Macbeth is a play that was written by William Shakespeare whose focus was to demonstrate the tragedy that befell Macbeth. The tragedy that befalls him is said to be one of the darkest and horrific tragedies of the time. The play shows the manner in which Macbeth corrodes the various psychological and political attributes when he chooses evil as a way of enabling him to satisfy his greed for power. In this case, Macbeth commits regicide so that he can become king of his land. In this case, he engages in murderous terror so that he can stay in power for a long period of time (Knight 55). This state of affairs results to a civil war in the country. At the end of the play, Macbeth loses everything that brings meaning into his life before eventually losing his own life.
In the play, Shakespeare demonstrates the bloodiest tragedy that man has ever gone through. In this case, he tells the story of Macbeth who was prophesied to become king of Scotland by a trio of witches. Because of his ambition to become king as well as under the influence of his wife, Macbeth murdered King Duncan so that he could acquire the throne. The reign of Macbeth is characterized by guilt, paranoia, and tyrannical ruling. This is because Macbeth is forced by his intuition to commit a series of murders so that he can be able to guard himself against suspicion and enmity. In this case, since Macbeth and Lady Macbeth get used to bloodbaths, they are driven swiftly into the jurisdiction of arrogance, madness and eventually death (Hibbs and Hibbs). The goal of this paper, therefore, is to give a critical introduction of the play Macbeth. It will focus on the role of three characters: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and the supernatural. It will also illustrate the role that Christianity plays in terms of interpreting the principal topic of evil and corruption in the world as portrayed in the play. The remaining area of pedagogy will focus on teaching the play to students in differentiated learning environments, in particular, a correctional high school.
Macbeth Role in the Play
Macbeth was initially being regarded as the Thane of Glamis. However he was later promoted to the Thane of Cawdor. Immediately after that he was proclaimed King of Scotland. Macbeth is the main protagonist or antagonist in the Shakespeare`s play.
In viewing the character of Macbeth from the beginning of the play, he displays good moral conscience as a potential noble, courageous, and skilled warrior, but this morality slowly dissipates as he gains more power as the Thane of Glamis and then the Thane of Cawdor, which leads him to a murder. J.I.M. Stewart argues that sources confirm that Macbeth is a ‘brave and honorable man suddenly, and squarely—and fatally turned against the moral order’ (82). The main source of Macbeth’s fatal collapse is influenced by his dealings with the Weird Sisters. However, Stopford A. Brooke argues that in order to understand Macbeth’s character, we must look beyond his conscience and consider his “sense of honor” (197). He argues that Macbeth’s character is not disturbed by his lack of moral conscience, like Lady Macbeth, or he would show remorse of his evil deeds (197). Bernard McElroy supports the argument that Macbeth is an “honored peer of the realm, but his honor is based upon incongruous and irreconcilable qualities . . .” in which “he dare[s] anything and fear[s] nothing, but . . . accepts limits and boundaries which cannot under any circumstances be transgressed” (218-219). Macbeth shows a wavering character from ambition to fear, which becomes apparent to Lady Macbeth (198), who uses his faltering personality to her advantage. William Hazlitt argues that Macbeth’s character is “like a vessel drifting before a storm: he staggers under the weight of his own purposes and the suggestions of others…”
The tragedy that befell Macbeth began when the bloody civil war began. In this case, a soldier was wounded but he went ahead and continued combating. In this case, Macbeth gives a colorful and extensive exaltation of his prowess and valor in battle that he was leading. In this case, King Duncan honored and rewarded King Macbeth with high rewards when he won the battle (Kranz 347). As a result he was granted the title of the Thane of Cawdor.
When Macbeth conducted his first meeting with the witches, it became clear that Macbeth had an intention to kill Duncan in order to take his place. However, during the Elizabethan era any person who had conspiracy to murder another person was supposed to be punished by death. Moreover, in the play, it is asserted that “If chance may have me king, why chance may crown me without my stir” in this case, the results were expected and people expected that they would survive through the hours even when the day proved to be very tough. In this perspective therefore, it is true that Macbeth considered any possibility that he could manage, thus ensuring that he would become king (Muir 36). In this perspective, Macbeth believed that it was not a must for him to take any action so as to fulfill any prophecies that were made during his reign. In this case, though Macbeth continues thinking about prophecies that were made, he still ignored Banquo’s advice. This advice was aimed at telling Macbeth that in order to win he was supposed to understand that the instruments of darkness often proclaim the truth. These were meant to betray the people with regard to the deepest consequences.
