Character Development Macbeth Essays

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Macbeth: Character Analysis of Macbeth


Macbeth was a true Shakespearean tragic hero. He had many noble
qualities as well as several tragic flaws. He was a courageous, brave and good
nobleman who was haunted by superstition, moral cowardice and an overwhelming
ambition. Progressively through the play, his flaws started consuming his
qualities until they are that can be seen of him.
Macbeth was a courageous and strong nobleman. He and Banquo were leaders
of King Duncan's army. His personal powers and strength as a general won him the
battle as described by the captain (I,2, "But all's too weak:/ For brave Macbeth
-- well he deserved that name -- / Disdaining fortune, with his brandished
steel,/ Which smoked with bloody execution,/ Like valor's minion carved out his
passage/ Till he faced the slave;"). Macbeth was even undiscouraged when he was
attacked by the King of Norway, "assisted by that most disloyal traitor, the
thane of Cawdor." Lady Macbeth convinced her husband to murder Duncan by putting
his manhood and courage at stake (I,7, "When you durst do it, then you were a
man;/ And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man"). As
Macbeth started degrading he lost some bravery (IV, 1, "That I may tell pale-
hearted fear it lies"). In his fight with Macduff, some of his old courage and
strength returned.
Macbeth could be brave when it came to action but when he started
thinking he would hesitate and would have to be urged into action by his wife or
by the sense of security that he obtained from the prophecies of the
supernatural. He changed his mind five times before murdering Duncan. The
witches' prophecy that he would be king made him decide to leave it to "chance,"
but Duncan's announcement that Malcolm was to be his heir made Macbeth realize
that he would have to take a course of action for the prophecies to come true.
He changed his mind again before he reached home until his wife persuaded him
that it could be done safely. Then he changed his mind again before finally
being forced by Lady Macbeth to make up his mind to commit the murder. Macbeth
also did not fear the moral consequences of his crimes (I,7, "We'd jump the life
to come"). After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth sinks into continuous moral
degradation. He was in a savage frenzy when he planned the murder of Banquo and
Macduff's family. His morals sink so low that even his enemies said "Who
then shall blame/ His pester'd senses to recoil and start,/ When all that is
within him does condemn/ Itself for being there?"
Macbeth had great ambition and wished to stand well with the world. He
had absolutely no feelings for others and he only cared about what others would
think of him. The witches' prophecies only encouraged this ambition to be king.
The witches who symbolized Macbeth's evil ambitions put his thoughts into
actual words. The idea of murder had already occurred to him (I,3, "great
prediction/ Of noble having and of noble having and of royal hope,/ That he
seems rapt withal," "My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical," and I,7,
"What beast wast then/ That made you break this enterprise to me?"). Macbeth
himself acknowledged his "vaulting ambition" that would drive him to murder
after Duncan evaded fate (I,3, "If chance will have me King, why,/ Chance may
crown me") by announcing Malcolm as his Successor.
Macbeth's powerful imagination made him already victim to superstition.
His superstition was seen by his susceptibility to the witches' influence unlike
Banquo who still was not sure about their credibility. It was his superstition
that made him so unquestioningly the promises of the apparitions and rest so
easily assured. It was all his superstitions that made him cling to his belief
in these promises when circumstances became difficult. His imagination was so
strong that when it was left to roam uncontrolled his "function/ Is smother'd in
surmise." This was seen in the "dagger" scene and in the panic which Macbeth
suffers after the murder of Duncan. This was also seen with Banquo's ghost at
the banquet. His ensuing excitement put him in great danger of exposing his
crimes completely.
Macbeth loved his wife very much. At the beginning of the play she
participated avidly in his life and he informed her of everything that was going
on (for example he sent her a letter telling her of the witches' prophecies). He
widely accepted her advice and ideas and they were both avid partners in the
murder of Duncan. Macbeth was very affectionate with his wife and when he was
speaking to her he often used words of endearment (Dearest love," "Dearest
chuck" and "Sweet remembrancer"). At the end, he was so weary from everything
that was going on that when he received the news of his wife's death he accepted
it with only a yearning resignation.
Macbeth's whole story after Duncan's murder was one of continuous
character deterioration. Once he had begun his life of crime he became further
and further detached from his wife to the point where she had lost all control
over him. He had become so accustomed to violence that he did not hesitate at
all in the planning of Banquo and Fleance's murder ("The very firstling of my
heart shall be/ The very firstling of my hand"). He even went as far as to
murder Macduff's wife and family when he knew that their death would not aid him
in any way. He became so isolated, to the point where he could not trust any of
the other lords ("There's not a one of them but in this house I keep a servant
fee'd"). His cruelty and treachery ended up making all of Scotland suffer
("Sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air, are made, not mark'd").
Macbeth started as a courageous and brave general who loved his wife
very much. But because of the faults that must accompany every tragic hero, he
was led to his ruin by his overwhelming ambition, superstition and moral
cowardice. Macbeth changed from a noble hailed as the savior of his country, a
"valiant cousin," a "worthy gentleman," to a man of boundless cruelty.

 

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The Progressive Character of Macbeth

Kenneth Deighton.

The character of Macbeth, as presented in the play, is a progressive one. As the plot proceeds his few good qualities disappear, while the evil become more and more developed. His career is a downward one. He goes from good to bad, and from bad to worse.

At the commencement we must notice:

1. His Bravery.

The wounded sergeant bears ample testimony to his heroism when fighting against Macdonwald and Sweno.

"For brave Macbeth — well he deserves that name —
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour's minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave." I. ii. 16-20.

