This Dead Butcher

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Macbeth – ‘This dead Butcher’

Throughout the play, many opinions are expressed about Macbeth. At the start Shakespeare engages the audience's sympathy for him by revealing the positive way in which Macbeth the character is perceived by others. Macbeth is deeply lauded and very highly thought of by King Duncan but the way in which we see Macbeth start to change when Duncan is murdered. Malcolm calls Macbeth a butcher; someone who kills without a conscience and without a reason. He also describes Lady Macbeth as a "fiend like queen" which means one with only evil in her character. Neither Macbeth nor Lady Macbeth fit these descriptions. These descriptions are too simplistic but both characters are more complex. At the beginning of the play Macbeth was not regarded as a butcher. He killed many enemies in the war but not one in cold blood and was a highly regarded kinsman and Thane. "For brave Macbeth, well he deserves that name," showing us just what a good man Macbeth was. In the war against Norway, Macbeth presented himself as "noble Macbeth", "brave Macbeth" and "valiant cousin" to King Duncan. Clearly at this point, Macbeth was not a butcher. After the murder of Duncan some of the audience at this point would agree and regard Macbeth as a butcher but Macbeth had a reason for this murders. He did not kill without any reason like a butcher would. Macbeth also suffered from his conscience and persuaded himself not to kill Duncan, but his wife (Lady Macbeth) and his ambition over drove this. However, Macbeth still suffered from his conscience as he said, "Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle towards my hand?" Would a butcher have such doubt? After Duncan was dead, Macbeth felt remorse. "Wake Duncan with thy knocking, I would thou couldst." Obviously Macbeth had regrets about what he had done. Would a butcher have regrets? He was clearly doing something that was alien to his nature.

Evidence suggests that Macbeth was written by command as one of the plays to be given before King James I and the King of Denmark during the latter's notable visit to England in the summer of 1606 at Hampton Court. Shakespeare's company were the King's Players, and it would be natural for them to be commanded to produce a story of Scottish history touching on the ancestry of their patron. It was a very suitable play to perform before James 1 as before becoming king of England in 1603 in succession to Elizabeth 1, James had ruled in Scotland as James v1 – he would, therefore, have enjoyed watching a play with a Scottish theme.

Like James 1, members of the first audiences who watched ‘Macbeth’ in performance either at Hampton Court or at the Globe playhouse, would have found the play fascinating. The discovery of the Gunpowder plot in November 1605 created an atmosphere of terror which lasted for several months and raised concern about the safety of the king. Regicide is a central theme of ‘Macbeth’; a good king is murdered, an action which would have been seen by contemporary audiences who believed in the Divine Right of kings as an act of sacrilegious violation. 17th century audiences also believed in the evil power of witches and would have found Lady Macbeth’s invocation to the ‘powers of darkness’ utterly revolting.

At the beginning of the play Shakespeare introduces us to the war that has broke out between the Scottish and the Norwegians. Macbeth and Banquo are leading the Scottish army out on the front line fighting for king and country. At a camp near Forres, Duncan, King of Scotland, greets his sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, along with Lennox, a Scottish thane, or lord. The three men bring in a bleeding captain who has news of the war with Norway. The captain tells the king that Macbeth was fighting honorably against the Norwegian invaders last he saw. They also tell the king that the Thane of Cawdor turned traitor and sided with Norway during the battle. When Duncan hears that his army has defeated the...
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