When Macbeth was with his wife he displayed another character that was not usual. In this case, the plan of Lady Macbeth was to convince Macbeth to kill Duncan so that they would have all the power. In the case, the point is illustrated when Lade Macbeth stipulated that she would pour spirits in the ear as well as chastise with the valor of her tongue anything that would impede from the golden round. Though Macbeth had concluded that he was not willing to kill Duncan, his decision was short-lived. In this case, Macbeth demonstrated an exact opposite side of his character. The general did not have time for the accusations that the wife was making (Ribner 34). This is an indication that Macbeth was being manipulated by his wife as well as the witches. Moreover, if this did not reflect that he was being manipulated, could this have meant that he had an intention to kill Duncan all along. However, the driving force as to why Macbeth killed Duncan is still an on-going debate.
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Macbeth also hears voices which tell him that he would not sleep anymore. In this case, he stipulates that he would not murder sleep and that only the innocent people sleep. In this case, it is true that Macbeth’s innocence is lost completely, thus indicating that his actions will remain tainted eternally (Shakespeare 1260). Despite many murders that Macbeth commits, it is revealed that Macbeth is too afraid to go back to the Chamber where Duncan resides. It is Lady Macbeth who is given the duty to commit the murder.
Macbeth reigns for ten years before he is challenged by Malcolm and Macduff. However, Macbeth’s reign is the one that is characterized by murder and tyranny. He does not trust anybody and he sinks further into committing more murders. He does this despite an advice given by Lady Macbeth to stop killing and enjoy his new role as king. This is an indication that Macbeth sunk deep into murder thereby making it tedious for him to stop engaging in such activities. In this case, it is true that Macbeth was obsessed with the witches and the prophecies they made (Greenblatt 143). As the play progresses, Macbeth also hires two new murderers so that they can murder Banquo and his son. He also sends a third murderer to assist in committing the murder. However, through Banquo’s son, Fleance, manages to escape, Banquo dies eventually. Moreover, Macbeth sends his troop to brutally murder an innocent lady Macduff’s entire household. Murdering this family is regarded as a fatal mistake because Macduff seeks revenge. Lady Macbeth committed suicide as a result of the influence of the witches` spell. Eventually, Macbeth is affected by the witches’ second part of prophecies as he is finally killed in battle by Macduff.
The play therefore describes Macbeth as a person who is greedy for power and he is willing to engage in any activity to obtain the throne. He engages in a series of murders whereby he kills innocent people so as to enter the throne. He also believes in prophecies that the witches tell him, which later haunt him, thus leading to his death.
Role of Lady Macbeth
Macbeth is regarded as anti-mother.
The play describes Lady Macbeth as the anti-mother. In his case Lady Macbeth is described as a murdering mother. This is because she wants power. The power that she wants is believed to be conditioned on maternity. This status is regarded as being conflicted in the early England. The negative images of Lady Macbeth is demonstrated when she stipulates that she would bash the brains of any baby that sucks her breasts. This statement reflects the negative image of Lady Macbeth in the early modern England. In this case, most mothers were accused of ruining the innocent lives which were given in their hands. Thus, Lady Macbeth’s infanticide fantasy embodies all mothers. She is described as fighting the condemnation that she was a bad mother (Wright 96). This issue was common at the time.
Moreover, Lady Macbeth does not wish to step aside from femininity. This is evidenced when she asks the spirits to eliminate her key biological characteristics of a woman. When Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to make her blood thick and to stop her menstrual cycle, it is true that Lady Macbeth does not desire to be a mother. In this case, she wishes the caring attitude and sensitivity that are associated with females to be drawn away from her. In this case, she desires to be like a man so that she does not have any remorse for regicide. By asking for her menstrual cycle to be stopped, it is evident that she hopes to have a persistent infanticide nature. The point whereby Lady Macbeth stipulates that she would smash the brains of a baby and stop her means of procreation is an illustration that Lady Macbeth does not have a motherly attitude.
Lady Macbeth role as a witch
Lady Macbeth is described as a witch because she is believed to succumb to satanic forces. In the early modern England, a witch was described as a person who has lust for the devil and a desire to possess supernatural powers as well as to invoke evil spirits. Mothers can become witches or they can be bewitched. A witch is like an empowered woman. In this case, they do not conform to defiance and general sense. In the early modern England, such women challenged patriarchal authority as well as hierarchy. In this case, they mostly targeted and threatened hegemonic systems. This view therefore associates witchcraft not with evil but with heroism (Knight 57). This is the same case for Lady Macbeth.
