He is loyal to the king and respected by the captain, who refers to him as ‘brave Macbeth’ and admires Macbeth’s courage and skill on the battlefield Macbeth has also reached the rank of captain, a high rank in the military, ‘Our captains, Macbeth and Banquo? This is highly praised at the time; military being considered a good career. Therefore, Macbeth would be a rich and influential man. Duncan, the king, also praises Macbeth – ‘valiant cousin’, ‘worthy gentleman’. It is a great honour to be praised by Duncan and Macbeth would obviously deserve it. The king respects him and is proud of Macbeth being his relation. All that remains of this by the end is Macbeth’s military skill, the respect for him having been shattered by his actions. He is still brave at the end, ‘yet I will try the last’.
When Macbeth meets the witches, their prophecies affect him deeply. He is first addressed as Thane of Glamis, a title he has, Thane of Cawdor, a title which Macbeth does not yet know he has and ‘that shalt be king hereafter. ‘ Macbeth is affected so deeply that is visible to Banquo, ‘why do you start. ‘ Macbeth is shocked, perhaps because he had contemplated being king before. The witches had seen the possibility for evil within Macbeth and have given him something sufficient to ensure that he sets his feet on the path of evil – they had given him the idea, the ambition was already there.
This is an influence that stays with him throughout the play, on which he becomes more and more dependent. Some time later, Macbeth is addressed as Thane of Cawdor by Ross, who bears the news of Macbeth’s new title from the king. Macbeth is very surprised as he did not expect the witches to be correct although he wanted to know more from them, ‘Why do you dress me / In borrowed robes? ‘ It seems too good to be true, making him wonder if the third prophecy will come true, ‘ Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor, / The greatest is behind. Macbeth realises that the witches probably do not wish him well, but he thinks that they do not wish to harm him, ‘cannot be ill, cannot be good. ‘
He is aware of the fact that the witches are supernatural, but ignores Banquo’s warning that the witches should not be trusted. He thinks that they are telling the future as it is going to happen, and ironically enough they are – Macbeth is going usurp the throne. However, he considers the prophecies deeply, and this leads him to consider murdering Duncan for the first time.
He is still a fundamentally good character, and is horrified at the very thoughts, calling them ‘horrible imaginings’. At the time, he concludes the line of thought with the decision ‘chance / may crown me’, as he realises that if he acted to ensure that he got the crown it would be dishonourable and he will condemn himself, it would be morally wrong. The witches have already influenced Macbeth – he has already considered murder once. Macbeth’s inward evil had started to move to the surface once it had been contaminated by inherent evil, the witches.
Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth telling her of the witches’ prophecies. This does not have any important plot meaning as Macbeth could have easily told her about it when he arrived home. Rather, it shows the closeness of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship. The gesture is important as it shows Macbeth’s urge to share the news with his wife, although the letter would probably only arrive a few hours before him. The closeness of their relationship is further shown by Macbeth’s entrance and their way of address, Macbeth addresses Lady Macbeth as ‘my dearest love’.
They waste very little time on greetings, and Lady Macbeth dominates the conversation with her much longer speeches. She is very commanding towards Macbeth: ‘you shall put / This night’s great business into my dispatch’, something that would have been very unlikely in Shakespearian times. This close relationship changes as Macbeth slides into evil. In Macbeth’s first major soliloquy he expresses the doubts he has about Duncan’s murder – he realises that the only thing driving him is ambition.
Macbeth uses the phrase ‘trammel up the consequence’ to show that he would like to commit the murder, but that it could have bad consequences. He realises that everything does have a consequence and that he should not jeopardise the life to come – eternity, as Duncan’s murder would send him, without fail, to hell. This is a very human way of thinking, and Macbeth is obviously a very moral man, realising that what he is contemplating is morally and ethically wrong. Shakespeare has used very complex language to simulate the thought processes that would be going through Macbeth’s mind.
