The intensity of this tragedy is dependent on whether the witches or Lady Macbeth are perceived to be able to control the otherwise innocent actions of Macbeth, or if he is entirely responsible for his own demise. The play, Macbeth, is littered with aspects, issues and ideas that would undoubtedly suggest that the play was indeed written to please King James, who was at the time, patron of Shakespeare”s theatre group.
One of these themes deals with witches who James was quite unashamedly interested in; so captivated by the supernatural in fact, he wrote a book on the subject; Demonology. Although not a “secret, black, and midnight hag” Act 4. Scene 1. Line 48, as an evil female, Lady Macbeth could be considered a witch according to the standards of Shakespeare”s day. In the same way that witches subvert the natural order of religion and society, Lady Macbeth subverts the order of the sexes and the family by trying to have more power than the head of the family, her husband.
Not only does she act out of order, but also several of her actions imply that she is actually witch-like. Firstly, it was widely believed in Europe, for centuries, that sorcery could cause impotence. In the preface of Demonology, King James I asserts the power of witches to weaken “the nature of some men, to make them unavailable for women”. A major textbook for witch hunters, Malleus Maleficarum, describes how witches are able to make men impotent, or even make their penises disappear.
Apart from the beginning scene, up until Act 3 of Macbeth, Shakespeare presents the impression of Macbeth as being a weak-minded man with little will power, always needing to be pushed into confirming a decision, person well capable of thinking up ideas and plans that are possibly ingenious but too vague to be considered at a realistic level. His thoughts have little certainty about them and he will always need a helping hand, before actually carrying out any act of evil. Macbeth’s ego then enters into the play in a very perverse manor.
It is his ambition and his ego combined that lead him to unite with his wife, and without the influences of other characters, the murder wouldn’t have gone ahead, or at least it would not have been committed by Macbeth himself but maybe by his wife instead. Although the idea of murdering Duncan is first to enter Macbeth’s mind before his wife’s, it is her own ambition to be the queen of Scotland that is mostly to blame for the murder ever happening. The idea of ambition in the play is not only a prominent feature but is also a strong theme that transforms “Macbeth” into a tragedy.
Macbeth like Lady Macbeth, immediately thinks of killing, or getting Macbeth to kill Duncan, though she exclaims that Macbeth “is too full o” the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way. ” Unlike Macbeth, she doesn”t have soliloquies contemplating the consequences of the murder of Duncan, so the audience will perceive her as a very rash woman who does not work out the consequences. She gives the audience a description of Macbeth as she seems him, and this will change the audience”s perception of Macbeth accordingly. In her opinion, Macbeth knows that if he is to be king, then the king must die.
Macbeth doesn”t want to kill the king himself, though he would be happy for the king to be murdered, just as long as it is not he who does the deed; “what thou wouldst highly, That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false, And yet wouldst wrongly win,” as Lady Macbeth puts it. Along with the idea of ego or at least an exterior ego comes a cowardly, insecure inner self, the conscience knows of the evil but the ego overcomes it. The witches also play a very strong part in the build up to the murder of the king, as they are behind the ignition of the crime, by telling Macbeth he will become King of Scotland.
The mysterious way in which they say this to him in complete confidence and seriousness, making it seemingly have to be true, convinces Macbeth that he will be more important in his life than he once thought. Supported by the fact that one of the other predictions made by the witches had just come true, their words have a very strong power over Macbeth, and are capable of leading him to believing anything. The witches create Macbeth’s ambition and have him thinking on a whole new tier, pondering over devious ideas.
Although he is not made physically impotent, Lady Macbeth challenges her husband”s manhood by being more aggressive and dominant than he is, taunting him, and suggesting, “When you durst do it, then you were a man”Act 1. Scene 7. Line 55. This is cunning in a way that she is playing on his human instincts with the female defeating the males ego. Secondly, Lady Macbeth calls upon seemingly malicious “… spirits That tend on mortal thoughts” Act 1. Scene 5. Lines 40-41 she is determined to aid her in her plot to overcome her husband”s reluctance and to force him to kill Duncan.
Although seeming devotedly loyal, she rejects her subordinate role as wife and asks to be transformed “… into an instrument of death whose cruelty transcends the limitations of her sex and of her mortal nature”. This shows that it isn’t Macbeth she is loyal to but her own ambition. Finally, the fact that she works with the Weird Sisters to influence Macbeth suggests that she is at least indirectly allied with them. Extending this theme she seems almost haunted by the power that is possible. Women aren”t usually associated with cold-blooded murder, and are often associated with the maternal mercy and love.