When Lady Macbeth sexuality, femininity and the manner in which they relate to her motherhood nature are assessed, they also seem to reflect witch hood. In this case, since she conjures spirits, it is evident that she is a witch. She has also been noted to use metaphoric language together with the weird sisters in the play to call upon spiritual powers. These then influence the manner in which physical events establish themselves. For example, these supernatural powers have been noted to change the workings of a state as well as the workings of a woman’s body. Just like a witch, Lady Macbeth tries to make herself an instrument, whereby she aims to influence future occurrences. In this case, she is observed to be deviant, nonconformist as well as a threat to the patriarchal system of governance in the region. Even after challenging the masculinity of King Duncan, she goes ahead and threatens to kill him. When Macbeth seems reluctant in terms of killing king Duncan, Lady Macbeth names him a coward and urges him to be more like man. In this perspective therefore, it is evident that Lady Macbeth enforces the conception of masculine power. The Weird sisters from the play are also described as defeminized since they are bearded. Moreover, witches are also regarded as extreme types of anti-mothers. In this case, they are regarded as willing to cook and eat their children (Chamberlain 75). Even though Lady Macbeth may not treat her children in the same manner, she has been noted to express brutality at moments when she stipulates that she can smash the head of a baby.
Lady Macbeth does not hesitate to believe the prophecies of the Weird Sisters (Courtni Crump Wright 95). This shows her immediacy to plot Duncan’s murder in order Macbeth to become king (95). Courtni Crump Wright argues that “Lady Macbeth is a woman driven by ambition to seek a high position for herself and for her husband” (97). She capitalizes on Macbeth’s honor and determines, without conscience, to make sure that Macbeth is more than a thane, but rises to a king (97). She is hungry for power, but “unable to acquire it in her own right” (98); therefore, she ambitiously stops at no cost to ensure this political gain transpires. For example, Lady Macbeth exerts masculine power to ensure Macbeth’s political gain (Stephanie Chamberlain 72) when she raves “that she would have ‘dashed the brains out’ (1.7.58) of an infant” as to conceal her feminine characteristics (72). Courtni Crump Wright argues that “Lady Macbeth’s struggle for the throne was for herself as well as for Macbeth, for through him she could rule” (98). Therefore, she does not hesitate to step up and portray a “bolder” personality “to heighten him into audacious, rapid action” (Stopford A. Brooke 198). For example, she cries when she sees him with bloody daggers, “give me the daggers” (198). Lady Macbeth “assumes a masculinity she will prove later unable to support” (Stephanie Chamberlain 72). Consequently, Lady Macbeth’s moral conscience usurps to her fatal demise.
Lady Macbeth is associated with gender stereotyping.
Gender stereotyping in the play is noted when Lady Macbeth suppresses her female instincts so that she can become violent and ambitious. Though most scholars normally argue that Lady Macbeth desires the spirits unsex her, she is observed to violate her gender norms. She was falsely accused as being the one who brought violence in the play. She is regarded as the driving force of Macbeth’s desire for blood. She has also been observed to have the tendency to viciously attack two female characters in the play (Chamberlain 77). However, Lady Macbeth does not assert her own desires to become king. She encourages the desires of her husband to become king.
Most critics stipulate that lady Macbeth is the source of violence in the play. Lady Macbeth tries to reject her feminine traits openly so that she can achieve the mentality of males. This is because she argues that her own society associated female quality with weakness. In a study by Robert Kimbrough, he reveals that Macbeth is a “prisoner of gender.” In this case, the Elizabethan literature stipulates that in order for one to be regarded as a man, he needs to demonstrate qualities such as aggressiveness, be daring, resolute, bold, and strong even when confronted with death threats. On the other hand, a person who has womanly attitude is said to be gentle, fearful, wavering, soft, and pitiful. However, Lady Macbeth wants to be cruel in nature. She considers this trait to be masculine in nature. In this case therefore, in order to become cruel, she needs to cut the blood flow to the heart (Doak 321). This is because the heart is the source of remorse, compassion and pity. These attributes are associated with the human nature. Without them, a person would not be regarded as a human being.
