Macbeth Critical Response Essay

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Macbeth Critical Analytical Response

If Hollywood ever dared to take a second attempt at making Macbeth into a movie, it would probably have to be rated 18A. Aside from the violence, and other mature content the amount of blood present in the play would be enough to deter any viewers under 18 years of age. However, just as violence is necessary in every action movie, blood plays an essential part in Macbeth. In his play Shakespeare uses blood as a symbol for guilt. Using this symbolism in combination with the behaviour and actions of his two main characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth; Shakespeare is able to clearly communicate his theme that one’s ambition in combination with certain circumstances may compel one to respond with acts of evil, and as a result these people may be consumed and destroyed by their resulting guilt.

At the beginning of the play Macbeth is introduced as brave, honourable and loyal, a great general who fought loyally to defend his king. When the sergeant introduces him for the first time, he is referred to as “brave Macbeth” the sergeant goes on to praise “well he deserves that name”.  In the first few scenes ambitious Macbeth is praised to the point where it seems he can do no evil. It is not until Macbeth is confronted by a special set of circumstances presented to him by the Witches does he begin to have dark desires and evil intentions. “All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!” , “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter!” , these are the prophecies that the witches present to Macbeth. These prophecies present the circumstances that compel Macbeth to react with evil intentions, although not immediately. At first Macbeth is skeptical about these prophecies and he doesn’t even think to try and take the throne, he says “to be King/Stands not within the prospect of belief,”. At this point Macbeth is still very much loyal and noble, it is only when Angus tells Macbeth that he has been given the title Thane of Cawdor, only when Angus has confirmed one of the Witches’ prophecies, does Macbeths begin to react with dark ambition. Angus’s report confirms in Macbeth’s mind that the prophecies and circumstances presented to him by the witches hold truth, he demonstrates this by saying “”Two truths are told,/As happy prologues to the swelling act/Of the imperial theme”. Only after Macbeth is convinced that the circumstances presented to him by the Witches are legitimate does he begin to react with sinister thoughts. “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,/Shakes so my single state of man” , later in the same act Macbeth is so compelled to react to his circumstances that he already acquires the  intent to become king “if chance will have me King/Why, chance may crown me” . Macbeth’s ambition coupled with the circumstances presented to him by the Witches compels Macbeth to react in the form of attempting to fulfill the Witches prophecy, to the extent where he is willing to sacrifice everything he previously had for a chance to fulfill the prophecy and become King. In the seventh scene of act one, Macbeth gives a twenty eight line soliloquy which explores reasons against killing Duncan with his motives for killing his king. In this soliloquy Macbeth is able to give numerous reasons as to why he should not kill Duncan, “First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,/Strong both against the deed. Then, as his host,/Who should against his murder shut the door,/Not bear the knife myself.” , he goes on to state “…Duncan/Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been/So clear in his great office, that his virtues/Will plead like angels,…” . Against all these legitimate reason to spare Duncan, the fact that he displays such great virtues as a king, the fact that Duncan is Macbeth’s kin and king, Macbeth can only come up with one motive for killing him, “Vaulting ambition”. This ambition coupled with his desire to fulfill the prophecy of the Witches overpowers all the good reasons why Macbeth should not kill Duncan. Even when Macbeth takes into consideration the possible loss of his reputation, “…I have bought/Golden opinions from all sorts of people,/Which would be worn in their newest gloss,/Not cast aside so soon.”, his ambition and his desire to react to the circumstances presented by the Witches is still able to overcome him which ultimately leads him to kill Duncan. An act Macbeth knows is of unspeakable evil but was compelled to do as a result of his reaction to the circumstances presented by the Witches. Lady Macbeth, perhaps even more ambitious than Macbeth, is even more compelled to react, when Macbeth presents her the circumstances presented to him by the Witches in the form of a letter, Lady Macbeth immediately begins to respond with evil intentions. Unlike Macbeth, who in the very least debates on reasons why not to kill Duncan, Lady Macbeth is so consumed by ambition and the need to react to her situation that she does not even see any reasons that would prevent her from fulfilling the prophecy.  Even though Lady Macbeth knows that attaining her desires would mean committing crimes of unspeakable treachery, shown when she pleads to the spirits to “take [her] milk for gall”, to “pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell” and to “stop the access … to remorse”, she is so compelled by ambition and the need to respond that she sees this as her only path, she sees the killing of Duncan as her only option and her destiny.

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Although Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do successfully respond to the circumstances presented to them by the Witches by becoming king and queen. However, being compelled to do terrifying acts against their own conscience also makes them vulnerable to their ensuing guilt, and this guilt begins to haunt and destroy them and eventually leads to their demise.  This is when Shakespeare’s symbolism of guilt as blood becomes important for the development of his theme. When Macbeth returns from the killing of Duncan he says “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will ...

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Unfortunately, grammar and punctuation remain the really problematic aspects of this essay. The student should review how to quote from plays - correct quotation mark placement and page references are few and far between. There are numerous run-on sentences. For instance, "... Macbeth will never be freed from his guilt. This guilt that now stains Macbeth in the form of blood..." and other similar structures should be grammatically reconfigured: "...Macbeth will never be freed from his guilt, which stains him in the form of blood..." The whole essay would benefit from a close proof-read in order to cut out unnecessary words and extra quotations that only serve as additional emphasis on points already mentioned.

As it is blood as a symbol of guilt which is being examined here, it would have been prudent to sustain an engagement with how this manifests throughout the text, rather than bring it in near the end in an attempt to tie many plot moments and quotes under a hurriedly-identified literary device. It is the final paragraph which hints at a deeper capacity for analysis; if only that well-identified final sentence, regarding the tragic irreconcilability of ambition and conscience, had been a thread running through the student's argument from beginning until the end, this essay would have reached the next level of evaluation.

This essay demonstrates a good understanding of Shakespeare's attention to the themes of ambition, guilt and the battling of the conscience with the will in Macbeth; however, the quality of the writing makes what is an essentially sound argument difficult to fully detect. Although the student's first paragraph is dangerously close to merely paraphrasing the plot developments in the first few scenes of the play, the third paragraph begins to bring some much-needed analysis to the moments of internal confusion and conflicting ambition described in the first two paragraphs. The student has understood the prompt, but adopting a structure which delves immediately into the examination of blood would have demonstrated this understanding earlier on.