Character Analysis Essay For Macbeth Collection
Act 3, Scene 1
Alone at Macbeth's court, Banquo voices his suspicions that Macbeth has killed Duncan in order to fulfill the witches' prophesies. He muses that perhaps the witches' vision for his own future will also be realized, but pushes the thought from his mind. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth enter to the fanfare of trumpets, along with Lennox and Ross. Macbeth announces that he will hold a banquet in the evening and that Banquo will be honored as chief guest. Banquo states that he must ride in the afternoon but will return for the banquet. Macbeth tells him that Malcolm and Donalbain will not confess to killing their father. After confirming that Fleance will accompany Banquo on his trip, Macbeth wishes Banquo a safe ride.
Left alone, Macbeth summons the two murderers he has hired. While he waits for them, he voices his greatest worry of the moment—that the witches' prophecy will also come true for Banquo, making his children kings. He will put an end to such worries by hiring two men to kill Banquo and Fleance. The men are not professional assassins, but rather poor men who are willing to work as mercenaries. Macbeth has already blamed their current state of poverty on Banquo. He now tells them that while Banquo is his own enemy as much as theirs, loyal friends of Banquo's prevent him from killing Banquo himself. Macbeth proceeds to detail the particulars of the murder: they must attack him as he returns from his ride—at a certain distance from the palace—and they must also kill Fleance at the same time.
Act 3, Scene 2
Alone on stage, Lady Macbeth expresses her unhappiness: there seems to be no end to her desire for power and she feels insecure and anxious. Macbeth enters looking upset and she counsels him to stop mulling over the crimes they have committed. But Macbeth declares that their job is not done: he still spends every waking moment in fear and every night embroiled in nightmares. He even envies Duncan, who now sleeps peacefully in his grave. Lady Macbeth warns him to act cheerful in front of their dinner guests. She also tries to comfort him by reminding him that Banquo and Fleance are by no means immortal. Macbeth responds by telling her that "a deed of dreadful note" will be done in the night, though he will not divulge the details (33).
Act 3, Scene 3
The two murderers are joined by a third, who says that he has also been hired by Macbeth. Horses are heard approaching and Banquo and Fleance enter. The murderers attack Banquo but Fleance manages to escape. The murderers leave to report back to Macbeth.
Act 3, Scene 4
At the banquet, a murderer arrives and reports to Macbeth just as the dinner guests begin to arrive. He informs Macbeth that Banquo is dead but Fleance has escaped. Shaken, Macbeth thanks him for what he has done and arranges another meeting on the following day. The murderer leaves and Macbeth returns to the feast.
Looking over the table, Macbeth declares that the banquet would be perfect if only Banquo were present. At this point Banquo's ghost appears unobserved and takes Macbeth's seat. The guests urge Macbeth to sit and eat with them but Macbeth says that the table is full. When Lennox points to Macbeth's empty seat, Macbeth is shocked to see Banquo’s ghost. He addresses the ghost, saying, "Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake / Thy gory locks at me" (49-50). The guests, confused by his behavior, think that he is ill. Lady Macbeth reassures them, however, by saying that he has had similar fits since youth and that he will soon be well. She draws Macbeth aside and attempts to calm him by asserting that the vision is merely a “painting of [his] fear”—just like the dagger he saw earlier (60). Ignoring her, Macbeth charges the ghost to speak but it disappears. After Lady Macbeth scolds him for being "unmanned in folly" (73), Macbeth returns to his guests and claims that he has "a strange infirmity," which they should ignore (85).
Just as the party resumes and Macbeth is offering a toast to Banquo, the ghost reappears. As Macbeth once again bursts out in a speech directed at the ghost, Lady Macbeth tries to smooth things over with the guests. In response to Macbeth’s exclamation that he sees sights that make his cheeks “blanched with fear,” Ross asks what sights Macbeth means (114). Lady Macbeth asks the guests to leave, since Macbeth's "illness" seems to be deteriorating. Alone with Lady Macbeth, Macbeth expresses his deep anxieties and vows to return to the Weird Sisters.
Act 3, Scene 5
On the heath, the witches meet Hecate, queen of witches, who chastises them for meddling in Macbeth's affairs without involving her or showing him any fancy magic spectacles. She tells them that Macbeth will visit them tomorrow and that they must put on a more dramatic show for him.
Act 3, Scene 6
Lennox and another lord discuss politics. Lennox comments sarcastically on the recent deaths of Duncan and Banquo. He suggests that it seems implausible for Malcolm and Donalbain to be inhuman enough to kill their father. Moreover, Macbeth's slaying of the bodyguards seemed very convenient, since they probably would have denied killing Duncan. Lennox proposes that if Malcolm, Donalbain, and Fleance were in Macbeth's prison, they would also probably be dead now. He also reveals that since Macduff did not attend Macbeth's feast, he has been denounced. The lord with whom Lennox speaks comments that Macduff has joined Malcolm at the English court. The two men have apparently asked Siward to lead an army against Macbeth. Lennox and the lord send their prayers to Macduff and Malcolm.
The “be a man” theme recurs in Macbeth’s address to the murderers. When Macbeth demands whether the murderers have the courage to kill Banquo, they answer "we are men, my liege" (III i 92). But their answer does not satisfy Macbeth, who berates them as less-than-exemplary examples of men. Macbeth thus uses very much the same goading tactics his wife used in compelling him to kill Duncan. But what does it mean, exactly, to “be a man”? Both Macbeth and his Lady seem to have a clear idea of properly masculine actions. In Act 1, Lady Macbeth suggests that masculinity is largely a question of ruthlessness: one must be willing to “das[h] the brains out” of one’s own baby (58). She claims that she herself is less "full o' th' milk of human kindness" than Macbeth—that is, more capable of casting away the last shreds of compassion, tenderness, loyalty, and guilt.
