again, I dare not." He is afraid to see what he has done and leaves it to his wife to go back to the scene of the crime. Macbeth's mistake illustrates how he, a noble warrior, is incapable of completing such a cowardly crime.

Macbeth kills the King's two bodyguards without telling his wife. He claims he does so as a result of his "violent love" for the King but in actual fact he was trying to cover his tracks.

Here, you can see clear character change in Macbeth. He has committed regicide - the most heinous of crimes - and he has also murdered two innocent bodyguards. His monstrous murder spree causes him to be the more dominant figure. It has made him feel more powerful and infallible.

Macbeth fears Banquo, who, knowing the prophecy, begins to have suspicions. Macbeth decides to eradicate Banquo before his guilt is revealed. He calls upon two murderers and assures them that all their misfortunes are Banquo's fault and if they become assassins then they will be real men. He says, "Whose execution takes your enemy off." Here he has shown that he has become sly and manipulative – lying to the murderers to make them kill Banquo for their own illogical reasons. This means that Macbeth does not have the first hand in the murder. He is so determined to stay king that nobody will stand in his way, not even his best friend, Banquo.

Macbeth displays signs of a guilty conscience when, at his banquet, he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting in his chair. He asks, "Which of you have done this?" The ghost leaves and Macbeth's behaviour returns to normal. Then, when the ghost reappears Macbeth's "fit" returns and again when it disappears he is fine. His "fit" illustrates that his ability to cope is weakening. However, it is only in the presence of the ghost that he feels frightened and remorseful. When it is gone he can put Banquo's death to the back of his mind.

He then says to Lady Macbeth, "We are yet but young in deed." Showing that he intends to continue his deadly course.

Although Macbeth is unaware that Macduff is plotting to oppose him, he seizes Macduff's castle and savagely murders his family. There is no reason behind this and he does it out of pure malevolence. Now Macbeth's transformation is complete and this is Macbeth's lowest point in the play. Here, I feel disgusted at such a persecutor. He is cold and callous.

Yet, the reader can still sympathise with Macbeth. Later, he contemplates on his true lack of friends. As an aging man he believes he should have "honour, love, obedience, troops of friends". These are all areas that he is severely lacking in. I feel sorry for him although he managed to get himself into this situation with some help from his wife.

When Macbeth hears of Lady Macbeth's death he expresses the insignificance of life an endless progression of days, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day". This soliloquy deliberates profoundly at the significance of our existence and the prolonged struggle towards death. I again feel very sympathetic towards Macbeth as he has no friends left to turn to and his wife is dead.

Macbeth shows immense courage when he sees Macduff and an army heading towards his castle. He knows that the witch's prophecies are coming true and he will die. However he will go out fighting like a true warrior, which he was famed for at the very beginning. He says, "At least we'll die with harness on our back." Macbeth and Macduff fight and Macbeth is slain.

At the end of the play Malcolm describes Macbeth as a "dead butcher" but I do not consider this so. A "butcher" is someone who kills showing no remorse. Macbeth - at times - does not show remorse, but on the whole he has shown incalculable amounts of sentiment and action, which justifies him as human. If Shakespeare had indeed created Macbeth as a "butcher" then the audience would not have sympathised with such a cold – blooded murderer. The play would have also been less interesting and you would not have had such a roller coaster ride of emotions.

I think "Macbeth" is a compelling play written by an exceptionally talented dramatist. Shakespeare has managed to create a character, which has various dimensions that we can all relate to at some time in our lives. He has also explored several issues that are ahead of his time, for example, females being the dominant sex and detailed examinations of how a psychological state of mind such as guilt or conscience can shape a person's behaviour and affect their life. His philosophical speeches contain enormous relevance to life itself, even in the 21st Century.

Jennifer Watson
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