And again, Ross speaks of him as
"Bellona's bridegroom, lapp'd in proof." I. ii. 54.
We may notice, too, Macbeth's own words when speaking of himself:

"I dare do all that may become a man,
Who dares do more is none." I. vii. 47, 48.

2. His Kindness.

His wife knew well this feature in his character, and says of him:

"Yet I do fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness,
To catch the nearest way." i. v. 14-16.

From the time that Macbeth met the witches, the evil points in his character assert themselves.



3. His Ambition.

That there were evil thoughts of an ambitious nature in Macbeth from the beginning we may be sure. No sooner have the witches greeted him with

"All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!"

than he starts.

Ban. "Good sir, why do you start: and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair?" I. iii. 50-52.

It was his evil conscience that made him start. When he is informed that Duncan had made him Thane of Cawdor, he at once gives way to the temptation suggested by the words of the witches, and allows his ambitious thoughts to have full sway:

"Why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair,
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature?" I. iii. 134-137.

The words of Lady Macbeth in i. vii. clearly show that ambitious designs had been discussed at some point prior to the events recorded in I. iii:

"Was the hope drunk Wherein you dress'd yourself?" I. vii. 35.

"Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both." i. vii. 52.

When Duncan proclaims Malcolm as Prince of Cumberland, and Macbeth finds himself face to face with crime if the object of his ambition is to be attained, he says:

"That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, For in my way it lies." I. iv. 48.

And later on:

"I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition." I. vii. 25-27.

4. His Treachery.

At first he regards the idea of acting treacherously to Duncan with horror:

"My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smother'd in surmise." I. iii. 139-141.

He appears to be half determined to give up the project; but when he meets Lady Macbeth the fall soon comes. She knows well the weak points in his character, and at once he is taunted with cowardice, irresolution, and weakness. She shows him how easy it will be to perform the deed, now that the time and place "have made themselves," and at last he gives way:

"I am settled, and bend up
Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.
Away, and mock the time with fairest show:
False face must hide what the false heart doth know." i. vii. 79-82.

5. His Tyranny.

When once he has attained the object of his ambition, Macbeth's character undergoes a change. He is no longer the cautious and hesitating plotter, but becomes bolder and more energetic in his scheming. He now takes to bloodshed readily. Lady Macbeth's taunts are not required now to spur him on. He plans the murder of Banquo in a most careful and business-like manner. He tells the murderers:

"I will advise you where to plant yourselves;
Acquaint you with the perfect spy o' the time,
The moment on't; for 't must be done to-night." III. i. 129-131.

He, who was so cautious over the murder of Duncan, without any hesitation or thoughts of the hereafter, puts Lady Macduff and her children to death.

6. His Imaginativeness.

Throughout the play we have evidence of Macbeth's lively imagination. He imagines he sees the blood-stained dagger:

"Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand?" II. i. 33, 34.

He fancies he hears voices.

"Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep.'" II. i. 99, 100.

He alone of all the company sees the Ghost of Banquo at the banquet.

He is greatly affected by the words of the witches. Towards the end he says of himself:

"The time has been, my senses would have cool'd
To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in't." V. v. 10-13.


The characters of Macbeth and Richard III have frequently been compared by commentators. The following is a summary of the remarks of Hazlitt upon this point:

1. Both are aspiring and ambitious.

2. Both are murderers, usurpers, tyrants.

3. Both are courageous, cruel, treacherous.

4. Both are conscience-stricken at the end, but die fighting bravely.

5. Richard is cruel by nature. Macbeth becomes so through accidental circumstances.

6. Richard is from his birth deformed in body and mind. Macbeth is full of "the milk of human kindness," and at first is frank, sociable, and generous.

7. Richard needs no prompter, but wades through a series of crimes to the height of his ambition from the ungovernable violence of his temper and a reckless love of mischief. Macbeth is tempted to the commission of guilt by golden opportunities, and by the instigation of his wife.

8. Richard has no mixture of common humanity in his composition, no regard to kindred or posterity. Macbeth is not destitute of feelings of sympathy, is accessible to pity, ranks the loss of friends, of the cordial love of followers, and of his good name, among the causes which make him weary of life.

The great German authority, Gervinus, has contrasted the characters of Hamlet and Macbeth. The following is a summary of his remarks:

1. Hamlet is called upon by the "honest ghost" of his father to do a righteous deed. Macbeth is tempted by doubtful riddles, by the powers of evil, to do an unjust and unnatural deed.

2. Nature and reason spur Hamlet on. Nature and reason restrain Macbeth.

3. Hamlet, though urged to action, lingers, in the hope that the result may arise of itself. Macbeth, who is advised to wait, snatches at the result beforehand.

4. Hamlet, though he loads himself with reproaches of cowardice, yet remains inactive, and never does justice to himself. Macbeth surpasses himself through the demands of his wife upon his manliness.

5. Hamlet, once fallen into inaction, sinks deeper and deeper. Macbeth, hurried on by the thirst for action, grows bolder and more energetic.

6. Hamlet has a morbid dread of bloodshed, and remains lax and weak-hearted. Macbeth advances boldly in open defiance of the higher powers.

7. Hamlet's indecision, anguish of conscience, and his moral insecurity stand entirely opposed to that godless and flagitious "security" in which Macbeth, having entirely lost his early true-heartedness, appears almost devilish.


How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth: With an Introduction and Notes. Ed. Kenneth Deighton. London: Macmillan and Company. 1896. Shakespeare Online. 10 Sept. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth/sketchofmacbeth.html >.


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