The Character of Macbeth

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The Character of Macbeth

The play 'Macbeth' is a portrait of one man, Macbeth, showing how he changes. Although we are presented with his deterioration from good to evil, we can see his human side throughout the play, which makes it a tragedy. It is the shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies, and has a very fast pace. Once Macbeth's ambition has ‘set the ball rolling', events happen quickly in the play as it gathers momentum. The themes of ‘Macbeth' are ambition, effects of evil, and violence, shown mainly by the language of the play, as in Shakespeare's time plays were performed in daylight with very few props. Ambition is something that everyone can identify with, and ‘Macbeth' is a compelling study of how ambition can destroy you, so the audience are interested in Macbeth's character.

Our first impression of Macbeth is of a heroic, famous, popular man who is well liked by the king - Duncan refers to Macbeth as ‘noble Macbeth'.(Act 1 Scene 2 L67) Macbeth is tempted by two sources of external evil - the witches and his wife, but he was already ambitious, and they only increased this by making his ambitions seem like they could be reality. The war hero becomes a murderer and then dies a shameful and violent death. Shakespeare creates an atmosphere of evil and darkness mainly through his language, although scenes containing violent actions or the witches are often played in darkness. Shakespeare uses poetry (verse) as opposed to prose, as poetry often contains more metaphors and imagery, which he used to create a feeling of darkness and evil. The language gives an insight into the character of Macbeth - we see his ruthlessness and cruelty, but also fear, doubt and some scruples.

Macbeth's first words, ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen' (Act 1:3 L36) immediately associate him with the witches because they say in the first scene ‘ fair is foul and foul is fair' (1:1 L12), so evil is brought to mind. Macbeth is connected with the supernatural in the audience's mind from the onset. This is the first thing that is not consistent with Macbeth's image of a war hero.

In an aside later on in Act 1:3, Macbeth reveals that he is thinking of killing Duncan. Asides are very important because they give the audience an insight into the character's mind. Once the audience knows how the character thinks, they tend to sympathise with him, which is another reason why ‘Macbeth' is a tragedy. The aside follows closely Macbeth's desires and doubts - he does not know whether ‘this supernatural soliciting' is good or bad, but he dearly wants to be king. He describes the murder that he is imagining to be ‘horrible'(1:3 L137) and ‘makes my seated heart knock at my ribs' (1:3 L135), showing that the whole idea disgusts and horrifies him, as it would any man who was brave and noble, but Macbeth cannot stop thinking about it, showing that he is considering the idea and is drawn to it, and that he has ambitions to be king within him already.

Macbeth is drawn to darkness, because he believes that it will hide his evil deeds. This is first shown when he says ‘stars hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires' ( 1:4 L50). Macbeth is afraid that people will realise that he wants to be king and is prepared to kill for it, so he calls on the stars to hide their light, so people cannot see what he is thinking. This is again in an aside, so the audience are the only ones who know what Macbeth is thinking. Asides and soliloquies help the audience understand Macbeth and also paint the scene. The audience can see that he has become yet more drawn to evil.

Evidence that Macbeth has a human side and is very worried is found in a long soliloquy - a speech where Macbeth is alone on stage so we can again see what Macbeth is thinking. He is worried about his eternal soul, and what his punishment will be in Heaven if he kills Duncan. He thinks of reasons why he should not kill Duncan - ‘He's here in double trust: First, as I am his...
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