Essay PreviewMore ↓
In William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth there is an ambitious captain who takes the throne of Scotland by force. Let's examine his character in this paper.
Lily B. Campbell in her volume of criticism, Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion, explores the workings of Macbeth's mind as he plots the destruction of Banquo and son :
If the witches have spoken as truly to Banquo as to him, Macbeth sees that he wears a "fruitless crown" and carries a "barren sceptre" in his hand; he has indeed given peace and immortality to make the race of Banquo kings. And he proceeds to his interview with the murderers, plotting what he dare not do openly, for the fear that comes when we are rivals for a thing and cannot both have it makes it seem to Macbeth:
That every minute of his being thrusts
Against my near'st of life;
and he will kill his fear by having Banquo and Fleance both put to death.(224)
In Everybody's Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack shows how Macbeth complements his wife:
Her fall is instantaneous, even eager, like Eve's in Paradise Lost; his is gradual and reluctant, like Adam's. She needs only her husband's letter about the weyard sisters' prophecy to precipitate her resolve to kill Duncan. Within an instant she is inviting murderous spirits to unsex her, fill her with cruelty, thicken her blood, convert her mother's milk to gall, and darken the world "That my keen knife see not the wound it makes" (1.5.50). Macbeth, in contrast, vacillates. The images of the deed that possess him simultaneously repel him (1.3.130, 1.7.1) When she proposes Duncan's murder, he temporizes: "We will speak further" (1.5.69). (189)
In his book, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, H. S. Wilson tells how the audience is inclined to identify with such a rogue as Macbeth:
That such a man should sacrifice all the wealth of his human spirit - his kindness, his love, his very soul - to become a victim to continual fears, a tyrant ruthlessly murdering in the vain attempt to feel safe, finally to be killed like a foul beast of prey - this is terrible, and pitiful, too. Shakespeare has here achieved for us most poignantly the ambivalence of the tragic effect Aristotle described. We
How to Cite this Page
"The Usurper in Macbeth." 123HelpMe.com. 26 Jan 2020
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- A main aspect that contributes to the complexity, captivating quality, and tragic nature of the iconic play, Macbeth is that it walks a tight-rope between fantasy and reality. A primary theme throughout the play is control. How much authority does the protagonist Macbeth truly have over his life. As Macbeth slowly morphs into the villain he is at the conclusion of the play, the audience can observe a direct correlation to the loss of his psychological stability. The mental episodes described throughout the play in both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth truly signify the debilitating power of guilt over the human mind.... [tags: Macbeth, Mind, Macbeth, Pontius Pilate]
1218 words (3.5 pages)
- Macbeth from Macbeth In William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth we find a guilt and fear-ridden usurper of the throne of Scotland. Let us study this character in this essay. A.C. Bradley in Shakespearean Tragedy paints a portrait of Macbeth: Macbeth, the cousin of a King mild, just, and beloved, but now too old to lead his army, is introduced to us as a general of extraordinary prowess, who has covered himself with glory in putting down a rebellion and repelling the invasion of a foreign army.... [tags: Macbeth essays]
1945 words (5.6 pages)
- How far would one go to get exactly what they wanted. William Shakespeare’s play, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”, was based on a character’s ambition to be king and gain power. Macbeth wanted to gain power so bad that he decided to do anything and everything to get exactly what he wanted no matter the circumstance. Macbeth transformed from a war hero into a killer. His weakened character and his own ambition drove Macbeth’s insanity. Macbeth’s psychosis brought forth a weakness in character and his ambition resulting in murder, and inability to let fate run its natural course.... [tags: Macbeth, William Shakespeare, Tragedy]
935 words (2.7 pages)
- The Hero. In Macbeth The tragedy Macbeth highlights an ambivalent character who wants to be king. This paper will take a close look at his character. Samuel Johnson in The Plays of Shakespeare states that every reader rejoices at the fall of Macbeth (133). In Shakespeare and Tragedy John Bayley talks about Macbeth as a responsible agent for his actions: It is essential to the hypnotic tension of the play that Macbeth should not seem in any ordinary way 'responsible' for his actions.... [tags: Macbeth essays]
1943 words (5.6 pages)
- The Question of Justice in Macbeth In the play Macbeth, many different major choices are brought forth to a certain character and the decision that is chosen affects the entire play. The results of these actions or decisions can be a positive or negative outcome towards the character. Does justice always prevail in the play Macbeth. If a character decides to commit a crime, will he/she be punished. If a character does a noble deed, will he/she be rewarded. As is represented in the play Macbeth, justice always prevails due to the guilty character's developing sense of remorse and/or the character receiving fair punishment.... [tags: Macbeth essays]
651 words (1.9 pages)
- The Ambitious Male in Macbeth The tragedy Macbeth by William Shakespeare brings to center stage an interesting, guilty, ambitious usurper named Macbeth, on whose character this essay will focus. Charles Lamb in On the Tragedies of Shakespeare explains the impact of Macbeth's initial murder: The state of sublime emotion into which we are elevated by those images of night and horror which Macbeth is made to utter, that solemn prelude with which he entertains the time till the bell shall strike which is to call him to murder Duncan, - when we no longer read it in a book, when we have given up that vantage-ground of abstraction which reading possesses over seing, and come to se... [tags: Macbeth essays]