Lady Macbeth is not the only character that values ruthlessness as a masculine trait. Duncan, too, evaluates heroic action on a rather gory scale. When the captain describes how Macbeth “unseamed [Macdonald] from the nave to th’ chops” with “his brandished steel / Which smoked of bloody execution,” Duncan responds with high praise: "O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman" (I ii 17-22)! A "real man” in Macbeth, then, is one who is capable of copious bloodshed without remorse. The catch, of course, is that the bloodshed must be justified. Whereas Macbeth needs no reason to slay Macdonald in battle per se, the two murderers require the justification that Banquo is an evil man.
As for the terms of murder, Macbeth warns the murderers to kill Fleance and thus “leave no rubs nor botches in the work" (III i 135). Macbeth "require[s] a clearness”—that is, a clearance from suspicion but also a mental and physical cleanliness. The theme of stains and washing runs throughout the play. From Macbeth's cry about all “great Neptune’s ocean” in Act 2, to his instructions to the murderers in Act 3, to Lady Macbeth's famous “Out, damned spot" speech in Act 5, the Macbeths are haunted by the idea that they will be forever stained. Even when Macbeth has Banquo killed at a safe distance from himself, the spilled blood still returns to haunt Macbeth. When the murderer shows up to report his success, Macbeth observes: "There's blood upon thy face" (III iv 11). The blood itself serves a sign and reminder of the Macbeths’ culpability—ultimately driving Lady Macbeth mad.
Banquo's murder itself makes use of a common theme in Shakespeare's plays: the contrast between light and dark. While the murderers wait for Banquo and Fleance to approach, one of them observes that the sun is setting. This is no coincidence: Banquo serves as a bright contrast to the dark night that accompanies Macbeth's rise to power. He is a man who does not allow his ambitions to eclipse his conscience. At the moment that he dies, therefore, it is appropriate for the last remnant of sunlight to fade away. Such symbolism is reinforced by the fact that Banquo and Fleance approach the murderers carrying a torch. The torchlight is the first thing that the murderers see: "a light, a light" notes the second murderer (III iii 14). And after the deed is finished, the third murderer asks: "who did strike out the light?" (III iii 27). At the same moment that the good and kind Banquo dies, the light is extinguished.
Another aspect of Banquo's murder has intrigued generations of scholars: who is the third murderer? Some believe that it is Lady Macbeth, who expressed curiosity about Macbeth’s plans in Scene 2. Others believe that it is Macbeth himself, who could not trust the murderers fully. The third murderers could even be the three witches in disguise. In any case, introducing a third murderer rounds out the number of murderers so that they balance the three witches. There is power in the number three: Macbeth meets three witches, commits three separate murders, and sees three apparitions. The number three recurs throughout the play, adding to its mysterious and magic atmosphere
Finally, one of the most compelling scenes in Macbeth takes place at the banquet haunted by Banquo's ghost. Once again, the boundaries between reality and the supernatural are blurred as Banquo's ghost appears twice—both at exactly the moment Macbeth mentions him. It seems that the vision of Banquo accompanies the idea of Banquo in Macbeth’s mind. The ghost thus seems more like the manifestation of an idea—a figment of the imagination—rather than a “real” ghost. Lady Macbeth says as much when she pulls Macbeth aside: “This is the very painting of your fear; / This is the air-drawn dagger which you said / Led you to Duncan" (III iv 60-62). Just like the dagger, Banquo's ghost appears to be a realization of Macbeth's guilt. Even if the occurrence is supernatural, the event is very real for Macbeth.
This article is about Shakespeare's play. For the historical Scottish king, see Macbeth, King of Scotland. For the title character of the play, see Macbeth (character). For other uses, see Macbeth (disambiguation).
Macbeth (; full title The Tragedy of Macbeth) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare; it is thought to have been first performed in 1606.[a] It dramatises the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake. Of all the plays that Shakespeare wrote during the reign of James I, who was patron of Shakespeare's acting company, Macbeth most clearly reflects the playwright's relationship with his sovereign. It was first published in the Folio of 1623, possibly from a prompt book, and is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy.
A brave Scottish general named Macbeth receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the Scottish throne for himself. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia. Forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion, he soon becomes a tyrannical ruler. The bloodbath and consequent civil war swiftly take Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into the realms of madness and death.
Shakespeare's source for the story is the account of Macbeth, King of Scotland; Macduff; and Duncan in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), a history of England, Scotland, and Ireland familiar to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, although the events in the play differ extensively from the history of the real Macbeth. The events of the tragedy are usually associated with the execution of Henry Garnet for complicity in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
In the backstage world of theatre, some believe that the play is cursed, and will not mention its title aloud, referring to it instead as "The Scottish Play". Over the course of many centuries, the play has attracted some of the most renowned actors to the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It has been adapted to film, television, opera, novels, comics, and other media.
- Duncan—King of Scotland
- Malcolm—Duncan's elder son
- Donalbain—Duncan's younger son
- Macbeth—a general in the army of King Duncan; originally Thane of Glamis, then Thane of Cawdor, and later King of Scotland
- Lady Macbeth—Macbeth's wife, and later Queen of Scotland
- Banquo—Macbeth's friend and a general in the army of King Duncan
- Fleance—Banquo's son
- Macduff—Thane of Fife
- Lady Macduff—Macduff's wife
- Macduff's son
- Ross, Lennox, Angus, Menteith, Caithness—Scottish Thanes
- Siward—general of the English forces
- Young Siward—Siward's son
- Seyton—Macbeth's armourer
- Hecate—Queen of the witches
- Three Witches
- Captain—in the Scottish army
- Three Murderers—employed by Macbeth
- Third Murderer
- Two Murderers—attack Lady Macduff
- Porter—gatekeeper at Macbeth's home
- Doctor—Lady Macbeth's doctor
- Doctor—at the English court
- Gentlewoman—Lady Macbeth's caretaker
- Lord—opposed to Macbeth
- First Apparition—armed head
- Second Apparition—bloody child
- Third Apparition—crowned child
- Attendants, Messengers, Servants, Soldiers
The play opens amidst thunder and lightning, and the Three Witches decide that their next meeting shall be with Macbeth. In the following scene, a wounded sergeant reports to King Duncan of Scotland that his generals—Macbeth, who is the Thane of Glamis, and Banquo—have just defeated the allied forces of Norway and Ireland, who were led by the traitorous Macdonwald, and the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth, the King's kinsman, is praised for his bravery and fighting prowess.