Her chants would indicate that she will actually commit the murder herself when she says “That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,” and until only moments before the King is slain, the audience are led to believe that Lady Macbeth will carry out the crime. Her rather pathetic excuse for not killing the king with her own hands is that he had “resembled my father as he slept,” and she couldn”t murder him. I think that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are similar in the respect that they always need a “honourable” excuse to murder, to “validate” their crime.
For example, Macbeth is always happy to cut someone from the “knave to the chaps” on a war field, though he cannot kill a sleeping man without a legitimate justification. Similarly, Lady Macbeth is trying to clear her conscience for the murder that she intends to do by persuading herself to believe that she wouldn”t have been able to have done it without the evil spirits filling her. When she is attempting to put Macbeth under her influence when they are hotly debating about the killing of the king, she uses some horrifying blackmail techniques to manipulate Macbeth; another sin that she can blame on the evil spirits.
Although there is a theme of the supernatural within this play, there are no indications that any witches or demons responded to her call, although it is up to the director if there should be a suggestion that Lady Macbeth has any powers or not. The audience”s beliefs of whether or not the witches actually have power over Macbeth influence their interpretation of whether his actions result from personal choice or from external influence.
Macbeth retains a heroic aura as long as he either is able to use his free will and personal choice to resist the witches” influence, or if he is believed to be powerless against the external evil influences of his wife and the witches. The message and story would not have been so poignant without the imagery and language used in the play. It is vivid, ” We see swaying armies; weary of battle, impending one another, too tired to strike, too frightened to break off the fight. ” A few lines on, “MacDonald is pictured as a kind of carcass with the flies of evil swarming on him. ‘Swarm’ is the memorable word here, it creates the picture.
The description of the battle by the Captain in this scene is made startling by the violence created by words and phrases like ” smok’d with bloody execution”, ” unseamed him from the naves to the chaps”, ” Reeking wounds”. Atmosphere is created in Macbeth in two ways a quick-fire dialogue as in Act 2 scene 2, when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth show their tension by rapid, almost monosyllabic exchange of question and answer. When Macbeth and Macduff finally come face-to-face in act 5 scene 2 it shows the confrontation of two antagonists that contributes to this affect.
Dramatic irony is also present and contributes to a lot of the emotion and black comedy. Situation irony occurs, where, for example, Duncan is betrayed by the first Thane of Cawdor, and now makes Macbeth the new thane who will also betray him. It is also ironic that the ghost of Banquo sits in Macbeth’s chair at the banquet, and his heirs will take over the throne of Scotland now occupied by Macbeth. Verse couplets are used in two important ways.
The witches use them in their conversation, this suggests spells and incantations. Also characters conclude scenes with this e . ‘the bell invites me, Hear not, Duncan, for it is a knell, That summons thee to heaven or to hell’, the heaven here rhyming adds resonance and depth. There is so much imagery and symbolism in the play that one may indicate only some of the variety of examples. The two seem to be seamlessly connected with the imagery, blood for example operates on three levels, it is what is literally shed when wars and murders occur, it is also part of imagery that pervades the play, creating a sense of menace and destruction, and it is a symbol of evil that is associated with Macbeth.
Christian and Biblical context is present also the crucifixion, for example, is not only an event, but also a symbolic one, and it has parallels with Macbeth. Duncan seems to be the Christ-like figure who is betrayed by one of his followers, Macbeth or Judas Iscariot. Nature is a rich source and provides much of the imagery Macbeth is almost like a pet of the witches, as well as the theme of natural order. Imagery based on Appearance and Reality, Manliness, Light and Darkness, Disease, Corruption and Blood is also common.
Others that might be explored might be that of clothing and sleep. The one I will concentrate on is inversion, this is shown at the very beginning of the play and is continued throughout, ” Fair is foul, and foul is fair; hover through fog and filthy air” This describes the whole play. The killing of Duncan starts an unstoppable chain of events in the play that ends with the murder of Macbeth and the suicide of Lady Macbeth. Macbeth chooses to murder Duncan. Macbeth, in the beginning had all the qualities of an honourable gentleman who could become anything.
This is all shattered when his ambition overrides his sense of morality. For most of Shakespeare”s contemporary audience, Macbeth would appear to be at the mercy of the witches and therefore not entirely responsible for his actions. In my opinion, it is easier to muster sympathy for a person who is not entirely to blame for their actions. In the case of Macbeth, the tragedy is more successful if the popular seventeenth century mentality is adopted and thereby the witches and Lady Macbeth are made partly to blame for his downfall.