How Does Shakespeare Gain Audience Sympathy for Macbeth

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How does Shakespeare gain audience sympathy for Macbeth?

In late 1905, Shakespeare’s Macbeth was performed for the first time in Hampton Court. At the time, King James I was in power, and it is widely believed that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in order to flatter him, as the previous year The Gunpowder Plot had shown an attempt on his life. In the play, King Duncan gets murdered, which would have been quite disturbing for King James I to watch. By the end of the play however, King James I would have felt relieved, as the killer in the play got his comeuppance and ultimately went to hell. This would have reassured him that no-one else would try to take his life, as the play clearly demonstrates the belief that good always overcomes evil. In Shakespeare’s time “The Divine Right of Kings” was very popular amongst the people and they believed that kings or queens were appointed by God. Because of this, it was thought that going against a king or queen was just like going against God. Superstitions like this were taken very seriously at the time, so while watching the play the audience would have felt extremely nervous. This would have worked well for Shakespeare as it would have kept the audience’s attention and kept them enthralled in the story.

As the play opens we are introduced to the witches, who for an Elizabethan audience, were a very real manifestation of evil. They take us immediately into the presence of evil as they were considered the devils minions, here to do work. In the 8th line of the play Macbeth’s name is mentioned for the first time, and the three witches are clearly up to no good, cavorting in thunder and lightning.

Where the place?
Upon the heath.
There to meet with Macbeth.[Act 1 Scene 1]

This would have immediately alarmed the audience, as before they have even met Macbeth, he is linked immediately to the forces of evil. The physical disturbances such as the thunder and lightning add to the effect as they would have un-nerved the audience. They would have been feeling anxious for Macbeth and worried about what the witches may have in store for him.

As the play goes on we hear how King Duncan is with his sons, anxiously awaiting news of a battle. As a badly wounded Captain describes how Macbeth bravely fought his way through the battle, the audience begins to understand how highly King Duncan thinks of Macbeth.

O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman![Act 1 Scene 2]

This clearly shows the good side of Macbeth, and it shows that he is held in high esteem by all! He is praised and valued for his courage and the audience see him as one of Duncan’s loyal fighters helping fight against the invading Norwegians. As the Captain describes the battle in more detail and explains how Macbeth killed the Norwegian King, Macdonwald, the audience gets a clearer picture of how loyal Macbeth is to his King.

Till he unseamed him from the nave to the chops
And fixed his head upon our battlements.[Act 1 Scene 2]

This shows that Macbeth was determined to fight for his King, even if it meant a gruesome and horrific battle! It is made clear in this scene that Duncan thinks a lot of Macbeth, and in return for his bravery, Macbeth is given the traitors position as the Thane of Cawdor. This would have shown the audience that he was a good man, and the fact that Duncan gave him this new title, would highlight the fact that he was trustworthy, and at this point in the play the audience would have built their opinions towards Macbeth and had great respect for him.

Act 1 Scene 3 is where this all starts to change however, as the witches return and meet Macbeth and Banquo. The audience would be faced with the ugly hags, and would feel extremely uncomfortable seeing these horrid creatures in front of them.

So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ the earth.[Act 1 Scene 3]

This description form Banquo confirms what the audience are seeing, and...
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