In the following scene, Macbeth and Banquo discuss the weather and their victory. As they wander onto a heath, the Three Witches enter and greet them with prophecies. Though Banquo challenges them first, they address Macbeth, hailing him as "Thane of Glamis," "Thane of Cawdor," and that he shall "be King hereafter." Macbeth appears to be stunned to silence. When Banquo asks of his own fortunes, the witches respond paradoxically, saying that he will be less than Macbeth, yet happier, less successful, yet more. He will father a line of kings though he himself will not be one. While the two men wonder at these pronouncements, the witches vanish, and another thane, Ross, arrives and informs Macbeth of his newly bestowed title: Thane of Cawdor. The first prophecy is thus fulfilled, and Macbeth, previously sceptical, immediately begins to harbour ambitions of becoming king.
King Duncan welcomes and praises Macbeth and Banquo, and declares that he will spend the night at Macbeth's castle at Inverness; he also names his son Malcolm as his heir. Macbeth sends a message ahead to his wife, Lady Macbeth, telling her about the witches' prophecies. Lady Macbeth suffers none of her husband's uncertainty and wishes him to murder Duncan in order to obtain kingship. When Macbeth arrives at Inverness, she overrides all of her husband's objections by challenging his manhood and successfully persuades him to kill the king that very night. He and Lady Macbeth plan to get Duncan's two chamberlains drunk so that they will black out; the next morning they will blame the chamberlains for the murder. They will be defenceless as they will remember nothing.
While Duncan is asleep, Macbeth stabs him, despite his doubts and a number of supernatural portents, including a hallucination of a bloody dagger. He is so shaken that Lady Macbeth has to take charge. In accordance with her plan, she frames Duncan's sleeping servants for the murder by placing bloody daggers on them. Early the next morning, Lennox, a Scottish nobleman, and Macduff, the loyal Thane of Fife, arrive. A porter opens the gate and Macbeth leads them to the king's chamber, where Macduff discovers Duncan's body. Macbeth murders the guards to prevent them from professing their innocence, but claims he did so in a fit of anger over their misdeeds. Duncan's sons Malcolm and Donalbain flee to England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that whoever killed Duncan desires their demise as well. The rightful heirs' flight makes them suspects and Macbeth assumes the throne as the new King of Scotland as a kinsman of the dead king. Banquo reveals this to the audience, and while sceptical of the new King Macbeth, he remembers the witches' prophecy about how his own descendants would inherit the throne; this makes him suspicious of Macbeth.
Despite his success, Macbeth, also aware of this part of the prophecy, remains uneasy. Macbeth invites Banquo to a royal banquet, where he discovers that Banquo and his young son, Fleance, will be riding out that night. Fearing Banquo's suspicions, Macbeth arranges to have him murdered, by hiring two men to kill them, later sending a Third Murderer. The assassins succeed in killing Banquo, but Fleance escapes. Macbeth becomes furious: he fears that his power remains insecure as long as a heir of Banquo remains alive.
At a banquet, Macbeth invites his lords and Lady Macbeth to a night of drinking and merriment. Banquo's ghost enters and sits in Macbeth's place. Macbeth raves fearfully, startling his guests, as the ghost is only visible to himself. The others panic at the sight of Macbeth raging at an empty chair, until a desperate Lady Macbeth tells them that her husband is merely afflicted with a familiar and harmless malady. The ghost departs and returns once more, causing the same riotous anger and fear in Macbeth. This time, Lady Macbeth tells the lords to leave, and they do so.
Macbeth, disturbed, visits the three witches once more and asks them to reveal the truth of their prophecies to him. To answer his questions, they summon horrible apparitions, each of which offers predictions and further prophecies to put Macbeth's fears at rest. First, they conjure an armoured head, which tells him to beware of Macduff (IV.i.72). Second, a bloody child tells him that no one born of a woman shall be able to harm him. Thirdly, a crowned child holding a tree states that Macbeth will be safe until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth is relieved and feels secure because he knows that all men are born of women and forests cannot move. Macbeth also asks whether Banquo's sons will ever reign in Scotland: the witches conjure a procession of eight crowned kings, all similar in appearance to Banquo, and the last carrying a mirror that reflects even more kings. Macbeth realises that these are all Banquo's descendants having acquired kingship in numerous countries. After the witches perform a mad dance and leave, Lennox enters and tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth orders Macduff's castle be seized, and, most cruelly, sends murderers to slaughter Macduff, as well as Macduff's wife and children. Although Macduff is no longer in the castle, everyone in Macduff's castle is put to death, including Lady Macduff and their young son.
Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth becomes racked with guilt from the crimes she and her husband have committed. At night, in the king's palace at Dunsinane, a doctor and a gentlewoman discuss Lady Macbeth's strange habit of sleepwalking. Suddenly, Lady Macbeth enters in a trance with a candle in her hand. Bemoaning the murders of Duncan, Lady Macduff, and Banquo, she tries to wash off imaginary bloodstains from her hands, all the while speaking of the terrible things she knows she pressed her husband to do. She leaves, and the doctor and gentlewoman marvel at her descent into madness. Her belief that nothing can wash away the blood on her hands is an ironic reversal of her earlier claim to Macbeth that "[a] little water clears us of this deed" (II.ii.66).
In England, Macduff is informed by Ross that his "castle is surprised; wife and babes / Savagely slaughter'd" (IV.iii.204–05). When this news of his family's execution reaches him, Macduff is stricken with grief and vows revenge. Prince Malcolm, Duncan's son, has succeeded in raising an army in England, and Macduff joins him as he rides to Scotland to challenge Macbeth's forces. The invasion has the support of the Scottish nobles, who are appalled and frightened by Macbeth's tyrannical and murderous behaviour. Malcolm leads an army, along with Macduff and Englishmen Siward (the Elder), the Earl of Northumberland, against Dunsinane Castle. While encamped in Birnam Wood, the soldiers are ordered to cut down and carry tree limbs to camouflage their numbers.