1946 words (5.6 pages)
- Macbeth: How Money Killed Many of our friends at Wall Street have serious heart problems; some of them even die years before they should because of the stress that is brought on by the money and greed of Wall Street. Money is also evident as a health risk in Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice, both written by William Shakespeare. On Wall Street people are driven by the greed of the people they represent, their own greed, and a general atmosphere of greed. In Macbeth, Macbeth is driven by personal ambition and his wife to become king at any expense, including slaying some of his personal friends and their families.... [tags: Macbeth essays]
735 words (2.1 pages)
- Imagery of Blood in William Shakespeare's Play Macbeth In the play Macbeth , William Shakespeare uses blood as a symbol throughout the whole story to show the different emotions and themes within the context of the play. It’s a bit ironic for someone whose name means “the son of life” that he has to take so many lives instead of being a father to the people he was trying to rule. The play refers to blood in three key points to create great imagery in this play, guilt, honor, and family/ancestry are some strong points that this imagery is used.... [tags: Macbeth Essays]
1084 words (3.1 pages)
- In the play Macbeth, William Shakespeare exclaims that personal portrayal can conceal one’s stature and true intentions. Macbeth is a man who is initially well trusted by the king. Unfortunately behind King Duncan’s back , Macbeth decides to murder him because of a future prediction that three witches made about Macbeth. After hearing that he could potentially become the Thane of Cawdor, and more importantly the King. He decided he must take action in order for his future to become true. Though the ways he went about obtaining this future were not all ethical.... [tags: Macbeth, Duncan I of Scotland, Macbeth]
1043 words (3 pages)
- Blameless Macbeth Macbeth, a tragic play by William Shakespeare, involves the downfall of a military hero, Macbeth. Our hero, however, is not to blame for his own fate – the downfall of Macbeth is the result of the actions by those around him. Three evil withes foretell that Macbeth will become Thane of DCawdor and even King of Scotland. Macbeth dismissed their prophecies, but after he is promoted to Thane of Cawdor for military action, Macbeth wonders if he shall not be King, too. Macbeth is a good and loyal kinsman who would never harm his King.... [tags: Macbeth essays]
810 words (2.3 pages)
A.C. Bradley in Shakespearean Tragedy paints a portrait of Macbeth:
Macbeth, the cousin of a King mild, just, and beloved, but now too old to lead his army, is introduced to us as a general of extraordinary prowess, who has covered himself with glory in putting down a rebellion and repelling the invasion of a foreign army. In these conflicts he showed great personal courage, a quality which he continues to display throughout the drama in regard to all plain dangers. It is difficult to be sure of his customary demeanour, for in the play we see him either in what appears to be an exceptional relation to his wife, or else in the throes of remorse and desperation; but from his behaviour during his journey home after the war, from his later conversations with Lady Macbeth, and from his language to the murderers of Banquo and to others, we imagine him as a great warrior, somewhat masterful, rough and abrupt, a man to inspire some fear and much admiration. (322)
The Tragedy of Macbeth opens in a desert place with three witches who all say together the mysterious and contradictory "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." Macbeth is greeted by the witches with "hail to thee, thane of Glamis," "thane of Cawdor," and "thou shalt be king hereafter!" When Ross and Angus arrive with news of Duncan's reward ("He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor"), it is logical for Macbeth to assume that all of the weird sisters' prophecies will come true. Macbeth is "rapt" on the "suggestion" and concludes that "chance may crown me."
After the king's announcement that "We will establish our estate upon / Our eldest, Malcolm," Macbeth says, "The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step / On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap," for his scheming is seriously underway. Duncan's visit to Inverness, a one-night celebration of the victory, occasions quick plotting. Macbeth recognizes that King Duncan's "virtues / Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against / The deep damnation of his taking-off," while he himself has only "vaulting ambition" on his own side. Macbeth feels the pressure of the impending "bloody business" and thereby has a vision of the murder instrument:
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? (2.1)
Macbeth follows through with the killing. Immediately he is striken with guilt. The crime continues to haunt Macbeth: "Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep.'"
Despite the pain, Macbeth continues to murder. In a park near the palance, Banquo is set upon and killed "With twenty trenched gashes on his head", but Fleance escapes, causing the king to be more fearful and to complain: "But now I am cabin'd, cribb'd, confined, bound in / To saucy doubts and fears." At the banquet that evening, the ghost of Banquo enters and sits in the king's place. Macbeth alone sees him and addresses him guiltily: "Thou canst not say I did it: never shake / Thy gory locks at me." Later, when the king resorts to the "midnight hags," and their apparitions, he resolves to kill the Macduffs.
