Sample Essays For Macbeth

Sample student essay: English Works Notes, 2015

MACBETH SHOWS THAT NO ONE IS IMPERVIOUS TO THE EFFECTS OF EVIL

In Macbeth Shakespeare focuses on the evil consequences of one man’s thrust for power. Through their prophecies, the witches plant an evil seed in Macbeth’s mind which has numerous repercussions, not only for Macbeth but for the King, his family and the people of Scotland.  Shakespeare shows that once his ambition has been inflamed, no one is immune from the consequences. Whilst both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth sacrifice their honour and pay a heavy price, many others are also killed to satisfy their thirst for power.

From the opening scene, it becomes clear that the witches are determine to use their supernatural powers to plant the seeds of evil and to undermine Macbeth’s honour. They create moral havoc by targeting his ambition. If the witches state that “fair is foul and foul is fair”, Macbeth soon finds that the prophecies “cannot be ill cannot be good”.  When the witches plant the seed that Macbeth is likely to become King, Macbeth is captivated by their prophecies. “I stood rapt in the wonder of it”. It is his ambition that promotes evil thoughts that undermine his sanity and corrupt him. As Shakespeare shows, Macbeth’s ambition creates “present fears” that are linked with “deep and dark desires” and that encourage him to put aside his moral compunctions.  After he commits the murders, he again seeks out the witches who give him a false sense of confidence. They predict that he will be safe from harm and Macbeth continues on his killing spree.

Lady Macbeth continues the corruption begun by the witches which has an immediate effect on Macbeth and a long-term corrosive effect on herself.  Shakespeare depicts the transformative power of evil as Lady Macbeth becomes “top – full of Direst Cruelty” in order to encourage Macbeth to murder King Duncan. She manipulates him, criticises his manhood and suggests that he is cowardly. She states that she would have plucked a baby from her breast and “dash’d the brains out” had she so broken a promise as Macbeth seems to be doing. Whilst she intimidates Macbeth and convinces him that it is cowardly to thwart one’s desires, she, ironically, pays the heaviest price. Her belief that a “little water clears us of this deed” returns to haunt her as she becomes increasingly obsessed with the evil she has unleashed. She is unable to remove neither the stain nor the deaths. She is also dismayed at the tyrant that continues unabated.

Owing to both the influence of the witches and Lady Macbeth, Macbeth succumbs to evil and pays a heavy price. Foolishly, he sets aside his scepticism and renounces his honour as he contemplates the ‘deep and dark desires”. His conscience alerts him to the evil nature of murder; he is fully aware of the “even – handed justice” or “judgement” which instructs people about good and evil. He also knows that “Bloody instructions return to plague the inventor”.  Most importantly, Macbeth knows that he should not commit evil deeds, because his conscience will torment him and undermine his honour. Despite all this, Macbeth wields the dagger and King Duncan becomes his first victim. He suffers the shocking consequences of Macbeth’s “overleaping” ambition that causes a  “heat-oppressed brain” to turn towards evil.

Macbeth continues to pay a heavy price and does not enjoy his royal status. Owing to his conscience, Macbeth becomes paranoid and guilt gives way to hallucinations and “strange self-abuse”. Macbeth becomes suspicious of everyone. He tries to harden himself to the pangs of his conscience. He wants to fight fear and become fearless by killing more people. He states, “t’is the initiate Fear that wants hard Use”. Macbeth has become a cruel tyrant and transforms Scotland into a country “almost afraid to know itself”. He sets spies on each of his thanes and even distrusts the witches for he is determined to make ‘assurance double sure’ by slaughtering Macduff’s entire family. This propels him  to the final showdown.

So the evil effects spread throughout Scotland, and even Banquo suffers from the cruel effects of evil. Banquo is honourable and rightly dismisses the witches even though they predict that his sons will be king. Because of this secret knowledge, Banquo becomes Macbeth’s second victim. Macbeth feels that “under him my genius is rebuked”. He is killed while his son Fleance escapes.

