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Characters

By hashj97 Jun 08, 2015 1857 Words
Characters- be they villains, vagrants, kings, or commoners – are the essence of Shakespeare’s plays.

The essence of anything lies in the set of attributes that render it the characteristics of its substance, purpose and function. In Shakespeare’s play, “Macbeth”, the essence of the play are the characters. Shakespeare uses a variety of different characters and all of them carry a different idea about our society. This includes kings, who carry the idea of chivalry, majesty and kindness; villains who carry the idea of manipulation and deception; and vagrants who carry the idea of witchcraft. Along with this some of the characters also go through drastic changes in personality and actions. This shows that characters are the essence because they give flavour to the play and without them no events would take place. Hence characters prove to be pivotal for Shakespeare to explore the consequences of various events on society.

Jonathan Bates, in his book “ the genius of Shakespeare” states that one of the reasons Shakespeare is a genius is that “ we can never quite make up our minds about the characters “. This is especially true for the character of Macbeth as his character progressively deteriorates as the plot builds up, where his good qualities slowly convert into bad and evil ones. We first hear about Macbeth in the wounded captain’s account with the words “all’s too weak for brave Macbeth’. This gives an initial impression of a brave, valiant and capable warrior. This however, becomes complicated once we see Macbeth interact with the three witches and we realise that his physical courage is coupled with his consuming ambition and self-doubt. The witches prophesy that Macbeth will become King brings him face inner turmoil through the “horrid image” of the murder of king Duncan and at this point he is not so cold and ambitious that he will defy loyalty. Subsequently he writes a loving letter to his wife where he calls her his “dearest partner of greatness”, and it is revealed that he is already thinking about being the king but is still undecided whether it is better to succumb to the temptation given by the witches or let fate crown him. Later on, when he meets his wife, the balance between what’s right and wrong is switched as Macbeth still cares about morality, as shown by his soliloquy where he states the three reasons as to why he shouldn’t kill Duncan, he is “his kinsman, his subject and his host”. Macbeth adds that "Duncan hath born his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office,that his virtues will plead like angels." However, Lady Macbeth knows her husband and feels that he is "too full o' th' milk of human kindness." To counter this, she accuses Macbeth of being a coward if he does not kill Duncan. Macbeth does not want to be a coward, either as soldier or as husband, so he accepts to murder Duncan. His ambition and self-image of bravery wins over his virtues. Nevertheless he is remorseful after murdering Duncan, and he masks his fear of being found with rage against the supposed murderers and thus kills the drunk guards. Already being remorseful and being unable to sleep, Macbeth is fearful of Banquo as the witches prophesied that his son will become king. Clearly going through great troubles to be where he is, Macbeth decides to protect his throne and challenge fate by killing Banquo and his son. Once he does, he is haunted and troubled because his son escaped. This illustrates that “fair is foul and foul is fair” because Macbeth exchanged his peace and virtues for a troublesome throne by allowing his impatient passion for desire of power to overcome his senses. Later on, Macbeth orders to assassinate all of Macduff’s family after he finds out he fled to England. This shows the magnitude of his relentless and evil morality. He receives the news that Malcolm and his troops are coming to Dunsinane but he rests on the promises of the witches that he won’t be defeated until the Wood of Birnam comes to Dunsinane and that anybody born of woman cannot harm him. Despite this, he laments that even if he wins he still won’t have the same peace of mind and enjoy the same life with Lady Macbeth as he used to. Later he realises that Birnam wood can move and knows he has been cheated by the witches and subsequently he is killed by Macduff who was ripped from his mum’s womb. Macbeth was essential for Shakespeare as he showed the terrible effects of ambition and guilt on a man who lacks strength of character. Macbeth was tempted and cheated by the witches. His own ambitions and passions deceived him into changing his virtues for unrest and immorality. At the end, he is wary of life and fully aware of his deception. He pays all the consequences of his betrayal but still dies like a brave soldier.

