Analyzing The Title Character Macbeth in The Play by William Shakespeare

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About this sample


Words: 1939 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 1939|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Discuss how Shakespeare develops his title character in Macbeth. Consider language, form, structure and the play’s context in your response.

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Shakespeare’s eponymous hero begins the play as a masculine, warrior-like figure admired by all. Through the use of rhetoric and imagery, Shakespeare reduces Mac to a self-loathing, nihilistic tragic hero having fallen from grace due to his hubristic hamartia and his tampering with the God-given right to kingship, and the great chain of being.

In the early scenes of the play, Macbeth is presented as noble, courageous and loyal, the very epitome of manhood, and a heroic figure that everyone admires. Shakespeare achieves this through the reporting of his feats, using tragic conventions such as chorus. He also employs fantastical imagery to portray Macbeth as the hero of Scotland. He is described as carrying out his acts “like valour’s minion” itself. Shakespeare personifies the bravery, displaying him as the very incarnation of bravery itself, the epitome of all things valorous. The connotations of the word “minion” are that it is a being which serves only its commander, in this case showing Macbeth’s loyalty and desire to fight for king and country. It is a reference to the divine right of kings, Shakespeare foreshadowing the disruption of the great chain of being.

Further evidence of Shakespeare’s craft is shown through the fact that Macbeth is described as the very offspring of valour, an impossible and supernatural feat, which would be interpreted by the contemporary audience as an unnatural occurrence. Shakespeare’s depiction of Macbeth as the product of an intangible being makes him seem inhuman which means that the Jacobean audience are immediately unnerved by the chain of events that follow, causing them to view Macbeth in an increasingly suspicious light. This interpretation is both foreshadowing of the witches’ influence, and also portrays Macbeth in a superhuman, undefeatable light-reference to the dichotomy beginning to appear within Macbeth. The Jacobeans are further unsettled by Shakespeare’s subversion of conventional womanhood, Lady Macbeth’s direct and emasculating tone exemplified by her attack in Act One, Scene Seven, where she questions his manhood: “when you durst do it” she says, “then you were a man”. The audience would have seen her actions as a supernatural feat caused only by unnatural beings. Macbeth draws his sword, described using fantastical imagery as “brandished steel” which “smoked with bloody execution”. The imagery creates a vivid picture in the audience’s mind, from the outset showing the dichotomy of Macbeth wherein he is both revered and feared for his ruthlessness. The sword “smokes”, using hyperbole to refer to the sheer number of Norwegians which Macbeth has slain, portraying to the audience the images of destruction and desolation caused by Macbeth as The Captain reports on his duties killing the traitor. His ulterior persona for which he is revered is his patriotism and pride for his country as he is viewed as a “valiant cousin”. Macbeth’s valour and bravery are further displayed by Shakespeare’s use of the tragic convention of Aristotelian chorus which is employed in act 1 scene 2 and 3. It is shown most notably when The Captain, Duncan and the two messengers are all speaking of Macbeth’s physical superiority, inducing respect and reverence from the audience.

Act 1 scene 7 brings about the first notable change in Macbeth’s character, as his subservient, conflicted alter-ego begins to emerge. Shakespeare’s use of rhetorical questions and Lady Macbeth’s imperative, dominating speech emasculates Macbeth and shows the audience his mental weakness. The form of Act 1 scene 7 is, in the most part, Lady Macbeth speaking which shows her dominance over her husband, all of her speeches consist of rhetoric and undermining vocabulary which causes the dichotomy of Macbeth. The most prominent rhetorical question asked by Lady Macbeth is “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?” The condescending and patronising nature of this question plays on the idea of clothing and costumes; Lady Macbeth accuses him of dressing as a knight or soldier, that his courage is a pretence, often referred to as ‘Dutch Courage’, as she implies that he has to be drunk in order to show courage. The recurring motif of clothes is vital to Macbeth’s emasculation as Lady Macbeth reveals to the audience that Macbeth is no more than a common man, dressed in the robes of a soldier. The horrible irony of Lady Macbeth’s goad “borrowed robes” is that she questions Macbeth’s authenticity, but in reality, she is covering up her avarice and ambition with a persona which shrouds her desire for nothing but regality. The contemporary viewers would see Macbeth as weak feeble, and lady Macbeth as a supernatural being as she is carrying out an act so unheard of, only possibly the work of unnatural spirits

To this point in the play, Macbeth is still cowering under the cover of his own masculinity which is slowly being picked apart by Lady Macbeth, so she turns to violent imagery when she describes what she would do to her child if she promised it, she would have “dash’d the brains out”. She goads Macbeth, emasculates him further; the word “dash” is very violent, which uses pathos to induce pity from the audience towards Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is viewed as possessed by the audience because of the views she has toward gender and femininity, Shakespeare presenting her as demonic and possessed as she “poured spirits into his ear”. This remark shocks the audience; the imagery denoting paranormal activity, reference to the witches and their influence. She comments on Macbeth’s physical appearance, saying he “looks so green and pale”; horrifying the audience by referring to Macbeth as looking almost demonic, appealing to the audience’s fear of the supernatural. This is arguably the most important emasculative point as it undermines Macbeth’s physical appearance, something which he is so proud of- and what everyone epitomises him as- a physically superior warrior. In taking away his warrior like attributes, Lady Macbeth reduces Macbeth, calling him a “coward”, which makes him no more of a man than she is. Lady Macbeth, in this section of the play is challenging the contemporary gender stereotypes which existed at the time, as she asserts her dominance over Macbeth and renounces her femininity and emasculating Macbeth, who is supposed to be the dominant figure in the relationship.

