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Discussion of Macbeth - An Introduction

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Introduction

Written around 1606, 'Macbeth' is regarded as a generous tribute to the current monarch at the time, King James I. In 1603, the first year of his reign , King James privileged Shakespeare's theatre company, above all others, to be the King's Men. Shakespeare's theatre company was extremely honoured by the title and 'Macbeth' was written in an attempt at expressing Shakespeare's gratitude. Before he was King James I of England, he was King James VI of Scotland. Therefore, as a tribute play it would make sense to set the play in Scotland. It also seems appropriate that this play features witches and witchcraft. King James loathed witches and women, so Shakespeare displayed negative images of women, through the three witches and Lady Macbeth, mainly by illustrating their ability to control and manipulate men. Regicide and political murders are crucial to this play, so are they prominent in the life of King James too as a serious attempt at his life was taken in 1605 with Guy Fawkes' gunpowder plot, to blow up the Parliament with King James inside it. The play would also appeal to the society at the time as there was anxiety about killing the King. Shakespeare also explores the topic of kingship and loyalty. They were of great importance to King James. His father, Lord Darnley was murdered and his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had been executed as a traitor. Hence, inquiries of the role of a monarch were always on his mind. Other possible intentions include showing the fight between good and evil, showing the relationships between humans and the supernatural, exploring the psychology of ambition and the implications of someone being driven into an inevitable doom. In the start of the play, Macbeth, Thane of Glamis achieves Thane of Cawdor through his unparalleled bravery and prowess in a recent war to squelch a rebellion led in part by the traitorous Thane of Cawdor. ...read more.

Middle

This shows that the guilt of what he has done torments him and even religion plays on his mind. For such a superb warrior to be lost in terrifying guilt indicates the full extent of his crime. Earlier in the play, Macbeth wanted to "jump the life to come", as if there was no heavenly retribution he should fear. Now the need for "Amen" which he cannot speak and the fact that even the ocean cannot clean him indicates absolute damnation. Increasingly tormented, Macbeth uses strong visual imagery to convey his disgust and to stress the ghastliness of his sin. He says, "My hand will rather /the multitudinous seas incarnadine, /making the green one red." Macbeth fears that his blood-spattered hands, which serve as a reminder to the murder, are so bloody to the extent that they would turn green seas red. Here, Shakespeare uses hyperbole, which may suggest Macbeth's psychological anarchy. Macbeth is traumatized after having heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep. Shakespeare equates the killing of Duncan with Macbeth's punishment, the killing of sleep. Macbeth then uses several metaphors which describe the benefits of sleep, "Sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care... balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, chief nourisher in life's feast". In brief, sleep becomes symbolic of mental peace and is a sign of good conscience. Sleeps has the power to put right worries and to refresh oneself. However, Macbeth is being deprived of the ability to sleep and cannot recover. It is this lack of sleep which has led to paranoia and hallucination. Therefore, Shakespeare opens up the possibility of Duncan's death being a hallucination. There are no full stops which may confirm that he keeps going over Duncan's death in his imagination. "There's one did laugh in 's sleep, and one cried, "Murder!" That they did wake each other: I stood and heard them;" Macbeth's unstable mind is validated by this apparent nightmare in his dreams. ...read more.

Conclusion

The slaughter of Young Seyward earlier in the play is symptomatic of all the promises that Macbeth has destroyed by his reign and activities. The killing of Young Seyward also reminds the audience that Macbeth is a warrior, although indicated in the beginning of the play, may have been forgotten through the series of murders. On the other hand, in the final scene we are reminded that he is primarily a warrior, which is significant, otherwise the achievement of slaying Macbeth is reduced. Due to succumbing to the temptation that the three witches offered him, the witches had succeeded in destroying almost every virtue of Macbeth's humanity. His courageous virtue momentarily deserted him when he learned how false the predictions were. Nevertheless, his courage came back and he challenged Fate as well as Macduff "Yet I will try the last", which shows the audience the remainder of his valour, and ultimately the part of him we once knew and loved. The idea of the witches "juggling" with words ties in with the idea of equivocation running through the play. Equivocation, given its relevance to the Gunpowder Plot is synonymous with treason. Ironically, the witches have betrayed Macbeth, just as he betrayed Duncan. When Macbeth argued the prose and cons of treason he commented, 'we but teach...bloody instructions, which, being taught, return...to plague th'inventor". We now know this has come true; he has had no sleep because his own men have defected from his cause and his faith in the witches has also been confirmed as a mistake. In conclusion, Macbeth's weakness is his inability to take control of his own life. Instead he allows his wife's ambition for him and the witches' prophecies to undermine his integrity. He relies on the prophecies, which drive him into a fate he cannot control. He is too easily influenced into the direction he secretly desires to go and then is determined, and with his determination goes a violent and ruthless nature. All of this, combined with his unstable mind, makes Macbeth a complex and tragic figure. Shezad Chowdhury 10P Page 1 of 8 ...read more.

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