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Shakespeare's Macbeth: When considering the balance of moral responsibility for the death of Duncan, how do dramatic techniques help to shape and direct the audience's response?

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Introduction

George Rose Shakespeare's Macbeth: When considering the balance of moral responsibility for the death of Duncan, how do dramatic techniques help to shape and direct the audience's response? In the play, Macbeth is clearly guilty of the act of murdering King Duncan. Yet in order to fully understand his motives, reasons and influences towards doing this we must consider to what degree Macbeth is solely responsible for the murder, and also to consider the dramatic techniques Shakespeare uses in order to persuade the reader into feeling certain emotions and bias. The two main influences on Macbeth's actions would have been Lady Macbeth and the three witches. Other influences too would have been greatly influential including the hallucinations of MacBeth and also his masculine desire for success. Before considering the separate characters, it is important to consider the social background of the play. This can help us to understand how many ideas of the play would have been seen by the Shakespearean audience. Witches were seen as superstitious creatures, associated with evil and wrongdoing. The use of witches in the early scenes of the play would immediately show the audience that some form of witchcraft or extraordinary actions were to take place in the course of the play. During the 17th century there was very strong religious observation. Yet this play clearly shows the influence of the supernatural. Religion shunned these forms of life and the widespread belief of the reality of evil and so these characters in the play would have been seen by the audience to be greatly controversial thus making the role of the witches one of great importance. The opening scene underlines the importance of the witches and the theme of darkness to the audience, as the first thing that the crowd see on stage will often be the most memorable. ...read more.

Middle

She asks for her "spirits" to "unsex" her and to "take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers" showing clearly to the audience a connection with the witches and thus an influence on the actions of Macbeth. This connection can not only be seen due to the addressing of spirits, but also due to the ambiguous sexuality. The witches are addressed at the beginning of the play as bearded women thus showing their own mixed sexuality. This link would allow the audience to connect Lady Macbeth with the witches thus making them very fearful and critical of her and allowing them to be ready to place blame on her. We are also shown Lady Macbeth's shallow conscience. She feels little guilt when she addresses Macbeth's unmanly characteristics and in her idea flaws of character. But even more importantly she does not seem concerned with completely turning around Macbeth's own opinions and morals. She aims to make him deeply ashamed of everything within him that prevents him from having the desire to murder the King for his own personal goal. She has no problems with ridding Macbeth of his human morality and conscience in a bid to gain position for the couple. She makes him feel guilty for his thoughts by asking him "art though afeard?" and telling him images of living "a coward in thine own esteem" which would make Macbeth feel deeply ashamed and guilty himself. By attacking Macbeth's reputation of being brave and strong against enemies, we are shown how great Lady Macbeth's control over him really is. She shows him how she, as a woman, would sacrifice her own child for him whereas he, as a man, s too cowardly to perform a simple task. ...read more.

Conclusion

Yet one could also consider that having had a full battle with his conscience suggests that Macbeth is sane throughout but is just in torment about his decisions. Having considered the influences that Macbeth would have been feeling in his decision to murder King Duncan, I have ultimately decided that Macbeth is only partially morally responsible for the deed. He felt immense pressure to perform from his wife and also was urged on by the witches' prophesies. Mentally too Macbeth may not have been in the condition to make a rational decision either as well as feeling the stress of the pressure that was being added further by Lady Macbeth. If blame were to be placed, however, on one person I feel that Lady Macbeth was, morally, the most responsible for the death of Duncan. She persuades Macbeth to swing from one side of reasoning to the other and states even that "I had done't" thus showing her deep intent to kill the king. Through the dialogues between Lady Macbeth and her husband, Shakespeare has shown the overpowering control Lady Macbeth held over husband. As well as understanding his deepest feelings and faults she also knew how to overcome them and use them to her advantage. Although the witches too influence Macbeth into thinking about killing the king, it is only Lady Macbeth who persuades him in to actually performing the murder. Through the dramatic techniques explained, such as the revealing soliloquies of Macbeth and his wife, the dialogues between all the characters and the comparison of Macbeth to Banquo, Shakespeare has managed to shape the audience into thinking that moral responsibility for the deed should rest on someone other than Macbeth himself. ...read more.

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