Before Macbeth's opponents arrive, he receives news that Lady Macbeth has killed herself, causing him to sink into a deep and pessimistic despair and deliver his "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy (V.v.17–28). Though he reflects on the brevity and meaninglessness of life, he nevertheless awaits the English and fortifies Dunsinane. He is certain that the witches' prophecies guarantee his invincibility, but is struck with fear when he learns that the English army is advancing on Dunsinane shielded with boughs cut from Birnam Wood, in apparent fulfillment of one of the prophecies.
A battle culminates in Macduff's confrontation with Macbeth, who kills Young Siward in combat. The English forces overwhelm his army and castle. Macbeth boasts that he has no reason to fear Macduff, for he cannot be killed by any man born of woman. Macduff declares that he was "from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd" (V.8.15–16), (i.e., born by Caesarean section) and is not "of woman born" (an example of a literary quibble), fulfilling the second prophecy. Macbeth realises too late that he has misinterpreted the witches' words. Though he realises that he is doomed, he continues to fight. Macduff kills and beheads him, thus fulfilling the remaining prophecy.
Macduff carries Macbeth's head onstage and Malcolm discusses how order has been restored. His last reference to Lady Macbeth, however, reveals "'tis thought, by self and violent hands / Took off her life" (V.ix.71–72), but the method of her suicide is undisclosed. Malcolm, now the King of Scotland, declares his benevolent intentions for the country and invites all to see him crowned at Scone.
Although Malcolm, and not Fleance, is placed on the throne, the witches' prophecy concerning Banquo ("Thou shalt get kings") was known to the audience of Shakespeare's time to be true: James VI of Scotland (later also James I of England) was supposedly a descendant of Banquo.
A principal source comes from the Daemonologie of King James published in 1597 which included a news pamphlet titled Newes from Scotland that detailed the famous North Berwick Witch Trials of 1590. The publication of Daemonologie came just a few years before the tragedy of Macbeth with the themes and setting in a direct and comparative contrast with King James' personal experiences with witchcraft. Not only had this trial taken place in Scotland, the witches involved were recorded to have also conducted rituals with the same mannerisms as the three witches. One of the evidenced passages is referenced when the witches involved in the trial confessed to attempt the use of witchcraft to raise a tempest and sabotage the very boat King James and his queen were on board during their return trip from Denmark. This was significant as one ship sailing with King James' fleet actually sank in the storm. The following quote from Macbeth is one such reference:
"purposely to be cassin into the sea to raise winds for destruction of ships."
Macbeth has been compared to Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Both Antony and Macbeth as characters seek a new world, even at the cost of the old one. Both are fighting for a throne and have a 'nemesis' to face to achieve that throne. For Antony, the nemesis is Octavius; for Macbeth, it is Banquo. At one point Macbeth even compares himself to Antony, saying "under Banquo / My Genius is rebuk'd, as it is said / Mark Antony's was by Caesar." Lastly, both plays contain powerful and manipulative female figures: Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth.
Shakespeare borrowed the story from several tales in Holinshed's Chronicles, a popular history of the British Isles well known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In Chronicles, a man named Donwald finds several of his family put to death by his king, King Duff, for dealing with witches. After being pressured by his wife, he and four of his servants kill the King in his own house. In Chronicles, Macbeth is portrayed as struggling to support the kingdom in the face of King Duncan's ineptitude. He and Banquo meet the three witches, who make exactly the same prophecies as in Shakespeare's version. Macbeth and Banquo then together plot the murder of Duncan, at Lady Macbeth's urging. Macbeth has a long, ten-year reign before eventually being overthrown by Macduff and Malcolm. The parallels between the two versions are clear. However, some scholars think that George Buchanan's Rerum Scoticarum Historia matches Shakespeare's version more closely. Buchanan's work was available in Latin in Shakespeare's day.
No other version of the story has Macbeth kill the king in Macbeth's own castle. Scholars have seen this change of Shakespeare's as adding to the darkness of Macbeth's crime as the worst violation of hospitality. Versions of the story that were common at the time had Duncan being killed in an ambush at Inverness, not in a castle. Shakespeare conflated the story of Donwald and King Duff in what was a significant change to the story.
Shakespeare made another important change. In Chronicles, Banquo is an accomplice in Macbeth's murder of King Duncan, and plays an important part in ensuring that Macbeth, not Malcolm, takes the throne in the coup that follows. In Shakespeare's day, Banquo was thought to be an ancestor of the Stuart King James I. (In the 19th century it was established that Banquo is an unhistorical character, the Stuarts are actually descended from a Breton family which migrated to Scotland slightly later than Macbeth's time.) The Banquo portrayed in earlier sources is significantly different from the Banquo created by Shakespeare. Critics have proposed several reasons for this change. First, to portray the king's ancestor as a murderer would have been risky. Other authors of the time who wrote about Banquo, such as Jean de Schelandre in his Stuartide, also changed history by portraying Banquo as a noble man, not a murderer, probably for the same reasons. Second, Shakespeare may have altered Banquo's character simply because there was no dramatic need for another accomplice to the murder; there was, however, a need to give a dramatic contrast to Macbeth—a role which many scholars argue is filled by Banquo.
Other scholars maintain that a strong argument can be made for associating the tragedy with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. As presented by Harold Bloom in 2008: "[S]cholars cite the existence of several topical references in Macbeth to the events of that year, namely the execution of the Rev. Henry Garnett for his alleged complicity in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, as referenced in the porter's scene."
