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In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth we see the main character, Macbeth changes from a well-regarded and loyal soldier of the Scottish king to a murderous tyrant. At the start of the play Macbeth is courageous, ambitious, superstitious and devoted to his wife. These characteristics are shown through the victory against the rebels, Macbeth’s trust in the witches and his letter to his wife. In the second half of the play Macbeth becomes cruel and treacherous, insecure and distant from Lady Macbeth. The events that show this change are the murders Macbeth commits, his voluntary return to the witches and his reaction to his wife’s death.
One of the first events of the play occurs when King Duncan’s army, led by Macbeth and Banquo defeat the rebels. Macbeth fought ferociously, risking his own life to save his country. King Duncan praises “noble” Macbeth. Macbeth is seen as a strong soldier who is loyal and courageous, a truly heroic figure. To Duncan he was the “worthiest cousin”; to the wounded sergeant “Valour’s minion”; to Banquo, “My noble partner”. King Duncan cannot reward him enough for all he has done. “More is thy due than more than all can pay.” Macbeth is made Thane of Cawdor, but begins to be tempted by his own “vaulting ambition” to become king.
Another characteristic of Macbeth is his striving ambition and curious nature, which leads him and his partner Banquo to the witches who give him a prophecy. Banquo realises that there must be a trick hidden in the witches’ prophecies but Macbeth refuses to accept that. Macbeth chooses to let the witches influence him, but Banquo does not. This event showed Macbeth was superstitious because he trusted the witches. The witches’ prophecies “stroked the fires of his ambition” to be king.
Macbeth was also devoted to his wife. He told his wife everything and confided in her via a secret letter. Macbeth even called his wife “my dearest partner of greatness”. This proves the affection and trust he had in Lady Macbeth. Together they plot to murder Duncan. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s own ambition are influences of evil that Macbeth chooses to accept. Macbeth also accepts advice from his wife. Lady Macbeth gets him to act by appealing to his manhood and courage, “When you durst do it more the man.”, showing Macbeth is morally weak. He is very hesitant about killing the king though, showing he has a conscience.
However, Macbeth begins to act alone, and Lady Macbeth loses her control over him. He follows his murder of Duncan with the quick murder of the two sleepy grooms. Macbeth becomes cruel and treacherous; the voice of conscience within him is gone; he no longer hesitates to follow courses of evil: “The very firstlings of my heart shall be The firstlings of my hand.” He does not need to be urged to the deed in planning the murder of Banquo and of Fleance. Macbeth fears Banquo because he recognises in him a moral courage, which he lacked – Banquo kept his “bosom franchised and allegiance clear”. Macbeth also believed the prophecy that Banquo’s descendants would become king. He had become obsessed with his own safety. Macbeth’s imagination and insecurity is shown when the ghost of Banquo appeared at the banquet. His degradation carries him to the level where he vents his savage frenzy upon the innocent heads of “His [Macduff’s] wife, his babes” for no reason, but his savage determination to maintain the throne. These murders show the insecurity that was present in Macbeth.
Macbeth voluntarily and deliberately returns to the witches alone. This time he is more assertive towards them. He is not over awed and he demands to know if Banquo’s descendants will become kings. The witches deliberately mislead Macbeth but he believes them, showing his overconfidence.
Later, Macbeth becomes distant and cold towards Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth can no longer control Macbeth, and after killing Duncan he begins to act alone. Macbeth even tells the doctor to cure her of her mental illness, and makes no effort himself to help cure her. When Lady Macbeth dies, Macbeth states “She should have died hereafter. There would have been time for such a word.” He hears the news of his wife’s death and reacts nonchalant and unemotionally.
But Macbeth is still a tragic hero because he reveals to us that he is suffering a living hell, without the blessing of sleep “that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care”. His punishment is as great as his crimes. At the end Macbeth does not run away or kill himself. Although Macbeth knows that he is doomed, he fights Macduff to the end, showing he is still courageous and physically brave.
Once the saviour of his country, a “valiant cousin!” a “worthy gentleman,” Macbeth became the “dead butcher”, allowing ambition to overcome the natural order of life.
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