Macbeth (Plot and characters)
The ''Macbeth'' is a famous tragedy by William Shakespeare, written about 1599/1605 and performed for the first time the year later.
Between Shakespeare's tragedies, it is the shortest one. This tragedy is about the figure and history of Macbeth, and his bloody ascent to the throne of Scotland. The main topic is the EVIL. The evil, the violence, the horrors and the deadly play for power, the ambition for power and glory.
Like other Shakespeare’s works, it is also focused on the human nature, and it shows a negative and pessimistic vision of it. It shows how a good man, a loyal and brave soldier could become a ruthless murderer because of his ambition and because of a negative influence! This pessimistic vision comes from the political situation of the England of that time. At the death of Elisabeth I, James I became King of England and with him, there were a series of political and religious conflicts between the monarchy and the parliament and between citizen too.
As we have said, this tragedy is set up in Scotland, and to write it, Shakespeare was inspired by the real history of Macbeth, who was king of Scotland from 1040 to 1057 and he became king for a series of lucky and mysterious events.
PlotThe play begins with the appearance of three witches, who are waiting for the arrival of Macbeth and Banquo, two brave and loyal generals at the service of Ducan, the King of Scotland, who are coming home after a victorious battle.
The witches prophesy that Macbeth will be made first Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland and Banquo will never be king himself but he will be the father of a dynasty of kings. Soon after, the witches disappear and Macbeth is informed that the king has made him "Thane of Cawdor".
Macbeth starts thinking about the prophecy, and starts questioning about what he has to do. Soon he thinks about Duncan’s possible murderer, he is just overcome by ambition but he has some doubts! After seeing King Duncan, who is very ingenuous and he considers Macbeth like his best soldier, they plan to dine together at Inverness, Macbeth’s castle, where the King would have stay for that night. Macbeth writes a letters to his wife, Lady Macbeth, telling her what has happened
(They were real close, they were partner in love, but also partner in crime!)
When Macbeth arrives at Inverness, Lad Macbeth tries to persuade her husband to kill the King. Macbeth is more insecure, he is not totally convinced to make this terrible act, first because Duncan has been so generous and good with him, Duncan trusts him. They are relatives too! So Macbeth thinks that betraying him in that way, maybe, would be too much!
Macbeth, until Duncan’s murder, is not totally bad. Shakespeare introduced him like a brave and loyal soldier. The prophecy makes his more ambitious, he wants to become king but not doing that, not killing Duncan! He has not the courage and the strength for doing it…not alone! This is the reason why he probably would not have killed Duncan (or not in that infallible way) without the support and help of his wife!
*Even if I am not sure about this, because the witches told to Macbeth that he would become king, but they didn’t say how/in what way! THE THREE WITCHES represent the EVIL, they are ambiguous, and they want to create pain and suffering with their prophecy. They are essential because they are the drivers of the whole tragedy. Without their prophecy, nothing would have happened! They tell to Macbeth and Banquo their future, saying only what they want! They are not clear. They want to bring out the evil that is in men!
The tragedy shows a negative vision of human nature, for this reason, Macbeth kills Duncan. But, in my opinion, if it was his destiny, he would become king also in other ways (for examples if Duncan and his sons would die because of an unexpected attack or…I don’t know)
Therefore, the figure of Lady Macbeth is essential to the tragedy! She is introduced like the stronger part of the couple. In fact, before welcoming the king, she prays the forces of evil to unsex her there, to take away all her femininity, all her humanity for making her strong enough to do what needed to be done. She knows the uncertain and flexible nature of Macbeth, so in the tragedy, her rule is to persuade him! To convince Macbeth, she has to hit his pride, telling him that he is not a real man, and if she were in him, she would be ashamed for his white heart, and she tells him that she would not love him anymore! Lady Macbeth is more ambitious than his husband, she is more convinced than him. Before dying, Duncan kissed her hand, and that same hand will act against him!
Convinced by his wife, and after Lady Macbeth drugs the king’s guards, Macbeth murders Duncan while he sleeps. Soon after the murder, Macbeth is very haunted by what he has done: he starts seeing visions and his words have not sense. Instead, Lady Macbeth seems more calm, she has no regrets yet!
This part of the tragedy is one of the most important because situation and especially the state of mind of the characters starts changing and it will be revolved.