Date and text
Macbeth cannot be dated precisely but it is usually dated as contemporaneous to the other canonical tragedies (King Lear, Hamlet, and Othello). Some scholars have placed the original writing of the play as early as 1599. As the play is widely seen to celebrate King James' ancestors and the Stuart accession to the throne in 1603 (James believed himself to be descended from Banquo), most scholars believe that the play is unlikely to have been composed earlier than 1603 and suggest that the parade of eight kings—which the witches show Macbeth in a vision in Act IV—is a compliment to King James. Many scholars think the play was written in 1606 in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot because of possible internal allusions to the 1605 plot and its ensuing trials. In fact, there are a great number of allusions and possible pieces of evidence alluding to the Plot, and, for this reason, a great many critics agree that Macbeth was written in the year 1606. Lady Macbeth's instructions to her husband, "Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't" (1.5.74–75), may be an allusion to a medal that was struck in 1605 to commemorate King James' escape that depicted a serpent hiding among lilies and roses.
Particularly, the Porter's speech (2.3.1–21) in which he welcomes an "equivocator", a farmer, and a tailor to hell (2.3.8–13), has been argued to be an allusion to the 28 March 1606 trial and execution on 3 May 1606 of the Jesuit Henry Garnet, who used the alias "Farmer", with "equivocator" referring to Garnet's defence of "equivocation".[b] The porter says that the equivocator "committed treason enough for God's sake" (2.3.9–10), which specifically connects equivocation and treason and ties it to the Jesuit belief that equivocation was only lawful when used "for God's sake", strengthening the allusion to Garnet. The porter goes on to say that the equivocator "yet could not equivocate to heaven" (2.3.10–11), echoing grim jokes that were current on the eve of Garnet's execution: i.e. that Garnet would be "hanged without equivocation" and at his execution he was asked "not to equivocate with his last breath." The "English tailor" the porter admits to hell (2.3.13), has been seen as an allusion to Hugh Griffin, a tailor who was questioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 27 November and 3 December 1607 for the part he played in Garnet's "miraculous straw", an infamous head of straw that was stained with Garnet's blood that had congealed into a form resembling Garnet's portrait, which was hailed by Catholics as a miracle. The tailor Griffin became notorious and the subject of verses published with his portrait on the title page.
When James became king of England, a feeling of uncertainty settled over the nation. James was a Scottish king and the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, a staunch Catholic and English traitor. In the words of critic Robert Crawford, "Macbeth was a play for a post-Elizabethan England facing up to what it might mean to have a Scottish king. England seems comparatively benign, while its northern neighbour is mired in a bloody, monarch-killing past. … Macbeth may have been set in medieval Scotland, but it was filled with material of interest to England and England's ruler." Critics argue that the content of the play is clearly a message to James, the new Scottish King of England. Garry Wills provides further evidence that Macbeth is a Gunpowder Play (a type of play that emerged immediately following the events of the Gunpowder Plot). He points out that every Gunpowder Play contains "a necromancy scene, regicide attempted or completed, references to equivocation, scenes that test loyalty by use of deceptive language, and a character who sees through plots—along with a vocabulary similar to the Plot in its immediate aftermath (words like train, blow, vault) and an ironic recoil of the Plot upon the Plotters (who fall into the pit they dug)."
The play utilizes a few key words that the audience at the time would recognize as allusions to the Plot. In one sermon in 1605, Lancelot Andrewes stated, regarding the failure of the Plotters on God's day, "Be they fair or foul, glad or sad (as the poet calleth Him) the great Diespiter, 'the Father of days' hath made them both." Shakespeare begins the play by using the words "fair" and "foul" in the first speeches of the witches and Macbeth. In the words of Jonathan Gil Harris, the play expresses the "horror unleashed by a supposedly loyal subject who seeks to kill a king and the treasonous role of equivocation. The play even echoes certain keywords from the scandal – the 'vault' beneath the House of Parliament in which Guy Fawkes stored thirty kegs of gunpowder and the 'blow' about which one of the conspirators had secretly warned a relative who planned to attend the House of Parliament on 5 November...Even though the Plot is never alluded to directly, its presence is everywhere in the play, like a pervasive odor."
Scholars also cite an entertainment seen by King James at Oxford in the summer of 1605 that featured three "sibyls" like the weird sisters; Kermode surmises that Shakespeare could have heard about this and alluded to it with the weird sisters. However, A. R. Braunmuller in the New Cambridge edition finds the 1605–06 arguments inconclusive, and argues only for an earliest date of 1603.
One suggested allusion supporting a date in late 1606 is the first witch's dialogue about a sailor's wife: "'Aroint thee, witch!' the rump-fed ronyon cries./Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger" (1.3.6–7). This has been thought to allude to the Tiger, a ship that returned to England 27 June 1606 after a disastrous voyage in which many of the crew were killed by pirates. A few lines later the witch speaks of the sailor, "He shall live a man forbid:/Weary se'nnights nine times nine" (1.3.21–22). The real ship was at sea 567 days, the product of 7x9x9, which has been taken as a confirmation of the allusion, which if correct, confirms that the witch scenes were either written or amended later than July 1606.
The play is not considered to have been written any later than 1607, since, as Kermode notes, there are "fairly clear allusions to the play in 1607." One notable reference is in Francis Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle, first performed in 1607. The following lines (Act V, Scene 1, 24–30) are, according to scholars, a clear allusion to the scene in which Banquo's ghost haunts Macbeth at the dinner table:
When thou art at thy table with thy friends,
Merry in heart, and filled with swelling wine,
I'll come in midst of all thy pride and mirth,
Invisible to all men but thyself,
And whisper such a sad tale in thine ear
Shall make thee let the cup fall from thy hand,
And stand as mute and pale as death itself.
Macbeth was first printed in the First Folio of 1623 and the Folio is the only source for the text. Some scholars contend that the Folio text was abridged and rearranged from an earlier manuscript or prompt book. Often cited as interpolation are stage cues for two songs, whose lyrics are not included in the Folio but are included in Thomas Middleton's play The Witch, which was written between the accepted date for Macbeth (1606) and the printing of the Folio. Many scholars believe these songs were editorially inserted into the Folio, though whether they were Middleton's songs or preexisting songs is not certain. It is also widely believed that the character of Hecate, as well as some lines of the First Witch (4.1 124–31), were not part of Shakespeare's original play but were added by the Folio editors and possibly written by Middleton, though "there is no completely objective proof" of such interpolation.
