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What is the significance of Act 5, Scene 1 in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth?

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Introduction

What is the significance of Act 5, Scene 1 in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth? The play, Macbeth, was written in 1606 and is a Shakespearean tragedy. This is characterised by the protagonist having a fatal flaw that ultimately leads to their downfall, as well as only 5 scenes and plenty of deaths. Shakespeare's tragedies could be seen to be linked with Aristotle's precept of tragedy, which states that the protagonist must be admirable but flawed and that the audience must be able to sympathise with the character. Macbeth is set in the era of the 11th century in Scotland. The basic plot is that of the protagonist, Macbeth, receiving a prophecy from three witches he meets on the heath, this prophecy states that Macbeth will become the king. The witches' prophecy leads Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth to go to many lengths in order to become the King and Queen, their power hungry state of mind finally leads to their deaths. The use of witches by Shakespeare was particularly effective at the time as the then King James was extremely against anything he thought to be witchcraft having even written a book, On Demonology. By the witches' prophecy leading to Macbeth's death, Shakespeare demonstrates how people could get hugely changed for the worst in the wake of witchcraft therefore making his play much more popular in society. ...read more.

Middle

Many of the plays themes are brought together in Act 5 Scene 1, such as light and dark and heaven and hell. In this scene Lady Macbeth is said to always have a light by her, "she has a light by her continually" whereas previously she has wished for darkness "come thick night". The idea of dark and light can be seen to link in with the idea of good and evil or heaven and hell. By Lady Macbeth always wanting a light by her it could show how she knows that what she has done is wrong and fears the darkness of hell. This is revealed by "hell is murky". Alternatively it could be seen to show how in the darkness, Lady Macbeth is left alone with her thoughts, something which scares her, demonstrating her guilt. Previously, it seems that Lady Macbeth did not fear hell and darkness, but perhaps even wanted evil on her side. This can be seen by "Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark" meaning Lady Macbeth wanted the night to come so even God could not see what they were to do. This could be seen to convey how Lady Macbeth is also very power and control hunger, as she even wants to control what God can and can not see. ...read more.

Conclusion

Fortunately for the Macbeth's, the Doctor and maid decide not to speak of what they have heard, "dare not speak" and therefore the tension is eased slightly, however the fact can not be changed that the Macbeths' guilt is public knowledge. In conclusion, Act 5 Scene 1 plays a vital and significant role in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth. Two of the main achievements of the scene are that it structurally summarises the murders done or ordered by Macbeth before Malcolm's final assault on him and reveals the breakdown of a main character, Lady Macbeth. One of the main questions the audience could ask themselves after watching the play is why did Lady Macbeth collapse from her strong and rigid self-disciplinary position in act 1? In my opinion, Lady Macbeth's situation was very unlike Macbeth's as he started from a weaker position and therefore held some release in his own imaginings leading to him being able to finally come to accept the ugliness of their deeds. Conversely Lady Macbeth cut herself off from her conscience therefore leading her true thoughts and feelings to be pushed into her dreams equalling her reliving the murders in her sleep. The contrast of her character at the start of the play and in Act 5 Scene 1 is extremely ironic. Her suicide could be seen as a final act of her mind trying to cleanse itself. ...read more.

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