Societal stereotypes are said to play a vital role with regard to Lady Macbeth’s issue of gender. In this perspective, Lady Macbeth believes that she needs to divest her femininity in order to influence the decisions that her husband takes in life. However, despite her constant desire to possess feminine traits, her feminine traits that she desires to get rid of rise when Duncan is about to be murdered. Moreover, while speaking to her husband, Lady Macbeth is noted to address her husband as my love. This challenges her husband’s image as a male, which acts as the cornerstone for his other roles. Lady Macbeth challenges the qualities of her husband by stipulating that in order for him to be king he needs to adopt the characteristics of a man. In this case, she tells her husband that if he dares to kill Duncan then he will become a man (Wright 98). He must do this in front of her.
Lady Macbeth is said to have subjugated the femininity she possessed to ambition. But still she managed to keep her feminine attractiveness. In this perspective, therefore, Macbeth has captivating feminine loveliness, and a character that is amiable.
Role of the Supernatural
Many people are said to believe in supernatural figures. Shakespeare was able to display this belief in the play. When Macbeth encountered a ghost, and four apparitions, he came to believe in the supernatural powers. In this perspective therefore, Macbeth believed in their powers and every decision he made thereafter was based on the supernatural powers to influence future events. He had hallucinations, and once he saw a dagger, which led him and pushed him into killing Duncan. The Banquo’s ghost enabled Macbeth to devise a plan which made it possible for him to visit the weird sisters. The weird sisters made prophecy to him about how his reign would be like.
The first prophecy was about Macbeth’s reign to kingship; however, they betrayed him as he based his actions on their predictions. William Hazlitt argues that “they are neither of the earth nor the air, but both . . .” (20). Their appearance suggests level of distrust because of their unfeminine features-they have beards. However, Macbeth is “spell bound” from the moment he encounters their presence (24). They are “foul anomalies” that hover through the air with “no beginning or ending” (24). The Three Weird Sisters operate as an evil force in Macbeth’s plight to power that led to their treachery as he is beheaded by Macduff who was cut from his mother’s womb, a caesarian birth, the final non-fulfillment of their worthless predictions.
There are supernatural elements that serve a significant role in the play Macbeth. Shakespeare uses supernatural powers at the beginning of the play, when he introduces the Three Weird Sisters. David L. Kranz argues that Shakespeare connects Macbeth to the Three Weird Sisters through a “verbal echo” (346). The repetition of the words ‘foul and fair’ suggests a “mysterious source for Macbeth” (346-347). He further argues that the Weird Sisters’ speech, which is “in blank verse, rhymed iambic pentameter, or prose” . . . “distinguishes them from the human characters” in the play (352). He further states the “conglomerate nature and mystery” of the Weird Sisters by their “chant-like jangle of several special rhythms and repetitive formulae” (369). In addition to their unique style of speech, Stacey Hibbs and Thomas Hibbs argue that the Weird Sisters greet Macbeth with “the titles, Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glamis, and King,” and then within moments, the [Weird Sisters’] prophecy comes to life” (281). This fallacy influences Macbeth to believe in their mystical, prophetic language. Stephen Greenblatt argues the uncertainties of this scene, which “borders between fantasy and reality” are prevalent through the remainder of the play (144). H.M. Doak considers the further prophecy as important to note because it heartens Macbeth to continue his murderous acts throughout the play (323).
Other supernatural elements in the play that have profound effects include the floating dagger, the ghost of Banquo, and prophetic apparitions. The supernatural elements provide a level of suspense in the play because of the unknown. The supernatural also confirms Macbeth’s reliance on the prophecies of the Three Weird Sisters to determine his future as king.
Thomas Cartelli argues the importance of the ghost of Banquo at the dinner table that only Macbeth can see (389). Lady Macbeth and the dinner guests hear Macbeth speaking to an invisible person as Lady Macbeth tries to explain that Macbeth is having hallucinations and she cannot remove the image from the guests’ minds. Kenneth Muir argues this ghost imagery is an important supernatural imagery that relates to feasting which “symbolized the concord of society which is destroyed by Macbeth’s crimes, as the banquet is interrupted by the appearance of Banquo’s ghost” (33).
