This essay will outline the main influences on Macbeth’s character. I will highlight the differences in this personality and how dramatically his character changes and why he chose to act as he did. In order to do this, I have to look at the play from other critical aspects. I have a great advantage also as I attended “Macbeth” at Crumlin Road Gaol on November 2nd 2007. This advanced my knowledge and understanding of the play. I will analyse the transition in Macbeth’s character from an apparent heroic position to that of a merciless tyrant, corrupted by forces both within, and beyond, his control.
Macbeth is first seen as a heroic worthy character in the play. This is shown through the language Shakespeare uses also when King Duncan first refers to him saying:
“O valiant cousin, worthy gentle man.”
(Act 1 scene 2 L24)
King Duncan says this as he hears the good news of the battle. He has found out that Macbeth has fought valiantly against his enemies and rewards him with this new title. In Act One Scene Two Line 1, we receive the first indication that violence is going to be integrated into the plot and we see this later through the violent actions of Macbeth. Even Duncan himself alludes to the violent implications of the play when he says:
“What bloody man is that?”
(Act1 Scene2 L1)
From this statement there is perhaps a hint that Duncan will be killed later in the play. The murder of a King in Jacobean England was considered a crime against nature and the Gods. Shakespeare believed in ‘The Divine Right’ of Kings and therefore Macbeth’s deeds later in Act Two of the play, would be considered shameful and treasonous. Also, Shakespeare was writing a play about a Scottish King in order to impress his own monarch; James I. Macbeth is seen to be well-respected and admired by King Duncan at the beginning of the play, as his King refers to him as:
(Act1 Scene3 L68)
Macbeth’s character begins to change when the witches chant.
“All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cowdow.”
(Act1 Scene3 L48)
This makes Macbeth fear for the future and also makes him curious and later obsessed with gaining more knowledge from these witches. The question of how much the witches influence his mind is clearly debatable, but there is no doubt that they plant ‘the seeds’ of regicide within Macbeth’s mind. This is first shown through Banquo, as he says:
“Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear things that sound so fair?”
(Act1 Scene3 L49-50)
This is also evident, when Macbeth says:
“Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more,”
(Act1 Scene3 L68)
This is when his obsession and thirst for power and glory, actually begins. This curiosity overwhelms him and so from this, we gather that the witches influence him and get it into his head that he should become king. How much was Macbeth responsible? I personally feel that he certainly has to take some responsibility for his actions, although he was certainly influenced by forces beyond his understanding.
Lady Macbeth plays a leading role in influencing Macbeth, her husband, to turn the way he did. She does this by stinging his manhood, especially when she says:
“When you durst do it, then you were a man. And to be more that what you were, you would be so much more of a man.”
(Act 1 Scene7 L49-51)
We see here that Macbeth allows himself to be manipulated by his wife who insidiously attacks his manhood and we see here the power that she exercises over her husband which proves that she is a major influence on his character. We see this further (following the murder of Duncan) when she chastises him for taking the daggers from the place remarking:
“Why did you bring these daggers from the place? They must lie there, go carry them and smear the sleepy grooms with blood.”
(Act2 Scene 2 L51-5.)
Here Lady Macbeth is ordering her husband to do what she says and so we believe that she is a motivating factor in her husband’s fate- driving Macbeth to kill his king.
Macbeth’s character is clearly changing at this point in the play and he is seen to have changed significantly from the image of the ‘noble Macbeth.’ Even the witches refer to him as “wicked:”
“By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes.”
(Act4 Scene1 L44-5)
This proves that Macbeth has changed; this is a very significant part in the play. Even Macbeth’s language changes throughout as he once spoke courteously to people, for example when he is made the ‘Thane of Cawdor’ he politely greets Ross and Angus by saying
“I thank you, gentlemen”
Later, in Act Four, he dramatically changes; as yet again he refers to the witches as:” Midnight hags!” (Act4 Scene1 L47) He also insults them by calling them: “Filthy.” (Act4 Scene1 L114) Macbeth begins to hallucinate, due to guilt and remorse. This begins during the dagger speech and surfaces again during the banquet scene when he sees the spirit of Banquo, whom he killed out of pure selfishness and paranoia. He thinks he sees Banquo even though he is dead, thus leading us to believe that Macbeth has gone completely mad:
“Thou art too like the sprit of Banquo”
(Act 4 Scene1 L11)
“For the blood-bolter’d Banquo smiles upon me,”
(Act4 Scene1 L 122.)
By him saying: “blood-bolter’d,” (meaning covered in clotted blood) we are led to believe that he is seeing him as he did when he killed him. Macbeth is therefore unbalanced and, following the murder of Banquo, he continues to show signs of madness and desire for power, believing that he cannot be killed and that anyone who attacks or threatens him must also be killed, as he says:
“I must fight the course. What’s he that was not born of woman? Such a one am I to fear, of none,”
(Act5 Scene7 L1)
In the end, Macbeth has changed very much and is no longer the man that Duncan referred to as “Noble Macbeth.” He is now just like the murderous traitor known as the “Thane of Cowdor.” The main influences on his character are that he was driven to greed and power because of his own selfishness and also by listening to the lies of the Witches and Lady Macbeth. The play is particularly effective because it is a lesson to all of us about what power does to an individual, if he seeks to ignore his own moral values and principles. This was brought clearly to my attention when I experienced the play in performance and personally acted out various scenes from the play, which is clearly what Shakespeare intended for his audience.
Clodagh Mc Henry
End of para 1.
For weeks now the Free-Staters have been waging a ferocious war against the ‘irregulars’, which brings back terrible memories of the previous war with the ‘Auxies’ and the ‘Black and Tans’. De Valera was right when he said that the ‘Volunteers would have to wade through Irish blood’- this is exactly what is happening in Ireland at present.
Para 4 -What is this tragic news which I must impart to you? It all happened on Friday last. I was ordered to mount a rooftop and patrol an area near to ‘The Four Courts.’ A fierce gun-fight ensued ,resulting in the loss of several men from my unit. Then I took a hit from a sniper, hidden deep within the darkness of a roof-top opposite. I didn’t even look to see if I recognized the insurgent. I shot back at him immediately and the perpetrator fell to the ground, stiff. Lifeless. Dead.
The blood was oozing from my right forearm. . . Then the guilt set it and,
* and the thought that I had killed someone so close to me. There is no telling what a man might do in a desperate situation; in times of war we do the most awful things to one another. Seamus and I were so close and in that one brief second, everything we meant to one another was shattered! How could this happen? My world is at an end!
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