Meanwhile in England, Macduff stands resolutely behind Malcolm in an effort to retake the Scottish throne.
At Dunsinane, Lady Macbeth's doctor observes the queen sleepwalking, seemingly washing her hands, shouting in her sleep, "Out, damned spot!" When Seyton announces, "The queen, my lord, is dead," Macbeth turns his thoughts to the relentless pace of ongoing time rather than to sadness.
As Siward's 10,000 men surround the highly fortified Dunsinane, Macbeth repeats to himself, "'Fear not, Macbeth; no man that's born of woman / Shall e'er have power upon thee.'" The messenger announces that Birnam Wood is moving toward Dunsinane.
In the fury of combat, Macduff discloses that "Macduff was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd;" thus he is able to return to Malcolm with the severed head of Macbeth.
Samuel Johnson in The Plays of Shakespeare states that every reader rejoices at the fall of Macbeth (133).
In Shakespeare and Tragedy John Bayley talks about Macbeth as a responsible agent for his actions:
It is essential to the hypnotic tension of the play that Macbeth should not seem in any ordinary way 'responsible' for his actions. Not only the witches but every other agency is like a portent or apparition - pity striding the blast, heaven's cherubim, the lamentations heard in the air, the voice that cried 'Sleep no more' - do not so much personify the haunted imagination of Macbeth as act as separate and rival powers, distracting us from the difference between the usurper and murderer and the mind which has drawn us in. [. . .] It is the feeling shared by both Macbeth and the audience, that something has 'come for' him, that the secure world of thought and possibility, of the individual self with its desires and secrets, has gone beyond recall. (191)
In "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action" Francis Fergusson considers how Macbeth fully understands the irrationality of his deed:
I do not need to remind you of the great scenes preceding the murder, in which Macbeth and his Lady pull themselves together for their desperate effort. If you think over these scenes, you will notice that the Macbeths understand the action which begins here as a competition and a stunt, against reason and against nature. Lady Macbeth fears her husband's human nature, as well as her own female nature, and therefore she fears the light of reason and the common daylight world. As for Macbeth, he knows from the first that he is engaged in an irrational stunt: "I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself / And falls on the other." (108)
Charles Lamb in On the Tragedies of Shakespeare explains the impact of Macbeth's initial murder:
The state of sublime emotion into which we are elevated by those images of night and horror which Macbeth is made to utter, that solemn prelude with which he entertains the time till the bell shall strike which is to call him to murder Duncan, - when we no longer read it in a book, when we have given up that vantage-ground of abstraction which reading possesses over seing, and come to see a man in his bodily shape before our eyes actually preparing to commit a muder, if the acting be true and impressive as I have witnessed it in Mr. K's performance of that part, the painful anxiety about the act, the natural longing to prevent it while it yet seems unperpetrated, the too close pressing semblance of reality,give a pain and an uneasiness [. . .]. (134)
In Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy, Northrop Frye classifies Macbeth as a "usurper" (17).
Clark and Wright in their Introduction to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare say that Macbeth "has physical courage, but moral weakness" (792).
Blanche Coles states in Shakespeare's Four Giants that Macbeth is a "kindly, upright man who was incited and goaded, by the woman he deeply loved, into committing a murder" (37).
R. A. Foakes states in "Macbeth's Dramatic Allusions" that the general interpretation of Macbeth's character as evil may be incorrect(41).
Fanny Kemble in "Lady Macbeth" describes the queen's husband as having "a perception of having sinned" (117).
Bayley, John. Shakespeare and Tragedy. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.
Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970.
Clark, W.G. and Aldis Wright, eds. Introduction. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., n. d.
Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare's Four Giants. Rindge, NH: Richard R. Smith Publisher, Inc., 1957.
Fergusson, Francis. "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action." Shakespeare: The Tragedies. A Collectiion of Critical Essays. Alfred Harbage, ed. Englewwod Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964.
Foakes, R. A. "Macbeth's Dramatic Allusions." Readings on Macbeth. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from Introduction in The Tragedy of Macbeth. New York: Bobs-Merrill Company, 1968.
Frye, Northrop. Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1967.
Johnson, Samuel. The Plays of Shakespeare. N.p.: n.p.. 1765. Rpt in Shakespearean Tragedy. Bratchell, D. F. New York, NY: Routledge, 1990.
Kemble, Fanny. "Lady Macbeth." Macmillan's Magazine, 17 (February 1868), p. 354-61. Rpt. in Women Reading Shakespeare 1660-1900. Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts, eds. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.
Lamb, Charles. On the Tragedies of Shakespeare. N.p.: n.p.. 1811. Rpt in Shakespearean Tragedy. Bratchell, D. F. New York, NY: Routledge, 1990.
Mack, Maynard. Everybody's Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. http://chemicool.com/Shakespeare/macbeth/full.html, no lin.
Wilson, H. S. On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1957.