Macbeth is a play written by the famous playwright, William Shakespeare. The play was started around 1603 but was only finished in 1606. The play is a tragedy and is one of the darkest of Shakespeare’s plays ever written. The play was originally written for King James I when he came to the throne of England after Elizabeth had died. Banquo, one of the characters in the play, is based upon one of the Kings ancestors. The play is set in ancient Scotland where witches roam the land and war is in the air as Norway try to invade Scotland. Witches are a big part in this play, especially as in Elizabethan time, when the play was written, the belief in witchcraft was vast. Many people were drowned and burnt because they were thought to be witches. Any earthquake, hurricane or unexplainable happenings were blamed on witches. Males act out all of the characters in Macbeth, as all actors in Shakespeare’s time were male.
The play begins with three witches who would have possibly changed from stones into human form. They would be wearing old cloth rags and appear old and crooked with a few warts. The witches speak, in short sentences and riddles like, “…foul is fair as fair is foul…” They all huddle together and immediately involve Macbeth, “There to meet with Macbeth!” This involvement of Macbeth with witches so early on in the play invokes the idea that Macbeth might be evil. This contrast between Evil and Macbeth is echoed in the next scene where there is a big bloody battle and a valiant and courageous Macbeth battles his way through an flood of soldiers, the Norman Soldiers, and a captain has been sent to the king to report on Macbeth’s progress.
The captain talks of how “The merciless Macdonald – Worthy to be a rebel, for to that the multiplying villainies of nature do swarm upon him – the Western Isles of kerns and galloglasses is supplied, fortune on his damned quarrel smiling, like a rebel’s whore.” This gives the image of a heartless King (of Norway) cowering behind his army as the war battles on in front of him as lightly and heavily armed soldiers swarm around him and all he can do is smile though he is losing. Duncan then sends the captain to the surgeons when the captain collapses on the floor, the captain says “But I am faint, my gashes cry for help.” Then King Duncan says, “Go get him surgeons.”
Ross and Angus, both worthy thanes, then enter the scene and tell King Duncan of how a disloyal traitor, the Thane of Cawdor, joined the Normandy side in battle but now has been caught, “The Thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict…” The King Then replies by making Macbeth the new Thane of Cawdor to reward his bravery in battle, “No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive our bosom interest…with his former title greet Macbeth.” Giving Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor was one of King Duncun’s biggest mistakes, which eventually ends up costing him his life. This handing over of the title, Thane of Cawdor, is one of the biggest influences on Macbeth bringing him to his downfall. With this the scene ends and turns to Macbeth and the three witches.
The scene opens with the three witches back on the heath but this time they are waiting for Macbeth. Whilst they wait they talk about “killing swine.” We then hear Macbeth come into the scene. Macbeth is talking about the weather but echoes the exact words of the witches in the first scene in doing so, “…foul is fair…” This can be confusing as on one hand you have what must be a valiant and courageous worrier who appears to be loyal to the king. On the other you have an evil side which speaks in riddles like witches and is extremely violent, “For brave Macbeth…Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him, Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’chaps and fixed his head upon our battlements.” This means Macbeth came upon the King of Norway and slit his chest open and then severed the head from the body and put the head of the King on the top of the fort Macbeth was guarding.
This ability to fight is another of the major influences on Macbeth leading to his downfall. The witches then appear to Macbeth and speak three prophecies, these are the biggest influences on Macbeth which leads to his downfall. The first witches prophecy is, “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis.” Then the second witch prophesises, “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor.” Then the third witch prophesises, “All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.” These prophecies confuse Macbeth and Banquo as the messenger, bring word of Macbeth’s new title has not arrived, and Duncan is King.
Macbeth and Banquo believe this is some kind of sick joke and Banquo even drops a drumstick in disbelief. Banquo then asks the witches that if they ‘can look into the seeds of time” then what does the future hold for him. The witches reply in riddles as they usually do, the first of the witches says, “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.” The second witch says, “Not so happy, yet much happier.” The third witch the finishes with, “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.” It is this last sentence which makes something click in Macbeth’s mind later and influence him, bringing him to his fatal downfall. The witches then vanish into the air before Macbeth and Banquo can question them further, “When I burned in desire to question them further, they made themselves air, into which they vanished.” Ross and Angus can now be seen in the distance.
The worthy thanes, Ross and Angus, now arrive and immediately tell Macbeth that he has gained the title of Thane of Cawdor as a reward for his victory in battle, “He bade me…call thee Thane of Cawdor.” Upon hearing this Banquo and Macbeth cannot believe this and stare at each other in disbelief until Banquo asks, “Can the devil speak true?” When he says devil he is actually referring to the witches, but in a metaphor. Macbeth now asks “The Thane of Cawdor live. Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?” Inside this question there is the referral to clothes which is a major them in this play as an ancient proverb says, ‘The clothes makes a man’ though this question also shows Macbeth’s shock at the news and so he is now asking how can this be true?