Tragically, many lives are lost because of one couple’s ambition. They both sacrifice their honour and do not enjoy their status because they become paranoid about the consequences. Once Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to commit murder, there is no stopping him. To soften his conscience, he continues killing and changes the whole atmosphere of Scotland. No one escapes. The citizens are so sick of the tyrant that they are relieved by his death.  Shakespeare shows that one man’s evil thirst for power does not pay and many other suffer a heavy price.

Return to Macbeth: Study Page

Shakespeare never fails to stun an audience with a complex yet entertaining character. His play of Macbeth is no exception. One might judge Macbeth to be the valiant hero of the play, to the audiences surprise and bewilderment, he is also the villain. To create such a character requires an unparalleled plot and great writing skill. Macbeth’s character is expressed in a way that relates to the audience. His moral transformation from valiant to vile, his moral hesitation and his torturing conscience are all elements that condemn Macbeth but at the same time evoke the audience’s sympathy.

Macbeth is merely mentioned by the witches at the start of the play. We first meet “Brave Macbeth” while at work as a thane protecting his king from rebels and Norwegian invaders. “Valour’s minion…ne’er shook hands, nor bad farewell to him till he unseamed him from the nave to th’chaps”. A very detailed account of Macbeth as a warrior is given by an injured officer to Duncan. From this source it is proven how brave and courageous Macbeth is. “Cannons overcharged with double cracks…memorise another Golgotha”. This establishes that Macbeth is accustomed to killing and death, on the battlefield that is, but he is not a murderer.

“Bellona’s bridegroom” is also a “Valliant cousin” to the king of Scotland himself, which proves to be a loyal servant of somewhat royal blood. He is also conveyed as noble and worthy of praise: “what he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won”. A title is not a trifle for a reward, which proves that Macbeth is a sublime character loved by all. However not everyone is perfect, even Macbeth has some deep forgotten desire that will eventually come to surface through catalysts in the plot, and will led him to his pitiful demise.

Macbeth’s currently established character is put into question when it is discovered that he is so easily corrupted by the prophecy of the three wired sisters. Despite the good news of his promotion, Macbeth is shocked and frightened. The witches have awakened the long dormant vaulting ambition for him take hold of the crown. This puts into question if he was innocent and pure initially or was he stained with deep and dark desire to usurp the crown: “stay… speak… would they have stayed”. The fact that Macbeth wanted the witches to stay puts into question his loyalty to sovereign.

Even though the witches are evilcharacters, Macbeth does not want to believe in this. The first part of their prophecy came true, maybe the crown will be his after all. He is blinded by their equivocation and by his vaulting ambition: “Why do I yield to such a suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs”. Macbeth is slowly goaded into the thought of murder which shows that he was initially a little corrupted by his dormant ambition. However he does not succumb easily to this ghastly deed; his morals and his noble nature are in vicious conflict with his ambition. He is being torn apart by his desire for the crown and his moral prevention to achieve it. “chance may crown me without my stir”. Finally Macbeth mediates by hoping there to be a way to achieve kingship without murder.

The corruption of Macbeth is accelerated by an event and a character. Duncan proclaims Malcolm heir to the throne. To his un-awareness, this was Duncan’s greatest mistake as it gives Macbeth a motive for the murder. Now it is a “step”which he must “o’er leap for in my way it lies”. Now he realises that “chance” will not crown him without his inevitable “stir”. Even though Macbeth now has a motive for murder he is still in moral turmoil. “We’d jump the life to come”. Macbeth is bewildered, will he be able to trade his soul in the next life for kingship in this one. His intimacy with himself proves to him that his only motive for this murder is his bare ambition to be king: “I have no spur/ to prick the sides of my intent, but only/ vaulting ambition”. In his vacillation he decides not to carry out the deed.