The 'reconstructive movement' was concerned with the recreation of Elizabethan acting conditions, and would eventually lead to the creation of Shakespeare's Globe and similar replicas. One of the movement's offshoots was in the reconstruction of Elizabethan pronunciation: for example Bernard Miles' 1951 Macbeth, for which linguists from University College London were employed to create a transcript of the play in Elizabethan English, then an audio recording of that transcription, from which the actors, in turn, learned their lines.
The pronunciation of many words evolves over time. In Shakespeare's day, for example, "heath" was pronounced as "heth" ("or a slightly elongated 'e' as in the modern 'get'"), so it rhymed with "Macbeth" in the sentences by the Witches at the beginning of the play:
Second Witch: Upon the heath.
Third Witch: There to meet with Macbeth.
A scholar of antique pronunciation writes, "Heath would have made a close (if not exact) rhyme with the "-eth" of Macbeth, which was pronounced with a short 'i' as in 'it'."
In the theatre programme notes, "much was made of how OP [Original Pronunciation] performance reintroduces lost rhymes such as the final couplet: 'So thanks to all at once, and each to one, / Whom we invite to see us crowned at Scone'" (5.11.40–41) where 'one' sounds like 'own'. The Witches, the play's great purveyors of rhyme, benefited most in this regard. So, 'babe' (4.1.30) sounded like 'bab' and rhymed with 'drab' (4.1.31)..."
Eoin Price wrote, "I found the OP rendition of Banquo's brilliant question 'Or have we eaten on the insane root / That takes the raison prisoner?' unduly amusing"; and he adds,
:... 'fear' had two pronunciations: the standard modern pronunciation being one, and 'fair' being the other. Mostly, the actors seemed to pronounce it in a way which accords with the modern standard, but during one speech, Macbeth said 'fair'. This seems especially significant in a play determined to complicate the relationship between 'fair' and 'foul'. I wonder, then, if the punning could be extended throughout the production. Would Banquo's lines, 'Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear / Things that do sound so fair?' (1.3.49–50) be fascinatingly illuminated, or merely muddled, by this punning? Perhaps this is a possibility the cast already experimented with and chose to discard, but, for sure, an awareness of the possibility of a 'fair/fear' pun can have interesting ramifications for the play.
Themes and motifs
The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see."
Macbeth is an anomaly among Shakespeare's tragedies in certain critical ways. It is short: more than a thousand lines shorter than Othello and King Lear, and only slightly more than half as long as Hamlet. This brevity has suggested to many critics that the received version is based on a heavily cut source, perhaps a prompt-book for a particular performance. That brevity has also been connected to other unusual features: the fast pace of the first act, which has seemed to be "stripped for action"; the comparative flatness of the characters other than Macbeth; and the oddness of Macbeth himself compared with other Shakespearean tragic heroes.[clarification needed]
As a tragedy of character
At least since the days of Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson, analysis of the play has centred on the question of Macbeth's ambition, commonly seen as so dominant a trait that it defines the character. Johnson asserted that Macbeth, though esteemed for his military bravery, is wholly reviled. This opinion recurs in critical literature, and, according to Caroline Spurgeon, is supported by Shakespeare himself, who apparently intended to degrade his hero by vesting him with clothes unsuited to him and to make Macbeth look ridiculous by several nimisms he applies: His garments seem either too big or too small for him – as his ambition is too big and his character too small for his new and unrightful role as king. When he feels as if "dressed in borrowed robes", after his new title as Thane of Cawdor, prophesied by the witches, has been confirmed by Ross (I, 3, ll. 108–09), Banquo comments: "New honours come upon him, / Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould, / But with the aid of use" (I, 3, ll. 145–46). And, at the end, when the tyrant is at bay at Dunsinane, Caithness sees him as a man trying in vain to fasten a large garment on him with too small a belt: "He cannot buckle his distemper'd cause / Within the belt of rule" (V, 2, ll. 14–15), while Angus, in a similar nimism, sums up what everybody thinks ever since Macbeth's accession to power: "now does he feel his title / Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe / upon a dwarfish thief" (V, 2, ll. 18–20).
Like Richard III, but without that character's perversely appealing exuberance, Macbeth wades through blood until his inevitable fall. As Kenneth Muir writes, "Macbeth has not a predisposition to murder; he has merely an inordinate ambition that makes murder itself seem to be a lesser evil than failure to achieve the crown." Some critics, such as E. E. Stoll, explain this characterisation as a holdover from Senecan or medieval tradition. Shakespeare's audience, in this view, expected villains to be wholly bad, and Senecan style, far from prohibiting a villainous protagonist, all but demanded it.
Yet for other critics, it has not been so easy to resolve the question of Macbeth's motivation. Robert Bridges, for instance, perceived a paradox: a character able to express such convincing horror before Duncan's murder would likely be incapable of committing the crime. For many critics, Macbeth's motivations in the first act appear vague and insufficient. John Dover Wilson hypothesised that Shakespeare's original text had an extra scene or scenes where husband and wife discussed their plans. This interpretation is not fully provable; however, the motivating role of ambition for Macbeth is universally recognised. The evil actions motivated by his ambition seem to trap him in a cycle of increasing evil, as Macbeth himself recognises: "I am in blood/Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go o'er."
While working on Russian translations of Shakespeare's works, Boris Pasternak compared Macbeth to Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Pasternak argues that "neither Macbeth or Raskolnikov is a born criminal or a villain by nature. They are turned into criminals by faulty rationalizations, by deductions from false premises." He goes on to argue that Lady Macbeth is "feminine ... one of those active, insistent wives" who becomes her husband's "executive, more resolute and consistent than he is himself." According to Pasternak, she is only helping Macbeth carry out his own wishes, to her own detriment.