The thought of becoming king has now entered his mind. With this comes the thought of what will have to happen before he receives the crown of Scotland. Macbeth shows the audience this through a soliloquy (when an actor steps aside and speaks his thoughts to the audience) “Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor: The greatest is behind.” When Macbeth refers to the greatest he means the throne of Scotland. What that thought means is that he knows he is now Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, because of what the witches said, he now thinks that the throne is now just waiting for him, “The greatest is behind.”
The witches prophecies have influenced him into thinking what is just around the corner and the fact that the King has now influenced him by making the second prophecy come true. Now he was been influenced by these people he is struggling with good and evil because he is thinking that he might have to do to become king and he knows what this might mean that he will have to kill Duncan (the present king). Macbeth now decides he must discuss this with his wife so he writes to her, informing her of what has happen, including the witches prophecies.
Lady Macbeth reads, “They met me in the day of success, and I have learned by the perfectest report they have more in them than mortal knowledge.” We now see an evil side of Lady Macbeth as she immediately assumes King Duncan must be killed, “…the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements.” Although not by her husband as she fears he is too kind hearted, “…too full of the milk of human kindness…” Whereas Macbeth tries to believe that he will be named king without involving himself in dirty deeds and intervening, interfering in fate , “…chance may crown me without my stir.” We can also see Lady Macbeth is evil when she asks the goods to ‘unsex’ her, believing that she could kill Duncan herself if she were a man. Lady Macbeth is a lot like the witches.
The witches conjure up evil spells, which could be compared as Lady Macbeth conjuring up evil thoughts, which she wants to “pour my spirits in thine ear.” She is only doing this out of ambition to become queen. Macbeth returns to his castle with his new title and anger that he was not named as heir to the throne. He is now influenced once again, this time by his wife who does her best to get her husband to kill King Duncan, as Macbeth is still having doubts about murder and the only reason for it is ambition, “…if the assassination could trammel up the consequence…? He’s here in double trust; first as I am his kinsman and his subject…then as his host…”
Shakespeare’s use of imagery in this scene is extremely good. This is shown the best when Lady Macbeth talks about Duncan entering the castle but the fact that he won’t be alive to see the sun rise in the morning,
“The raven himself is hoarse, that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements. Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from crown to toe topfull of direst cruelty…”
“The raven himself is hoarse, that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements.” Gives you the image of a noble, innocent looking lady standing on the highest turret of a castle looking down as an army of soldiers and a carriage enter the castle through a port cutlass. “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from crown to toe topfull of direst cruelty…” gives you an image of a Evil Lady being overwhelmed and invaded by evil spirits.
In the next scene Macbeth goes to kill King Duncan because Lady Macbeth has influenced him and almost forced him to go and commit murder, which will lead to his downfall later on in the play. As Macbeth climbs the steps towards the room Duncan is in he hallucinates and sees a dagger before him, “Is this a dagger which I see before me…” This is the milestone which shows two things. First that Macbeth is now stepped over onto the evil side of life, and second, that he is already going mad and he hasn’t even committed the murder yet. When Macbeth gets to the top of the steps he sees the two servants that are supposed to be guarding the king, have been drugged by Lady Macbeth, “Do mock their charge with snores. I have drugged their possets…” Macbeth then enters the Kings chambers and stabs him to death with the two servant’s daggers, “Have done the deed.”
The crime has now been committed and Macbeth staggers back downstairs to his wife with the two daggers still at hand, so Lady Macbeth takes them back up and wipes the Kings blood over the servants to make them look guilty, “Why did you bring these daggers from the place?” We then see a weakness in Lady Macbeth as she explains that had the king “not resembled [her] father as he slept, [she’d] had done’t.” When every one find King Duncan in his chamber, dead, they all appear extremely shocked and Macbeth turns and stabs both of the Kings servants for no reason, “O, yet I do repent me of my fury that I did kill them.” Macbeth has clearly turned evil now and is on a killing spree, killing the two guards was not called for.
Now the King has been murdered, Donaldbain and Malcolm (the king’s sons) run away as they fear for their lives, “There’s daggers in men’s smiles.” This is a metaphor, which means that they cannot trust anyone. Malcolm goes to England, “I’ll to England.” And Donaldbain to Ireland, “To Ireland, I.” There is now no heir to the throne in Scotland and so Macbeth is made King. Macbeth is still unhappy as king, this is because of the prophecy the witches told Banquo. Macbeth wants the throne himself but Banquo’s son has been prophesised to take the throne, “Our fears in Banquo stick deep, and in his royalty reigns that which would be feared.” To sort this out Macbeth hires some assassins to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. As he is king, he doesn’t want to damn his name so he tells the murderers “Banquo was your enemy.” The murderers then set out to kill Banquo and his son Fleance but Fleance escapes and they only manage to kill Banquo. The witches again influence Macbeth to do this killing because of their prophesises.