In regards to the floating dagger, Thomas Cartelli points out that Shakespeare allows Macbeth to give “visual substance to the forms of things unknown and to his propensity to translate what is known into other areas of apprehension entirely” (391). Kevin Curran argues Bruce R. Smith’s account of the dagger that this image seen by Macbeth symbolizes that “one in which murderous thoughts are shaped by physical, sensual interaction with the objects of the material world” (391). Thomas Cartelli concludes that Shakespeare presents this imagery for us to see Macbeth “perform this subtle balancing act between the ‘dagger of the mind’ and the more ‘palpable’ dagger he now proceeds to draw” (391). This shows Macbeth “mixed perceptions” as he distinguishes between the “truth and falseness” of the “air-drawn dagger” he sees (391).
A. W. Crawford argues Furness’ interpretation of the prophetic apparitions that appear to Macbeth in this way: “the ‘armed head’ to represent the warlike Siward, and the ‘bloody child’ to be the son of Macduff slain by Macbeth (345). However, Crawford confirms that no one agrees with this interpretation (345). Therefore, he suggests a different interpretation of the apparitions and their importance as one of the supernatural elements emphasized in the play.
However, Crawford argues that in order to understand the apparition of the ‘armed head’, we have to see the symbolism in the first apparition to understand the others (346). The second apparition, the ‘bloody child’, is Macduff, not Macduff’s son as others are used to believe. Later in the play, this prophecy is confirmed when Macduff reveals to Macbeth that he was cut from his mother’s womb.
In the third apparition, Malcolm clearly fulfills the prophecy of the ‘child crowned, with a tree in his hand’ “when he orders his soldiers to hew them down a bough and bear ‘t before them” (346). Macbeth recalls the prophecy when Birnam Wood came.
At this point, Crawford argues that we can identify the first apparition of the ‘armed head’. He explains that many are misled that this represents the ‘armed head’ of “Macbeth, cut from the body” (349). However, Crawford concludes that the apparition of the ‘armed head’ represents Macduff, and this is indicated in “the warning words” (350).
Role of Christianity in interpreting the principal topic of evil and corruption in the world, as portrayed through the play
The opposition to principles of Christianity is present through the evil and corruption throughout the play. G. Wilson Knight argues that “Macbeth is not wholly a vision of evil . . . [but] a play of metaphysical oppositions, in which life and death themes, especially creation and destruction, are opposed (56). He argues that this “opposition . . . is evident in both the action and the language of the play” (56). G. Wilson Knight further identifies four “Shakespearean life-themes” relevant to Macbeththat are important for consideration in this section on Christianity: “warrior-honor, imperial magnificence, sleep and feasting, and ideas of creation and nature’s innocence” (56). He views ‘warrior-honor’ as a “distinction between violence that is good because it preserves the existing power structure and violence that is evil because it opposes it” (56). He views the theme of “imperial significance” as entity, which does not materialize for Macbeth because he never holds the crown (57). The third life-theme is “‘sleep and feasting’”, related to forces of nature (57). In the third life-theme, G. Wilson Knight draws attention to reproduction of life (57).
Irving Ribner argues a similar point about the evil in Macbeth, which presents “divine grace” and a “promise of rebirth” at the end of the play (155). He further argues that Macbeth “reflects the fall of Satan” (155). In his parallel to Satan, Macbeth is aware of his plight from his first evil deed, and like Satan, he exercises his free will, but does not relinquish his immoral decisions. He further argues how this evil is symbolized in the play, “for this was the sin of Satan” (155).
Susan Snyder further argues the biblical account in Macbeth that the moral order compares to 2 Kings, the account of Hazael and Elisha, “which similarly presents the supernatural and human causality” (294). She concludes that the “prophecy that prompts Hazael to murder his king comes not even from some Weird Sisters of mysterious origin, but from God’s own prophet” (295). Snyder finally compares the roles of Macbeth and Hazael in describing their moral purpose. She concludes that “Macbeth is lost because he reaches his summit. Hazael lacks his heroic stature but has a place with him nevertheless in a tragic theology” (298).
Teaching Macbeth in Schools
Not many schools require Macbeth in their curricula. However, most highs schools require studying Shakespeare because it provides them with an opportunity to study drama, poetry, and classic literature simultaneously. They also challenge the students intellectually thereby enabling them to be creative in their thoughts and while learning.
Macbeth is popular in most schools because it’s easy for the students to understand the themes. The plot in the play is straight forward and it’s easy for the students to follow it. The numerous speeches in the play make it possible for students to study different elements of poetry. Moreover, the supernatural elements in the play usually add intrigue and suspense, thereby making the students keep reading. Also, the themes and relationship that are found in Macbeth are still relevant today, thereby enabling students to apply them in their daily undertakings.
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