As a tragedy of moral order
The disastrous consequences of Macbeth's ambition are not limited to him. Almost from the moment of the murder, the play depicts Scotland as a land shaken by inversions of the natural order. Shakespeare may have intended a reference to the great chain of being, although the play's images of disorder are mostly not specific enough to support detailed intellectual readings. He may also have intended an elaborate compliment to James's belief in the divine right of kings, although this hypothesis, outlined at greatest length by Henry N. Paul, is not universally accepted. As in Julius Caesar, though, perturbations in the political sphere are echoed and even amplified by events in the material world. Among the most often depicted of the inversions of the natural order is sleep. Macbeth's announcement that he has "murdered sleep" is figuratively mirrored in Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking.
Macbeth's generally accepted indebtedness to medieval tragedy is often seen as significant in the play's treatment of moral order. Glynne Wickham connects the play, through the Porter, to a mystery play on the harrowing of hell. Howard Felperin argues that the play has a more complex attitude toward "orthodox Christian tragedy" than is often admitted; he sees a kinship between the play and the tyrant plays within the medieval liturgical drama.
The theme of androgyny is often seen as a special aspect of the theme of disorder. Inversion of normative gender roles is most famously associated with the witches and with Lady Macbeth as she appears in the first act. Whatever Shakespeare's degree of sympathy with such inversions, the play ends with a thorough return to normative gender values. Some feministpsychoanalytic critics, such as Janet Adelman, have connected the play's treatment of gender roles to its larger theme of inverted natural order. In this light, Macbeth is punished for his violation of the moral order by being removed from the cycles of nature (which are figured as female); nature itself (as embodied in the movement of Birnam Wood) is part of the restoration of moral order.
As a poetic tragedy
Critics in the early twentieth century reacted against what they saw as an excessive dependence on the study of character in criticism of the play. This dependence, though most closely associated with Andrew Cecil Bradley, is clear as early as the time of Mary Cowden Clarke, who offered precise, if fanciful, accounts of the predramatic lives of Shakespeare's female leads. She suggested, for instance, that the child Lady Macbeth refers to in the first act died during a foolish military action.
Witchcraft and evil
In the play, the Three Witches represent darkness, chaos, and conflict, while their role is as agents and witnesses. Their presence communicates treason and impending doom. During Shakespeare's day, witches were seen as worse than rebels, "the most notorious traytor and rebell that can be." They were not only political traitors, but spiritual traitors as well. Much of the confusion that springs from them comes from their ability to straddle the play's borders between reality and the supernatural. They are so deeply entrenched in both worlds that it is unclear whether they control fate, or whether they are merely its agents. They defy logic, not being subject to the rules of the real world. The witches' lines in the first act: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air" are often said to set the tone for the rest of the play by establishing a sense of confusion. Indeed, the play is filled with situations where evil is depicted as good, while good is rendered evil. The line "Double, double toil and trouble," communicates the witches' intent clearly: they seek only trouble for the mortals around them.[page needed] The witches' spells are remarkably similar to the spells of the witch Medusa in Anthony Munday's play Fidele and Fortunio published in 1584, and Shakespeare may have been influenced by these.
While the witches do not tell Macbeth directly to kill King Duncan, they use a subtle form of temptation when they tell Macbeth that he is destined to be king. By placing this thought in his mind, they effectively guide him on the path to his own destruction. This follows the pattern of temptation used at the time of Shakespeare. First, they argued, a thought is put in a man's mind, then the person may either indulge in the thought or reject it. Macbeth indulges in it, while Banquo rejects.[page needed]
According to J. A. Bryant Jr., Macbeth also makes use of Biblical parallels, notably between King Duncan's murder and the murder of Christ:
No matter how one looks at it, whether as history or as tragedy, Macbeth is distinctively Christian. One may simply count the Biblical allusions as Richmond Noble has done; one may go further and study the parallels between Shakespeare's story and the Old Testament stories of Saul and Jezebel as Miss Jane H. Jack has done; or one may examine with W. C. Curry the progressive degeneration of Macbeth from the point of view of medieval theology.
Superstition and "The Scottish Play"
Main article: The Scottish Play
While many today would say that any misfortune surrounding a production is mere coincidence, actors and other theatre people often consider it bad luck to mention Macbeth by name while inside a theatre, and sometimes refer to it indirectly, for example as "the Scottish play", or "MacBee", or when referring to the character and not the play, "Mr. and Mrs. M", or "The Scottish King".
This is because Shakespeare (or the play's revisers) are said to have used the spells of real witches in his text, purportedly angering the witches and causing them to curse the play.[better source needed] Thus, to say the name of the play inside a theatre is believed to doom the production to failure, and perhaps cause physical injury or death to cast members. There are stories of accidents, misfortunes and even deaths taking place during runs of Macbeth.
According to the actor Sir Donald Sinden, in his Sky Arts TV series Great West End Theatres,
contrary to popular myth, Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth is not the unluckiest play as superstition likes to portray it. Exactly the opposite! The origin of the unfortunate moniker dates back to repertory theatre days when each town and village had at least one theatre to entertain the public. If a play was not doing well, it would invariably get 'pulled' and replaced with a sure-fire audience pleaser – Macbeth guaranteed full-houses. So when the weekly theatre newspaper, The Stage was published, listing what was on in each theatre in the country, it was instantly noticed what shows had NOT worked the previous week, as they had been replaced by a definite crowd-pleaser. More actors have died during performances of Hamlet than in the "Scottish play" as the profession still calls it. It is forbidden to quote from it backstage as this could cause the current play to collapse and have to be replaced, causing possible unemployment.
Several methods exist to dispel the curse, depending on the actor. One, attributed to Michael York, is to immediately leave the building the stage is in with the person who uttered the name, walk around it three times, spit over their left shoulders, say an obscenity then wait to be invited back into the building.[page needed] A related practice is to spin around three times as fast as possible on the spot, sometimes accompanied by spitting over their shoulder, and uttering an obscenity. Another popular "ritual" is to leave the room, knock three times, be invited in, and then quote a line from Hamlet. Yet another is to recite lines from The Merchant of Venice, thought to be a lucky play.