Lady Macbeth is well respected just like Macbeth and King Duncan calls her "our honored hostess." She is loving to her husband but very ambitious for him at the same time, as shown by her immediate determination for Macbeth to be the king. This outcome will benefit her and her husband equally and she immediately concludes that "the fastest way" for Macbeth to become king is by murdering Duncan. Lady Macbeth's immediate thoughts may make her appear as thoroughly irreligiously cold and ambitious, but this is not so. To prepare for what she feels must be done, she calls on evil spirits to "stop up th' access and passage to remorse" in order to be relentless. Otherwise her conscience would not allow her to act. Furthermore, Lady Macbeth knows her husband well. She thinks he may be too kind in order to murder King Duncan. This is why she represses her conscience so that she can later usher Macbeth into committing the deed. At first Macbeth agrees. But later Macbeth wavers in his decision. But Lady Macbeth is sure that being king is what Macbeth really wants and that this is the best for both of them. So, in response to Macbeth's uncertainty, Lady Macbeth manipulates him by questioning his manhood and his love for her. She is successful because regardless of his own conscience, Macbeth carries out their murder plan. The almost superhuman strength Lady Macbeth rallies for the occasion and her artful and sly ability are shown through her meticulous attention to detail regarding the murder. When Macbeth returns to their chamber, she goes back to the murder scene and cleverly smears the grooms with Duncan's blood. However, her morals had prevailed just a while before as revealed through her comment that she would have killed Duncan herself had he not "resembled [her] father as he slept." Perhaps Lady Macbeth felt that suppressing her conscience for the deed was enough and that later the thought of the deed would just dissipate. The outcome is not this way, though, because Macbeth and Lady Macbeth often cannot go to sleep, and if they do, they experience terrifying dreams. But still, Lady Macbeth is able to maintain her sanity and composure during the day, even more than her husband. She urges him to be light hearted and merry. Once she practically rescues Macbeth from the frailty of his own conscience. When Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost, she creates an excuse to explain his odd behaviour. Later, though, the burden of Lady Macbeth's conscience becomes too great for her and her mental and physical condition deteriorates. A gentlewoman observes her sleepwalking and consults a doctor. The doctor and the lady observe Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, madly trying to cleanse her hands of the blood of Duncan and Macduff's family. Still in her sleep, Lady Macbeth asks, "what, will these hands ne're be clean?" foreseeing that she will never have peace of mind. She also retells the events of the day Duncan was murdered. The doctor tells the gentlewoman that what Lady Macbeth needs is spiritual and not physical help. At the beginning, Lady Macbeth finds strength to entice Macbeth to murder Duncan and to follow through with the murder herself. As time advances thorugh, her pretended strength diminishes as she fights the torments of her conscience. Tending to her conscience engulfs and destabilises her so much so that she cannot support Macbeth against Malcolm. Lady Macbeth's attempts to suppress her conscience fails. At the end she chooses death because she can no longer bear the torments of her guilt. Lady Macbeth is essential to the play as she displays how someone can appear a certain way, yet turn out to be completely different and that someone can manipulate even their beloved one just to directly benefit themselves.

Throughout the play, the witches—referred to as the “weird sisters” by many of the characters—lurk like dark thoughts and unconscious temptations to evil. In part, the mischief they cause stems from their supernatural powers, but mainly it is the result of their understanding of the weaknesses of their specific interlocutors—they play upon Macbeth’s ambition like puppeteers. The witches’ beards, bizarre potions, and rhymed speech make them seem slightly ridiculous, like caricatures of the supernatural. Shakespeare has them speak in rhyming couplets throughout (their most famous line is probably “Double, double, toil and trouble, / Fire burn and cauldron bubble”, which separates them from the other characters. The witches’ words seem almost comical, like malevolent nursery rhymes. Despite the absurdity of their “eye of newt and toe of frog” recipes, however, they are clearly the most dangerous characters in the play, being both tremendously powerful and utterly wicked. The audience is left to ask whether the witches are independent agents toying with human lives, or agents of fate, whose prophecies are only reports of the inevitable. The witches bear a striking and obviously intentional resemblance to the Fates, female characters in both Norse and Greek mythology who weave the fabric of human lives and then cut the threads to end them. Some of their prophecies seem self-fulfilling. For example, it is doubtful that Macbeth would have murdered his king without the push given by the witches’ predictions. In other cases, though, their prophecies are just remarkably accurate readings of the future—it is hard to see Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane as being self-fulfilling in any way. The play offers no easy answers. Instead, Shakespeare keeps the witches well outside the limits of human comprehension. They embody an unreasoning, instinctive evil. Hence, the witches are essential to the play firstly because they are responsible for providing prophecies to Macbeth; which in turn act as the catalyst to fire out Macbeth’s ambitions and shapes up the whole play. The witches also help Shakespeare explore the supernatural, which in turn urges the audience to decide whether they believe in fate. In conclusion, Shakespeare utilised his characters well to be able to explore various ideas such as ambition, manipulation and the supernatural. The characters were essential to the play as they carried these ideas and helped to reach them to the audience.

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