This decision infuriates Lady Macbeth and she kills him morally. “was the hope drunk/ wherein you dressed yourself”. Lady Macbeth uses reverse psychology by insulting her husband’s manliness: When you durst do it, then you were a man”. This flawless tactic works well on Macbeth and he is won over by her “undaunted mettle”. “I am settled and bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat”. The verb “bend” shows the struggle in him to carry out the act, it goes against his nature. The decision for the murder is nevertheless Macbeth’s. Although Lady Macbeth is the catalyst he must ultimately take full responsibility for his own actions.

The murder of Duncan may be depicted as the point of no return for the character of Macbeth. He is now frail and quite paranoid just after the murder, this contrasts with him being confident and brave on the battlefield; killing then seemed normal to him, but murder, he feels that he has condemned his soul. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”. The amount of guilt that Macbeth feels is unbearable to any man, which shows that he has not completed the course of his moral deterioration. Macbeth has now become a tyrant that will suspect everyone, even those closest to him.

The crown has defiled Macbeth and he realizes that it only brings sadness and despair. Macbeth is even jealous of Duncan who is dead that he is resting in peace and him who is unable to even sleep is living in torment torn by guilt and paranoia. A new feature of the new Macbeth is also hypocrisy: “fail not our feast”. Macbeth sends off Banquo with a warm farewell and probably a smile. Here Macbeth is following his wife’s advice: “look like the innocent flower but be the serpent underneath”. Another trait acquired by Macbeth, again from Lady Macbeth is the power of manipulation. Macbeth appeals to the murders’ desire for revenge and mocks their patience for tolerating such injustice rendered to them by Banquo. Macbeth has also become cold and calculating in nature, even human life does not seem to posses any value to him. Terms like: “business” and “work” in reference to the murder and his attitude towards the innocent child Fleance, is merely another obstacle to Macbeth’s security. All of this reinforces his cold clinical attitude towards people and his morally corrupt attitude.

Macbeth has also become dead inside. When Macduff flees the realm of Scotland for England to conspire with Malcolm against Macbeth, Macbeth resorts to the most cowardly and ruthless of ways to punish Macduff for his insolence. Macbeth murders Macduff’s family. He has become so heartless that murder seems like a hobby to him. This is in stark contrast with the Macbeth whom the thought of murder “shook my very state of man”.

A final turning point that affects the character of Macbeth, is the death of his spouse. Although Macbeth has committed monstrous deeds, he is not a monster. In fact he feels, which is quite surprising, sadness and compassion towards the tragedy. Life now seems to him utterly futile, a slow inexorable progression toward death: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing”. One cannot help but feel at least some sympathy for Macbeth. He has been equivocated upon by the witches, his wife died, all of Scotland scorns him and he is carrying an unimaginable burden of guilt. However he still retains some of his original traits. In his fight against Macduff Macbeth refuses to go down without a fight: “ I will not yield to kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet… “hold, enough””. A formidable warrior indeed. Even when the entire world is against him he holds his head high with pride.

“Macbeth” would not have been the masterpiece of literature that it is without such a character. Notice that Macbeth is the protagonist, and also the antagonist. Hero and villain. Good and evil. Macbeth is not the average character which just defeats the villain and the play ends happily ever after; he is much more complex than that, much more alive. His transformation from the loyal, virtuous, moral individual to the abomination of a tyrant and finally to the heartbroken, empty individual. The moral turmoil that is experienced by Macbeth and his deep, delving sense of guilt proves him to be somewhat of a good person. But his heinous acts of murder and manipulation show the dark side of his character which is solely fuelled on his one flaw: his vaulting ambition. Macbeth was not originally a murderer, but he was bound to become one eventually. The turn of events at the end of the play also suggest that the spirit of Macbeth will live on, as most likely Macduff will become another Macbeth. Macbeth is a skilfully created character that possesses more than one personality within him; this is what makes him remembered by all, it makes him immortal.

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