Where as at the start of the play Macbeth trusted his and needed her, he now goes to see the witches to consult them about what he must do to retain the throne. To make this scene sound spookier Shakespeare uses spells and potions to create the atmosphere. When Macbeth arrives at the witches’ cave they ask him to call upon their leaders, “Day, if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths, or from our masters’?” When the apparitions appear they appear in different forms. The first as an armed head, representing Macbeth’s soldier side. The apparition warns him, “Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth: beware Macduff, Beware the Thane of Fife.” Then the second apparition appears as a bloody child, representing Macbeth’s innocent side. It assures him “…none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” Then the third apparition appears as a crowned child with a tree in his hand, representing the prophecy it is about to tell.
It warns him, “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsiane hill shall come against him.” Macbeth dismisses the third prophecy as common sense tells him that a wood cannot walk up a hill, “Who can impress the forest, bid the tree unfix his earthbound root?” Macbeth then nearly dismisses the first prophecy as the second told him that none of woman born could harm him, but just to make sure he sends his army down to burn Macduff’s castle and kill all men women and children in his castle, “Seize upon Fife; give to th’edge o’th’sword his wife, his babies, and all unfortunate souls that trace him in his line.” At this point Macbeth has passed the point of sanity, and the witches have now influenced him once more to kill more people bringing him to his downfall. The extract fact that Macbeth orders all women, men and children to be killed just shows how much he doesn’t care about who lives and who dies.
Macduff is now extremely angry and so wants revenge so he goes to visit the King of England (James I) and Malcolm, and they build up an army against Macbeth and travel to Scotland to go reclaim the throne. Meanwhile back at the castle of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth has gradually gone mad, she is sleep walking and talking about the murder of Duncan, “I have seen her rise from her bed, throw her night-gown upon her, unlock her closet…yet all this while in a most fast asleep.” Lady Macbeth also says during her sleep walking “..out damn spot…” this, to an Elizabethan audience, would seem like Lady Macbeth has the mark of the devil, meaning that she was a witch. When she wakes in the morning she writes a suicide note and then jumps off the highest turret of the castle, “The queen, my lord, is dead.”
Outside the castle Macduff has hidden his army in the trees of Burnam Wood. He has ordered that each soldier cut down a branch of the tree to hid his numbers from Macbeth, “Let every soldier hew him down a bough, and bear’t before him; thereby shall we shadow the numbers of our host and make discovery Err in report of us.” Though, this is pointless as Macbeth doesn’t have an army anymore as his men have all deserted him. Macduff then enters the castle, finding no soldiers he calls out to Macbeth, “Tyrant, show thy face!” This is rather ironic as at the start of the play, Macduff called Macbeth a “…worthy thane…” Macbeth and Macduff then fight but Macbeth is over powered by Macduff when he tells Macbeth that he was born of a woman but he “was from his mothers womb untimely ripped.” Macduff then severs Macbeth’s head and hangs if on a pole at the top of the castle and Malcolm is pronounced King of Scotland.
There are lots of themes in Macbeth. Most of these are:
* Macbeth’s clothes
* Light and dark, good and Evil
* Order and Disorder
* Appearance and reality
Macbeth’s clothes are a large theme in this play as it is said that the clothes make a man, and there are a lot of reference to his clothes in the play such as when he is made Thane of Cawdor, “…why do you dress me in borrow’d robes?” As you read through the references to clothes in the play it becomes clear that Macbeth feels greater when he is wearing his day clothes.
Ambition is one of the largest themes in the play as the reason Macbeth kills is through ambition, the influences from the witches and his wife, King and so called friends is used to invoke his ambition. It is also rather ironic that early on in the play, Lady Macbeth says, “…thou would be great art not without ambition…” though it is ambition that brings Macbeth’s eventually downfall.
The theme of light and dark, good and evil is used throughout the play as Macbeth even tries to hide his evil and devious thoughts behind darkness, “Stars, hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires…”
Shakespeare uses very good wording too create the imagery he wants, for instance when Macbeth says:
“Light thickens, and the crow makes wing to th’rocky wood”
This gives the image of night seeping through the day and a crow making flight to a spooky, bare, dead looking wood.
Shakespeare uses a lot a writing devices in this play such as soliloquies, “If it were done…” and metaphors “…daggers in men’s smiles.”
In Elizabethan times its is believed that there is a pathway through life, Macbeth tried to change this path and so his life was damned anyway and his downfall was bound to happen. The main influences on Macbeth came from the witches, for their prophecies, Lady Macbeth, for persuading Macbeth to kill, Banquo and Macduff, for not standing out and stopping him, and King Duncan for making the first of the witches prophecies come true.