Through the arrogant and dismissive nature of Macbeth’s language throughout Act 4 scene 1, Shakespeare displays another aspect of his character, his hubris and ignorance, verging on idiocy as he continues to question and order the witches. Macbeth is unaware of his possession, which portrays him in a worse light as he continues to defy the witches, his ignorance and arrogance toward the powerful witches shocks the Jacobean audience as they slowly turn against him. The language that Macbeth uses makes the audience see him in a completely different light to previous scenes. His arrogance and avarice for power, inducing strong feelings of resentment from the audience, are shown most notably through his use of imperatives and rhetoric, especially the confrontational phrase “tell me thou unknown power”. The imperative “tell” shows his ignorance and stupidity in the face of the witches’ supernatural power. The phrase “unknown power” is ironic because, in questioning the witches, he doesn’t know what consequences will fall on him as he continues to undermine their authority. Macbeth’s vanity and self-respect continues to run strong throughout the second half of Act 4 scene 1 as he says, “Macbeth shall live the lease of nature”. The meaning of this phrase is that he is ignoring the witches’ warnings and saying that the only force that can defeat him is nature itself that is the only thing he will bow down to. This extreme pride he has in his own ability to defeat the supernatural powers is scorned upon by the audience, who, by this point in the play disregard him as a character with any remaining dignity. The fact that he is talking about himself in third person “Macbeth shall…” shows that he thinks himself too highly, greater than his contemporaries as he declines to lower himself to their level and use personal pronouns. Again, the rhetoric employed by Macbeth in line 81 reveals the scorn he feels toward as he questions “what need I fear of thee?” He is asking the witches, despite their prophecy, what does he have to be afraid of. The word “fear” in the above phrase is crucial to the feelings resent induced from the audience as it is reference to his once fearless, warrior-like nature which has now been overcome by his ambition and greed.

Macbeth’s final character change down to his utter nihilism and apathy towards the events around him is shown through his speeches lamenting the emptiness and fragility of human life, using apathetic and nihilistic imagery to create a philosophical persona. Macbeth’s nihilism in

Act 5 scene 5 bring about a change in the audience’s feelings towards him, as they move from resentment for his ignorance and arrogance, to startled feelings as his complete apathy is displayed. His days on the battlefield have clearly taken their toll as he proclaims “slaughterous thoughts cannot once start me”, showing how his mind has been numbed to all thoughts of distress and how not even his wife’s cries as she tumbled from the battlements to her death can “start” him. As he muses about the morbid irony of the situation wherein humans have no purpose or meaning, are all just playing a role, filling a space, he reveals to the audience the uncontrolled ambition which he had, leading to a destructive obsession for power. He refers to life as a “brief candle”, a metaphor for life’s irrelevancy, the fact that a candle is a common good means that it can be bought, replaced and thrown out after use; reference to a human’s brief spell, acting their part then dying and being forgotten about. A candle can be easily extinguished showing Macbeth’s nihilism and apathy toward the concept of death. Macbeth’s only acknowledgement of his wife’s death is the phrase “there would have been time for such a word”. This links back to the previous point on Macbeth’s view on the natural order of life, believing that a force so strong as nature had every right to take Lady Macbeth. This phrase, lacking all discernible emotion, shows that Lady Macbeth died too soon, an unnatural death, wherein Macbeth fails to see the consequences of their own actions which ultimately lead to her death. He ends his penultimate speech on a single word; “nothing”. The significance of the ending of his speech being “nothing” shows his feelings of nihilism and apathy toward life, which is the final stage of is character that the audience come in to contact with, before he is slain by MacDuff. The context of Macbeth’s speech is one which further shows his dichotomy as he fluctuates between utter nihilism and ridiculous bravado, as he describes his life as “full of sound and fury”.

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In conclusion, we can see that Shakespeare uses a wide variety of both nihilistic and fantastical imagery to display his eponymous hero’s fall from grace. His warrior like nature is shown through the chorus of lords which report on his fearless deeds on the battle feed, who later turn on him, having witnessed the acts of terror he has committed while in power. Macbeth delivers a series of speeches which epitomise every tragic hero’s ending as their life comes to an end, due to their hamartia, which, in Macbeth’s case is his destructive, obsessive ambition for the throne.

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Analyzing the Title Character Macbeth in the Play by William Shakespeare. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
“Analyzing the Title Character Macbeth in the Play by William Shakespeare.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
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