The day after, Macbeth becomes king, because Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, flee to England and Ireland being afraid to will murdered too! From that moment, from that first crime, he starts his development like a character in a negative way! He will not be able to stop himself and his ambition and he will committed other crimes. Macbeth becomes king, but he finds no peace because is worried about the second part of the prophecy. For this reason he plans to kill his old friend, Banquo, and his son, but unfortunately this last one survives the attempted murder.
In a first moment, Macbeth is still a little regretted; he is haunted by Banquo's ghost so he decided to visit the three witches again. They warn him to beware of Macduff but, at the same time they reassure him as he will never be defeated by any man of woman born and he will be king until the Birnam Wood moves towards his castle!
Now, his total adherence to evil has taken place. From that moment, also the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth changes. Now they are distant, they don’t talk anymore like they used to do. Their LOVE, which could have been a positive feeling, a positive fact among all this horror, is also disappeared!
Lady Macbeth’s development is one of the most interesting because she will revealed a fragility, a weakness that we can’t imagine before! During the tragedy, all her strength fades and she will be oppressed by her great sense of guilt and she became insane, she has visions while she sleeps, she speaks madly until she commits suicide! In my opinion, her development, (like the others too) is the demonstration that evil can only generates evil, and everyone has what he deserves! (this could be one of the morality/teaching of the tragedy)
Unlike L.M., Macbeth (after committing all those crimes) seems to become totally insensitive to any situation, danger or adversity, like he admits! When he knows that lady Macbeth is death, he has no reactions. In his life, there is no space for feelings, he is empty! He defines life, like a walking shadow, a pour players that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. Days are all the same, and his life has no sense anymore. The only feeling that shakes him he's the fear, at the end of the tragedy. Despite this, he decides to fight against Macduff in a duel, conscious that he will be killed! After killing Macbeth, Macduff becomes the new king of Scotland and the peace is restored!
Duncan is sure the most positive character of the tragedy! He is the lawful King of Scotland and he is loyal and just to his citizens and soldiers. Macbeth refers to him like the "Sleep’’, so he is the representation of the Good, which opposes to evil, without hope. The "Macbeth" is the tragedy of the evil, the tragedy of the horrors and there's no space for the good, or for others positive forces and feelings! Duncan is really wise in political situation, but he is really ingenuous with people and he will pay for his naive with death! He knows that what appears is not always the truth and behind a good face, there is not always a good heart like the old Thane of Cawdor! However he will be betrayed by Macbeth and L.M., he will commit the same mistake! Like Brutus in ‘’Julius Caesar’’, even Duncan’s fault is his naïve!
Banquo in another essential character of the tragedy. He is Thane of Lochaber and general of the King's army. He is as loyal and brave as Macbeth is, but really different from him! After the witches' prophecy, unlike Macbeth, he doesn't seem too much involved by the situation. Banquo is ambitious too, but his intelligence and reason prevail over ambition (maybe because the prophecy wasn't about him, but his dynasty! He will be father of Kings) Banquo seems to know that the prophecy wasn't totally good, and it had some consequences! During the tragedy he will be killed by Macbeth, who tries to kill Banquo's son too, without success. Banquo is also important because, if he hadn't ask to the witches his future too, Macbeth wouldn't have committed all the other crimes! After his death, during a supper, he returns to Macbeth, as a ghost, to haunt him.
In my opinion, there is a ‘’common fault’’ in this tragedy: everyone has his own part of fault.
The three witches are guilty, because they are the drivers of the events. They act for bringing terror and pain and without their prophecy, nothing would happen!
Lady Macbeth is guilty too, because without her negative influence, Macbeth wouldn’t probably kill Duncan. He was not convinced at all to commit that crime! So, Lady Macbeth tried to make him more brave and ambitious!
Banquo is a positive character, he is good and loyal, and his intelligence and reason prevail over ambition…But he has his part of fault, because, if he didn’t ask his future to the witches, Macbeth wouldn’t commit all the other crimes that he committed!
Duncan has no fault, if not his naïve!
Then, there is Macbeth. Macbeth, the protagonist, is the guiltiest character because he committed crimes in person but, in my opinion, he is not more evil than other evil characters! His worst fault was not killing Duncan but becoming a murderer! At the beginning, he was not evil, but he became. He should have said no to his wife, no to his ambition and (he should have) chose to stay a loyal soldier, an honorable man! Becoming evil, he lost everything!