Shakespeare's day to the Interregnum
The only eyewitness account of Macbeth in Shakespeare's lifetime was recorded by Simon Forman, who saw a performance at the Globe on 20 April 1610. Scholars have noted discrepancies between Forman's account and the play as it appears in the Folio. For example, he makes no mention of the apparition scene, or of Hecate, of the man not of woman born, or of Birnam Wood. However, Clark observes that Forman's accounts were often inaccurate and incomplete (for instance omitting the statue scene from The Winter's Tale) and his interest did not seem to be in "giving full accounts of the productions."
As mentioned above, the Folio text is thought by some to be an alteration of the original play. This has led to the theory that the play as we know it from the Folio was an adaptation for indoor performance at the Blackfriars Theatre (which was operated by the King's Men from 1608) – and even speculation that it represents a specific performance before King James. The play contains more musical cues than any other play in the canon as well as a significant use of sound effects.
Restoration and eighteenth century
"The chill of the grave seemed about you when you looked on her; there was the hush and damp of the charnel house at midnight ... your flesh crept and your breathing became uneasy ... the scent of blood became palpable to you."
All theatres were closed down by the Puritan government on 6 September 1642. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, two patent companies (the King's Company and the Duke's Company) were established, and the existing theatrical repertoire divided between them.Sir William Davenant, founder of the Duke's Company, adapted Shakespeare's play to the tastes of the new era, and his version would dominate on stage for around eighty years. Among the changes he made were the expansion of the role of the witches, introducing new songs, dances and 'flying', and the expansion of the role of Lady Macduff as a foil to Lady Macbeth. There were, however, performances outside the patent companies: among the evasions of the Duke's Company's monopoly was a puppet version of Macbeth.
Macbeth was a favourite of the seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys, who saw the play on 5 November 1664 ("admirably acted"), 28 December 1666 ("most excellently acted"), ten days later on 7 January 1667 ("though I saw it lately, yet [it] appears a most excellent play in all respects"), on 19 April 1667 ("one of the best plays for a stage ... that ever I saw"), again on 16 October 1667 ("was vexed to see Young, who is but a bad actor at best, act Macbeth in the room of Betterton, who, poor man! is sick"), and again three weeks later on 6 November 1667 ("[at] Macbeth, which we still like mightily"), yet again on 12 August 1668 ("saw Macbeth, to our great content"), and finally on 21 December 1668, on which date the king and court were also present in the audience.
The first professional performances of Macbeth in North America were probably those of The Hallam Company.
In 1744, David Garrick revived the play, abandoning Davenant's version and instead advertising it "as written by Shakespeare". In fact this claim was largely false: he retained much of Davenant's more popular business for the witches, and himself wrote a lengthy death speech for Macbeth. And he cut more than 10% of Shakespeare's play, including the drunken porter, the murder of Lady Macduff's son, and Malcolm's testing of Macduff.Hannah Pritchard was his greatest stage partner, having her premiere as his Lady Macbeth in 1747. He would later drop the play from his repertoire upon her retirement from the stage. Mrs. Pritchard was the first actress to achieve acclaim in the role of Lady Macbeth – at least partly due to the removal of Davenant's material, which made irrelevant moral contrasts with Lady Macduff. Garrick's portrayal focused on the inner life of the character, endowing him with an innocence vacillating between good and evil, and betrayed by outside influences. He portrayed a man capable of observing himself, as if a part of him remained untouched by what he had done, the play moulding him into a man of sensibility, rather than him descending into a tyrant.
John Philip Kemble first played Macbeth in 1778. Although usually regarded as the antithesis of Garrick, Kemble nevertheless refined aspects of Garrick's portrayal into his own. However it was the "towering and majestic" Sarah Siddons (Kemble's sister) who became a legend in the role of Lady Macbeth. In contrast to Hannah Pritchard's savage, demonic portrayal, Siddons' Lady Macbeth, while terrifying, was nevertheless – in the scenes in which she expresses her regret and remorse – tenderly human. And in portraying her actions as done out of love for her husband, Siddons deflected from him some of the moral responsibility for the play's carnage. Audiences seem to have found the sleepwalking scene particularly mesmerising: Hazlitt said of it that "all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical ... She glided on and off the stage almost like an apparition."
In 1794, Kemble dispensed with the ghost of Banquo altogether, allowing the audience to see Macbeth's reaction as his wife and guests see it, and relying upon the fact that the play was so well known that his audience would already be aware that a ghost enters at that point.
Ferdinand Fleck, notable as the first German actor to present Shakespeare's tragic roles in their fullness, played Macbeth at the Berlin National Theatre from 1787. Unlike his English counterparts, he portrayed the character as achieving his stature after the murder of Duncan, growing in presence and confidence: thereby enabling stark contrasts, such as in the banquet scene, which he ended babbling like a child.
"Everyone seems to think Mrs McB is a Monstrousness & I can only see she's a woman – a mistaken woman – & weak – not a Dove – of course not – but first of all a wife."
Performances outside the patent theatres were instrumental in bringing the monopoly to an end. Robert Elliston, for example, produced a popular adaptation of Macbeth in 1809 at the Royal Circus described in its publicity as "this matchless piece of pantomimic and choral performance", which circumvented the illegality of speaking Shakespeare's words through mimed action, singing, and doggerel verse written by J. C. Cross.
In 1809, in an unsuccessful attempt to take Covent Garden upmarket, Kemble installed private boxes, increasing admission prices to pay for the improvements. The inaugural run at the newly renovated theatre was Macbeth, which was disrupted for over two months with cries of "Old prices!" and "No private boxes!" until Kemble capitulated to the protestors' demands.
Edmund Kean at Drury Lane gave a psychological portrayal of the central character, with a common touch, but was ultimately unsuccessful in the role. However he did pave the way for the most acclaimed performance of the nineteenth century, that of William Charles Macready