Macbeth’s metaphors and similes are very complicated and abstract, showing further the depth of his thought and that he is not only thinking of the physical meaning but also the spiritual meaning of the act, ‘tears shall drown the wind’ . This can be compared with Lady Macbeth’s speeches further in the scene, which use much more basic and physical images, ‘screw your courage to the sticking-place’, where she compares courage with the string of a cross-bow. Macbeth concludes his train of thought with the decision that his ambition ‘o’erleaps itself’.
He decides to ‘proceed no further in this business’, but Lady Macbeth’s influence and knowledge of her husband’s temperament is shown by how she convinces him to go ahead with the murder. Her simple imagery and brutal language shows her level of thought about the murder – she has obviously not contemplated the consequences as deeply as Macbeth. Examples of this are ‘break this enterprise to me’ and ‘dashed his brains out’. However, moments after Macbeth goes to commit the murder the audience sees Lady Macbeth reveal that she is not as strong as she is shown to be at first, ‘Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done’t. This suggests that Lady Macbeth is, rather than doing this to fulfil her own desires, she is seeking to make her husband happy because she knows that he wants to be king, and that this desire would last, and possibly make him unhappy when he does not become king.
When Macbeth returns from the murder, Lady Macbeth returns to a clear and focused state in order to present a different face to her husband and in order to be able to sort her husband out, who has realised how horrible the deed that he has done is and is obsessed with damnation. Macbeth thinks that he is bewitched, ‘Amen stuck in my throat. His fears are well grounded after meeting with the witches, since with their prophecies they started him on this path. He is also worried about what will happen in the after-life, and imagines voices, ‘Macbeth does murder sleep’. Traditionally, not sleeping was held to be a sign of guilt. Macbeth’s next lines hold complex repetition about how he had murdered his peace of mind, and he ignores Lady Macbeth’s attempts to help him get over it. This is the true turning point of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s relationship and after this Macbeth begins his change.
Macbeth regrets the deed, but he knows that nothing can be done about it and that he is damned. The change is seen clearly in the next scene, shown by Macbeth’s murder of the guards with seemingly no guilt, and how he dominates the scene, saying much more than Lady Macbeth or any other characters. His speeches are very long and theatrical, holding double meaning – that life will not be the same because Duncan is dead and that Macbeth now has guilt to live with, ‘from this instant, / there is nothing serious in mortality. ‘ However, Macbeth does not seem to feel extremely guilty.
He is very calm and cold, speaking slowly and carefully. It seems more as if Macbeth is surprised at what he had done now that he had thought about the deed a little than particularly guilty, and outwards seems to have come to terms with his own damnation – ‘renown and grace is dead,’ ‘mere lees / Is left in this vault to brag of’. Macbeth’s next murder is much easier and Lady Macbeth’s influence is unnecessary. In fact, he does not say anything about it to her. In Macbeth’s soliloquy he shows that he realises that Banquo is a good man, and that he is not justified in killing him.
Macbeth’s jealousy at Banquo because Banquo did not take the prophecies to heart is also shown, and Macbeth is actually weighted down with guilt. The language is, again, complex and shows deep thought. Macbeth’s bitterness is shown by more than half of the soliloquy being about a rant about how no one of his blood would succeed the throne, but Banquo’s seed instead, ‘fruitless crown’, ‘barren sceptre’. He is bitter that he has condemned his soul for nothing: ‘mine eternal jewel / Given to the common enemy of man. When meeting the murderers, the change in Macbeth is even more pronounced as he uses the same tactic that Lady Macbeth has used on him in order to get him to commit the murder of Duncan. He uses emotional blackmail and mocks the murderers’ sentiments, ‘patience so predominant in your nature’ , later saying that they are not men if they cannot commit the murder. Macbeth has very obviously changed, and this being the second meeting further supports the fact that Macbeth has become much more wicked.
