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Macbeth: from Hero to Villain

Oct 08, 1999 1308 Words
Throughout Macbeth by William Shakespeare we see the transformation of the main character, Macbeth, from hero to villain. Translated, this basically means that Macbeth changes from a brave warrior to a serial killer! <br>

<br>The story of Macbeth takes place in Scotland in the 11th century. Shakespeare has written a tragedy about how a Scottish nobleman (Macbeth) who plots the death of the King in order to become King himself. Due to the tragedy aspect, things do not really go according to plan! <br>

<br>The first time we see Macbeth in the play, he is returning from the battlefield after a victory alongside the Norwegians against a rebel army. "For brave Macbeth" (I, 2, 16) is used by an army Sergeant to describe his actions in the battle. Such phrases as "worthy gentleman" (I, 2, 24) are used by the King. This shows that Macbeth really was a hero, as such a compliment from the King was considered a great honour. <br>

<br>The first murder Macbeth commits, is that of King Duncan. This murder, was ‘inspired' by the witches. The witches first meet Macbeth while he and Banquo are riding by. The witches greeted him as, the thane of Glamis "All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Glamis" (I, 3, 48), and then as the thane of Cawdor "All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor" (I, 3, 49). At this point in the play Macbeth had just become thane of Glamis, and the thane of Cawdor is still alive and well. Next, the witches greeted <br>

<br>Macbeth as the King of Scotland: "All hail, Macbeth! That shalt be King hereafter" (I, 3, 50). <br>
<br>Shortly after the departure of the witches, Macbeth found out that he is the thane of Cawdor, as well as Glamis. If the three witches' prediction about Macbeth becoming thane of Cawdor had been correct, did that mean that someday he would also become King? I believe that this is the point in the play where Macbeth starts to think as a villain. If the witches had never greeted him as King on Scotland, then he would probably never have contemplated killing Duncan in the first place. <br>

<br>When Lady Macbeth found out about the predictions, she pressurised her husband into killing Duncan. Anytime Macbeth had second thoughts, Lady Macbeth was there to spur him on – mostly by criticising him and calling him a coward! This could be another reason for Macbeth's change of character; his wife constantly used ‘reverse psychology' on him and even considered committing the murder herself. "unsex me here" (I, 5, 40) and "make thick my blood" (I, 5, 42) were some of the phrases she used, as she believed that she could not commit the murder because she was a woman. She may have been a woman, but she had the heart of a man. <br>

<br>On the night the murder was to take place, Lady Macbeth drugged the King's guards and then Macbeth murdered Duncan as he slept. This is the point where Macbeth really is considered a villain. In an attempt to conceal his actions, Macbeth murders the guards in his apparent anger and fury! In fear of their lives, Malcolm and Donalbain (the King's sons) fled to England and Ireland. Automatically, this placed the blame on Malcolm, as people were suspicious that he had killed Duncan in order to become King himself. <br>

<br>After the murder, Macbeth then went about the process of killing anyone in line to the throne, or anyone who suspected him of killing Duncan. Macbeth then tried to have Fleance and Banquo killed as the witches had made predictions about how Banquo's son would become King "Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none: So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!" (I, 3, 67-68). Fleance escaped, but Banquo was killed. When a banquet was held to honour Macbeth – the new King of Scotland, Macduff did not appear. Later, the witches warned Macbeth to beware of Macduff "beware Macduff, Beware the thane of Fife." (IV, 1, 71-71), so when Macbeth found that Macduff had fled to England, he had Macduff's family killed instead. <br>

<br>At this stage, Macbeth is no longer a villain, but a cold-hearted psychotic serial killer! Due to severe paranoia, Lady Macbeth suspects everyone knows about the crimes they have committed, and takes her own life. Earlier in Macbeth, Macbeth was dependent on his wife for advice, but when he found out about her death, he did not seem to care. The roles had been reversed: Lady Macbeth's conscience had got the better of her, whereas now Macbeth could not really care less! Towards the end of the play, Macbeth could be considered, not only a villain, but insane, as at his banquet he had hallucinations of Banquo's ghost. However, I believe that he was insane at the start of the play as well, when he followed an imaginary dagger to Duncan's chamber. Also, a sane person is not in the habit of killing everyone in sight! <br>

<br>Macbeth may have been the person who actually killed King Duncan, but Lady Macbeth had as much to do with it as he did, by constantly pressurising him, and helping to conceal the murder by ordering him to wash his hands to clean off the blood. Although, Lady Macbeth's helping in the murder of the King, does not even compare to Macbeth's murdering of the King, the King's guards, Banquo, Macduff's family and finally Siward at the end of the play. <br>

<br>The witches had warned Macbeth, that he would die the day that Birnam wood moved. "Macbeth shall never be vanquished be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him." (IV, 1, 92-94). Birnam woods did move, but as camouflage for the English army, who had travelled with Macduff to attack Macbeth. In the end, Macduff - who sought revenge for what had happened to his family - killed Macbeth, and Malcolm became the rightful King of Scotland. <br>

<br>Macbeth consists of five acts, three of which have no major story line, other than that of building up to the murders. In my opinion, the final two acts lack detail and seem ‘hurried' in comparison to the first three acts. The murdering of Macbeth is probably one the most important murders in the play, despite this, it is a very short scene and Shakespeare spent very little time building up to the killing of Macbeth. This is the same when Lady Macbeth kills herself, the reader does not actually find out about it until Seyton tells Macbeth "The queen, my lord, is dead" (V, 5, 16). However, this ‘lack of detail' was very effective in showing the reader Macbeth's reaction to his wife's death. <br>

<br>There is no doubt in my mind that Macbeth was a villain, but at which point did he truly earn this title? He was considered a hero after fighting bravely in a battle – killing more innocent people. Surely this should make him a villain and not a hero? Back in the 11th century it was quite acceptable to kill people in battles, and still be looked upon as a hero. If Macbeth had been set in modern times, he would have been a villain all long. Due to the fact that it was set hundreds of years ago, he was a considered a hero at the start of the play and only looked upon as a villain when he started to kill people for a reason. In conclusion, I believe that he was a villain all along, but it only became clear towards the end when he was found out.

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