Macbeth is a classic tragic figure brought to ruin by his own greed, guilt, and fear. Shakespeare intensifies Macbeth’s tragic nature by showing him to be a valiant hero in the beginning of the play. He is a courageous warrior and one of King Duncan’s best generals. In the second scene of the play, Macbeth has just won his most important battle and saved Scotland from the Norwegian King. To honor his bravery, King Duncan gives Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor. This is one of the first steps to Macbeth’s undoing, for he longs to be more than just a thane.
His innate greed is first nflamed by three wicked witches who prophesy to Macbeth that he will become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland. When the first prophecy comes to pass, Macbeth immediately begins to long for greater power. He realizes that in order to seize the throne from the king, he will have to murder him. Being a basically kind man, he is horrified at his own thoughts and decides murder is beyond his capability. He decides to let fate take its course, and if he is meant to be king, it will happen. But the seed of greed has been planted, and Macbeth is a rash man.
In the fifth scene of the play, another side of the early Macbeth is developed. He is shown to be a loving husband who values his wife and calls her ” his dearest partner in greatness,” sharing what he is with her. They are obviously close, for he immediately writes a letter to Lady Macbeth and tells her about the prophecies of the three witches, for he wants to please her and give information about “what greatness is promised thee. ” It is Lady Macbeth who further inflames Macbeth’s greed that was planted by the three evil witches. As soon as she reads Macbeth’s letter, she decides King
Duncan must be killed so her husband can become king and she can become queen. There is no hesitation or indecision about her lust for power. Her only fear is that Macbeth is “too full of the milk of human kindness” to plan a murder. Therefore, she will take matters into her own hands and manipulate her husband into acquiescence. She tells Macbeth that immediate action should be taken, for “the future is in the instant. ” She carefully lays the plans for her husband to murder Duncan on the very same night, as the king sleeps in their castle.
Trusting the ability and judgment of his ife, Macbeth consents with some reluctance. Macbeth struggles with his agreement to murder Duncan, for Macbeth sees the good in people, and Duncan is a worthy and humble king; Duncan is also a kinsman and a guest in his castle. Macbeth, who can be truthful with himself early in the play, acknowledges that it is only “vaulting ambition” that makes him consider the vile deed. As his wife suspected, he is really too kind by nature to carry through with murderous plans.
He tells Lady Macbeth, “We will proceed no further in this business. She will not listen to her husband, but strikes out at his strong sense of anity and pride in his manliness and calls him a fearful coward, in sharp contrast to the brave warrior he believes himself to be. Then a new trait of Macbeth, that haunts him through the rest of the play, is depicted. He is truly a fearful man: not afraid of murdering (he has murdered many on the battlefield), but afraid of being caught. The manipulative Lady Macbeth, who is more self- confident than her husband, believes they will not fail and convinces Macbeth that the plan must be completed.
Macbeth is obviously not as strong-willed as his wife. Before the murder ever takes place, Shakespeare further develops he depth of Macbeth’s fear, which is the man trait that leads to his self-inflicted downfall. As the time of the execution draws near, Macbeth’s fears give way to imaginative hallucination. He believes he sees a dagger hanging in front of his face; but when he reaches for it, he cannot grab it, and it taunts him further by dripping blood. It is the first of many incidents when Macbeth’s fears fan the flames of his imagination.
It will happen again when he hears voices calling to him to “Sleep no more” and when he sees Banquo’s ghost sitting in his chair at the royal banquet. After the murder is committed, Macbeth’s fear grows greatly and is compounded by deep feelings of guilt. When Lady Macbeth tells him to return the bloody daggers to the king’s chambers, the troubled Macbeth says, “I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on it again, I dare not. ” The irony is that Macbeth’s conscience will make him look at the murder over and over again with no escape. Macbeth senses the depth of guilt immediately.
When he looks at his bloody hands, he realizes that all of the water in the ocean will not be able to cleanse the blood from them or from his heart. His wife, who believes that “A little water clears us of the deed,” mocks his fear and tells him she would be ashamed to have a heart as white as his. Lady Macbeth, who knows her husband better than anyone else in the play does, realizes that her husband, basically kind in heart, will struggle with his conscience to the point of his undoing. She warns him not to be “lost so poorly in your thoughts. Macbeth can only reply, “Twere best to not know myself. ”
His self-hatred has begun. Lady Macbeth also reveals another of Macbeth’s traits; he is often not good at appearances or putting on a “false face. She warns him, as they make their plans to murder Duncan, that he must “look like the innocent flower,” She also warns him to appear bright and jovial to the guests at the royal banquet. She is fearful that his face cannot lie. And her fears are well founded, for at the banquet, Macbeth’s true soul cries out and incriminates him clearly.
Ironically, Macbeth cannot enjoy wearing the crown that he has stolen because of mounting fear of discovery, and he fears his friend Banquo the most. Because Banquo is a good, honorable person who has vowed to “fight treasonous malice” and because he nows Macbeth so well, the king is certain that Banquo suspects the truth about him and will seek to right the wrong. Macbeth is also jealous of his friend because the witches have prophesied that Banquo’s heirs will become kings of Scotland.
Macbeth, therefore, feels he has no choice but to murder Banquo and his son Fleance in order to protect himself and his stolen crown. He alone plans the second murder without consulting or telling his wife, and he has no indecision about this murder, as he did with the first. Macbeth only knows he must act quickly in order to control his power, his future, and his posterity. His has become a true tyrant! By the time of the royal banquet scene, found at mid-point in the play, Macbeth’s fear and guilt have driven him to irrationality, chaos, and loss of self-control.
During the meal, he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting in his chair and openly incriminates himself to all his guests by denying his guilt and saying, “Thou canst say I did it. ” His wife, who was always fearful about his being able to wear the false face, calls the ghost a “painting of you fear” and accuses her husband of being “quite unmanned in folly. ” This time the attacks against his manhood do nothing to calm him down or hange his mind. Instead, he challenges the ghost to battle, as if he were still a noble warrior. But there is none of the old Macbeth in him.
He is now so bathed in blood that he fears everyone around him and places paid spies in the houses of all his nobles. True paranoia has set in. He also transfers his old fear of Banquo to Macduff and acknowledges he must spill more blood to wash away his fright. In rashness and without thought of consequence, he has the family of Macduff murdered in revenge for the husband’s flight fled to England and refusal to return at the king’s summons. It is lso rashness that leads him again to the three witches in order know his future, no matter what it holds.
Macbeth pathetically holds on to the false hope offered in the witches’ prophecies until the very end. Since these is nothing left inside to encourage him, he seeks false encouragement and tries to believe he will not be murdered by a man or vanquished by an army. With false bravado, he dons his armor, prepared for battle and certain that his castle will hold until victory is won. But the armor does not seem to fit him correctly anymore; he appears to be a dwarf in giant’s clothing and only a “dark shadow” of the brave eneral once honored by the king.
He realizes that his chaotic existence has brought about his undoing and that his life has no meaning, “a tale told by an idiot, fully of sound and fury, signifying nothing. ” Still attempting to appear manly, he goes out to meet his end, brought on by the vengeful Macduff, who carries the tyrant’s head on a pole for all to see. Macbeth was truly a tragic character. He had much to look forward to as Thane of Cawdor, but he wanted more. His greed led him to murder and theft, which causes guilt and fear. The fear leads to chaos, which causes his downfall.