While having agonised over Duncan’s death, now he is so soon after the first murder he is ordering the murder of his best friend. He does not need Lady Macbeth anymore, and had acquired some finesse: now he is paying others to commit murders for him. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship has suffered after Duncan’s murder and Lady Macbeth is very disconnected from what Macbeth is now doing – she has to ask information from a servant, ‘Is Banquo gone from court? ‘, Macbeth has been avoiding her and does not share everything with her anymore, ‘Why do you keep alone? , she needs to ask him, and then he does not give proper answers, keeping much to himself, including Banquo’s upcoming murder – ‘Be innocent of the knowledge’. Macbeth takes very little notice of Lady Macbeth while talking about how he envies the dead Duncan and his speeches are full of omens of evil – ‘full of scorpions is my mind’ and ‘black Hecate’s summons’ – Macbeth is now fully connected with evil which has come to the fore-front of his character. Lady Macbeth has lost her status as a dominant speaker and Macbeth’s speeches lead the conversation, taking little or no notice of what his wife says.
Also, Lady Macbeth is not the ‘dearest partner in greatness’ anymore – shown by Macbeth ordering her to come with him, ‘prithee go with me’. The next scene of importance is Macbeth’s seeing of Banquo’s ghost at the Banquet. This shows the immense sense of guilt, since the ghost is unseen to other guests and Macbeth has hallucinated. This is what finally drives Lady Macbeth over the edge – her last waking and sane words are at the end of the scene. Macbeth is again influenced by the supernatural following a decision to see the witches again.
He demands to know what will happen in the future and is unafraid of what may be revealed. He is willing to sacrifice everything for the knowledge, even nature’s order, ‘castles topple on their warder’s heads’, ‘trees blown down’. Macbeth takes each of the prophecies deeply to heart and considers each for a long time ‘but yet I’ll make assurance double sure’. He interprets only the seeming literal sense of the prophecies, unaware that these are to trick him and are in fact saying how he will fall, not why he will survive.
He takes confidence from the prophecies and they are what leads him to ordering the deaths of Macduff’s family, a massacre he would have been unlikely to commit without something helping him to reach that conclusion. That murder is perhaps the most terrible since Macbeth is murdering not the person he wants removed, but people associated with Macduff. ‘This deed I will do before purpose cool’ shows that this is spur of the moment action, highly likely to be influenced by what he had just seen. He wants it done immediately, since he seems afraid that if he thinks it through properly he will realise that this is not a good thing to do.
Macbeth has abruptly become much more ruthless, but he is not a true tyrant because somewhere he knows that what he is doing is wrong. Lady Macbeth has gone insane from guilt, and is sleepwalking. All her desires have been inverted – where she wanted darkness on the night of Duncan’s murder, she now has light by her constantly. Her sentences are very disconnected and she finally realises that she had sent herself to hell, ‘Hell is murky. ‘ She feels guilty even for the murders Macbeth committed on his own because she set him on that path by convincing him to kill Duncan, ‘Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now? She is entirely eaten up in guilt and reliving all her experiences on the night of the murder over and over again, ‘A soldier, and afeard? ‘. She also gives a suggestion that Macbeth is also feeling extremely guilty and that he cannot sleep either, ‘I tell you yet again Banquo”s buried; he cannot come out on’s grave. ‘ Malcolm’s description of Macbeth is justified – Macbeth has indeed become a ‘dead butcher’, murdering ruthlessly, having steadily descended into evil, from first Duncan’s murder, then Banquo’s, massacre of Macduff’s family being the worst.
He does retain some humanity, as he feels guilty until the end. However, the description of Lady Macbeth as a ‘fiend-like queen’ is only justified if her actions at the beginning are taken into account. Later, she has no influence over Macbeth’s actions and wants him to stop his way of bloodshed, going insane and committing suicide at the end. However, it is her actions at the beginning to convince Macbeth to start murdering are what led to his fall and reign of evil and death.