Macbeth: Style and Structure

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1) What is the definition of mature tragedy and what are the features of Macbeth that is typical of this genre?

Essentially, a ‘mature’ tragedy is defined as a tragedy whereby the protagonist meets his or her demise as a direct result of an inherent flaw in character, or a misdeed committed on his or her behalf. Shakespeare has written four main ‘mature’ tragedies, and all embody one essential factor: the dramatic, self-constructed collapse of a ‘hero’ type character. To contrast, an ‘immature’ tragedy is where the cause of a character’s downfall is purely circumstantial, and not in any way a result of the protagonist or a main character’s actions. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the epitome of an ‘immature’ tragedy, as Romeo and Juliet - although young and ‘foolish’ - did not end their lives due to flaws in character, but rather met their end on the account of the situation at hand. Macbeth is known as a ‘mature’ tragedy because the play is primarily founded upon Macbeth’s weaknesses and flaws as a human. Throughout the play, Shakespeare steadily reveals Macbeth’s yearnings and desires coupled with his apparent ambition to become king. Initially, Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as a valiant and glorious hero, but this illustrious image of Macbeth decays over the course of the play into something far more sinister as he goes against his own nature, eventually succumbing to his ‘deep and dark desires’. Macbeth is wrought with flaws and carries out numerous ill deeds, which inevitably brings about his downfall. In this way, Macbeth is a ‘mature’ tragedy.

2) The author refers to the critical maxim employed by Shakespeare in Macbeth. What does this mean?

A critical maxim is broadly defined as an expression of ‘general truth’ or principle (“Words charged with meaning and associations”). The critical maxim referred to in Macbeth is the concept of “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”. This motif readily manifests throughout the play in various forms, recurring many times; sometimes as a representation of ‘All is not as it seems’, and sometimes coinciding with the prominent ‘Good vs Evil’ theme of Macbeth. The maxim is introduced by the witches in the first scene, and then repeated by Macbeth in the following. In Act 1, Scene 6, Duncan indirectly refers to this maxim. While he does not repeat the words exactly, he describes the air and atmosphere of Inverness as sweet and pleasant, while in reality, there is a profound dramatic irony here as Shakespeare has positioned the audience to know that Duncan will be killed in Macbeth’s castle – the very place that he describes as being welcoming and pleasing to the senses. His words and the dramatic irony in this scene are a direct reference to the “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” maxim.

3) Identify the examples of dark imagery employed in the play and express in dot points.

Shakespeare’s use of ‘dark imagery’ is mainly represented in three fashions; imagery of sleep, imagery of nighttime, and imagery of hell and/or demons.

“There’s husbandry in heaven, their candles are all out.” Shakespeare frequently uses imagery of a dark and dreary nighttime, entertaining the concept that mankind has an inherent fear of darkness; implying that evil and sinister deeds occur late into the night. Although nighttime in itself is not malevolent, Shakespeare writes nighttime as having strong connotations with all things evil and sinister. •“Come, thick Night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell.” Lady Macbeth calls upon a dark and pale night in hopes of cloaking the identities of her and Macbeth, which is resonant with the concept that ‘ill-deeds are committed in darkness’. However, her reference to Hell strengthens the imagery above and beyond a simple dark nighttime, foreshadowing the hellish and blasphemous deeds that will be committed the following night with the expected murder of Duncan. •“Stars, hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires.” The imagery here...
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