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Discuss how the character of Macbeth changes in the course of the play. How significant are the witches in contributing to this change?

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Introduction

Discuss how the character of Macbeth changes in the course of the play. How significant are the witches in contributing to this change? The supernatural was viewed much more seriously in Shakespeare's day than it is at present. King James I was fascinated by witchcraft, even writing a book about trials of alleged witches he had witnessed and his own personal belief in the supernatural. He was a self confessed scorner of witches, an opinion assumed by much of seventeenth century Britain. This loathing was born out of fear and ignorance; as people believed that witches could possess a human's mind, body or spirit, whether dead or alive. They also believed that a man could be made impotent, or face sudden death at the hands of a witch. Witches were believed to control the fate and luck of mortals, mostly causing diseases and illnesses for some kind of malicious fun. An estimated 65,000 alleged witches were executed in the fifteen, sixteen and seventeen hundreds; witch-hunting finally ended in Britain in 1716. Shakespeare portrays the witches in 'Macbeth' as very uncivilised, discourteous creatures in dire need of a wash. Banquo, Macbeth's long-time comrade and fellow battle hero, addresses the witches '...you should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.' The witches in the play are clearly not glamorous creatures, but neither are they beings born completely out of fantasy. ...read more.

Middle

Lady Macbeth undeniably knows what is going on in her husband's mind; this is yet more proof that Macbeth tells her everything, and so respects and trusts her. Lady Macbeth accuses her husband of having a 'Heart so pale,' as Kings were elected in Shakespeare's times, Macbeth's reputation is key to his becoming king. For a soldier, being accused of having a 'pale' heart is a great insult and nobody would think to elect a king who is cowardly and weak. Because of this, Macbeth takes the insult to heart and decides that he must murder Duncan to prove to himself, as much as to his wife, that he doesn't have a 'pale' heart. Whilst Macbeth is trying to summon the courage to kill King Duncan, he appears to be quite deranged. He thinks he sees a dagger floating in front of him 'Is this a dagger I see before me...?' His hallucination shows that his subconscious thoughts are of murder and deceit. He knows he must kill Duncan, he is just frantically trying to find a loophole that will allow him to become king without murdering his cousin. His self-questioning is proof of his tortured soul, driven by ambition and love for his wife. Once Macbeth has killed King Duncan, he appears to be in a state of shock, in modern times this would be understandable, but seventeenth century Scotland was a very violent place where murder was seen as a way of life. ...read more.

Conclusion

Whilst fighting Macduff, Macbeth is angry that the prophecy has come true; he is arrogant enough to believe that he can still believe that he can still defeat Macduff. Macbeth started out as a well-respected battle hero who kept his head down and did what he was told. He did not have great ambitions and he was loyal to his king. After he meets the witches he is possessed by a driving ambition, which motivates him to kill his king, his best friend, and the wife and children of a former acquaintance. At the end of the play he is shown to be an arrogant, uncaring man who found it inconvenient that his wife died at a certain time. I believe that this change can be directly attributed to the witches as he would not have had any real ambition of becoming king before he met them. His wife had a lot of influence over him, but I don't think she would have dared suggest murdering the king, had Macbeth not implied that it could be done. This idea of Lady Macbeth being portrayed as the evil temptress dates back to the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. I think the play is suggesting that witches are an unnecessary evil which man has the power to vanquish. This idea would have greatly pleased James I as he himself hated witches and organised unfair trials for them. Word count: 2,356 Jamie Sellick 25/03/2008 Macbeth coursework 10h1 Mrs Hearle ...read more.

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