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What impression do you get of Macbeth from the First Act?

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Introduction

What impression do you get of Macbeth from the First Act? From the first act I get the impression that Macbeth is a very complex character. It is impossible to work out his 'mind's construction'. He seems the epitome of opposite, contrasting, ideas. The literary critic Kenneth Muir wrote: Macbeth is a noble and gifted man who chooses treachery and crime, not believing he has any justification for his deeds, but knowing them precisely for what they are. I agree with this as Macbeth does know exactly what he is doing, yet does not seem callous and cunning even though he is in fact a 'villain'. Macbeth seems a manipulative, bloodthirsty murderer. Even though he does so evilly plot Duncan's demise, Shakespeare writes Macbeth's character with such humanity that we still have respect, empathy and understanding with Macbeth through some parts of the play. When in Act 2, Scene 2, Macbeth regrets murdering Duncan and says 'Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!' we can feel sorry for Macbeth because, from then on, you get the impression that Macbeth knows that he is doomed. In Act 1, Scene 1, the three witches set the evil foundations of the play when they say they are 'There to meet with Macbeth.' The witches' talk builds up to the word 'Macbeth', their sentences get shorter and more urgent up to it, and then the talk just fades away. We know Macbeth and evil will "meet". You can't help but get the impression that Macbeth is associated with them, part of their dubious plans, and it immediately shows that Macbeth will not be a pleasant character. This idea is reinforced in Scene 3 as the first ever words of the protagonist Macbeth are echoing the witches' charms: 'foul and fair'. So it seems that Macbeth has repeated something that he knows or has heard before. ...read more.

Middle

It is ironic that as soon as he says this Macbeth walks in. And Duncan is so innocent of Macbeth's plans that he trusts him enough to go and stay at his house. It is also ironic and sad that Duncan always trusts the wrong people. He is so grateful, gracious and benign towards Macbeth and Banquo that, by contrast, to Duncan we hate Macbeth even more. Especially when he is so humble and loving towards Duncan and we know really that he will murder him. There is irony in that Macbeth says to the king that it is his duty to keep the kings 'love and honour' 'safe' when really Macbeth wants Duncan to be anything but safe. This scene suggests that the comfortable, natural, close-knit, trusting society will soon be shattered by Macbeth's regicide and replaced with political and moral chaos when Macbeth sits on the throne. The courtly imagery is so full of promise: of planting, growing and harvest, we don't understand Macbeth's greed in wanting to change this. We see the king as being a poor judge of character and na�ve maybe a coward for not being at the front of the battle, a foolish leader yet he seems so wonderful now compared with Macbeth. He is being ingratiating and grovelling toward Macbeth: 'my worthy Cawdor' 'O worthiest cousin' and Macbeth is responding suitably but not genuinely like Banquo. There is a build up to Duncan's successor being named but it is ironic that Macbeth in his arrogance assumed himself to be announced instead of the obvious choice of Duncan son. Macbeth here finally admits his 'black and deep desires' and says 'The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.' Because of this statement, we feel certain that he will murder Duncan. There is irony is Scene 5 when, from the letter that she receives from Macbeth, Lady Macbeth instantly predicts his feelings and her predictions show to be true. ...read more.

Conclusion

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth at a time when regicide was a popular topical issue, the play was written between 1603 and 1606 just after the attempted regicide in the Gunpowder plot and the subsequent trials and executions. The play would be great entertainment for the English people, who were still worried about 'tyrants' who abused the 'Divine Right of Kings' they would approve of Macbeth's eventual death at the end of the play. Macbeth's very human feelings, his greed, fear and remorse for example, were things the audience would relate to. There was strong belief in witches and the powers of evil, Macbeth's fascination with the witches and his blind belief in them would have been understood at the time. King James I who Shakespeare was writing the play for, wrote a book about 'Daemonologie' himself. Macbeth's strange imaginings, in Scene 7's soliloquy, would also not seem so strange at the time of the play being written, England was a Catholic country then, with a faith in angels, heaven, eternal punishment in burning hell and Judgement. It would not seem so weird to an audience of that time that Lady Macbeth was calling on 'evil spirits' to help her with what was such a terrible crime. Shakespeare had to give over the impression that killing a rightful king was against the natural order of life and could not come to good. Yet if Macbeth were fated from the start, then there would be no point in writing a tragedy, the audience would have no sympathy with Macbeth unless he showed these human, pitiful feelings of regret and remorse. Macbeth's character is so intriguing because the play was written as a drama and therefore is meant to entertain. Our impression of Macbeth should not be clear, as this would bore an audience. His humanity and confusion are things the audience can relate to and therefore enjoy. Overall, my impression is that Macbeth is of a very human man, he is pitiful yet brave and foolhardy. His personality will always be a mystery and that is part of the enjoyment of reading Macbeth. Esther Lloyd 10r ...read more.

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