How does Macbeth's character change throughout the play?

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How does Macbeth's character change throughout the play? In William Shakespeare's "Macbeth", the audience witnesses one mans overriding ambitions resulting in consequences both for himself and those around him. In the play the main character is heavily influenced and persuaded by external forces, particularly the supernatural and the immense ambition of Lady Macbeth. In Act I, Shakespeare set the scene for what is to prove the pivotal part of the play, the death of King Duncan. Therefore, through act one the audience's perception of Macbeth changes completely. The character who entered the stage at the beginning is, in the eyes of the audience, completely different person from the character at the end of the first act. He transforms himself from a man of deep morality and honesty to one who is prepared to kill the sovereign king. Even before Macbeth himself appears on stage, he is discussed in admiring terms by the king and the king's eldest son 'Malcolm´. They speak of Macbeth in such glowing terms following his recent successes in the battlefield, whilst in the service of the King. In act I scene 2 a captain describes how Macbeth killed McDonald in battle. McDonald is a traitor and this further elevates his stature amongst the king and his followers.


As the audience hears Macbeth´s thoughts, our opinion of him is beginning to deteriorate. It is important to note that although both the witches and Lady Macbeth have a very strong part to play in persuading Macbeth to commit murder, it is he who initially utters the word "murder" and thinks he must commit the deed. In act I scene four, the audience's perception of Macbeth further deteriorates as we witness how on the one hand, Macbeth accepts and the praise of his king, yet on the other he aligns himself with the dark supernatural world of murder. Macbeth´s keenness and gratitude here demonstrates how he is now a hypocritical nature: "The service and the loyalty love, in doing it, pays itself. Your Highness´ part, is to receive our duties." Macbeth expresses this seeming loyalty to King Duncan directly, however, in an aside a few moments later Macbeth expresses his absolute desire to fulfil the witches´ final prophecy. This double-dealing will be the cause of his final downfall. The King announces that his heir will be his eldest son Malcolm. He has conferred upon Malcolm the title Prince of Cumberland. This means upon the King's death Malcolm shall become the King of Scotland. In this aside, Macbeth expresses his thoughts to the audience only, he pledges himself to the darker world of the supernatural.


" I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from its boneless gums and dashed her brains out" In this contrast we the audience see how Lady Macbeth is far more willing to commit brutal acts of violence in the name of ambition, compared to Macbeth. Macbeth´s final comment at the end of Act one express how he has decided to complete this most evil deed. " I am settled, and bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat." Therefore, Macbeth comes across to the audience, during Act one as a complex man. Also there are several dimensions to his character. Before the play begins he is acknowledged as a brave solider, an honest and loyal servant to his sovereign king. On the battlefield he has been described as an example to others, on how to fight bravely. Nonetheless, we see how through temptation and external forces (the supernatural and his wife) he is transformed from a loyal subject to a deceitful and evil man. He shows through the course of Act I that he is capable of careful thought and reasoning with himself, for example, about whether or not to kill the king. However, our opinions of him at the end of the act have deteriorated dramatically from our original view of him as seen though the eyes of others. Therefore, the audiences´ perception of Macbeth comes full circle in terms of seeing what he was and what he has now become.

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