In many of Shakespeare’s plays there exists relationships between characters; these relationships in many cases influence the direction in which the play goes. For example, in the “The Merchant Of Venice” the elopement of Lorenzo and Jessica is what triggers Shylock’s rage and blind desire for revenge, which sets the stage and the necessary atmosphere that is required for the climax in the court scene. Likewise in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” the everlasting relationship between Macbeth and the three witches is the foundation of the entire plot. When Macbeth meets the witches he views them as honest and believes on them quickly. The witches having established contact with the protagonist, indirectly affect and transform his beloved wife. Towards his demise Macbeth finally realises how the witches have heinously betrayed him.
From the very start of the play the witches establish how important Macbeth is to their evil scheme: “There to meet with Macbeth”. It is from this moment that a permanent link is established between Macbeth and the witches. “A drum, a drum, Macbeth doth come”. The witches use extraordinary equivocatory language when speaking: “hail to thee Thane Glamis/ hail to thee thane of Cawdor/ All hail Macbeth that shalt be king hereafter”. Macbeth is confused, he is the thane of Glamis but not of Cawdor, and he is not the king. When Macbeth receives news of his promotion he immediately believes in the witches’ prophecies: “The greatest is behind-Thanks for your pains”.
Macbeth is also very fond of the witches as they awaken in him his dormant vaulting ambition to be king. He cannot forget the meeting that he had with them: “My thought, whose murder is yet but fantastical, shakes so my very single state of man that function is smothered in surmise, and is but what is not”. Macbeth very quickly believes whole heartily without any shred of proof , it is unimaginable how the witches could manipulate one who is supposed to be “Valliant”. Macbeth trusts in the witches to an extent that he stars to suspect people who are close to him, even his brother in arms: “We would spend it in some words upon that business, if you would grant the time”. It is quite clear that Macbeth has become increasingly paranoid due to his evolving relationship with the three weird sisters.
Throughout the whole play the witches are in Macbeth’s mind corrupting him even further. Lady Macbeth is no exception: “Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top full direst cruelty.”. Notice how Lady Macbeth uses the word crown, this shows that the witches, in form of spirits, have filled lady Macbeth with ambition more vaulting than Macbeth’s one. Under the influence the witches she is driven to extreme measures: “Come thick night and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell”. One would not have imagined that the witches’ power would have extended to influence humans to bow to the devil indirectly.
The witches may also appear in many different forms, this has already been witnessed by the audience: “I come, Graymalkin”/ “Paddock calls”. When Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s castle the witches are present in a way. They are present in Lady Macbeth’s fake attitude towards the King: “Your majesty loads our house: for those of old, and the late dignities heap’d up to them, we rest your hermits.”. It is noticeable that Lady Macbeth speaks somewhat like the witches in rhyme this shows the extent of the power of the three weird sisters and how solid their relationship is with the Macbeths.
The power of the witches does not cease to guide Macbeth further along the path of hell:“Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle towards my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.”. A deadly illusion is created before Macbeth in order to make sure that he does not sway from his hell-bound vaulting ambition to become king. This is the most solid proof yet that the relationship between Macbeth and the witches is the triggers the most important events in the play: the murder of the gracious king Duncan.
Having fully fulfilled the prophecy of the witches, the relationship between Macbeth and these ministers of evil continues to grow evermore leading Macbeth even closer to his demise: “How now, you secret, black and midnight hags?”. Notice the normal, familiar, even demanding tone that Macbeth uses with the witches this emphasizes how close Macbeth and the witches are, or so does Macbeth think. The witches corrupt Macbeth even further by showing him three apparitions: “Come high or low: thyself and office deftly show”.
The apparitions were the cornerstone of the witches’ evil scheme; they further trick and blind Macbeth from the truth making him think that he is invincible, and hence deceiving him: “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”/ “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him”. It is here where we see the true face of the relationship between the witches and Macbeth as it really is: a deceptive, manipulating and equivocating one. This is never seen by Macbeth himself, which influences the story even more.
To show the audience how the relationship between Macbeth and the witches is important to the plot of the play he breaks down their relationship at the climax of the play: “I looked toward Birnam, and anon methought the wood began to move”. The first brutal betrayal by the witches came at a time when Macbeth was already in turmoil due to the death of his partner in greatness. It is at this moment when an epiphany strikes Macbeth and shows him the true nature of the witches in which he placed so much of his trust: “I pull in resolution, and begin to doubt the equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth”.
Even at when he is so near to his moment of death Macbeth still carries little belief of what the witches had previously told him: “Thou wast born of woman; but swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn brandished by man that’s of woman born”. This proves how intact the relationship between Macbeth and the weird sisters was; even after discovering that they betrayed him Macbeth still clings to the one prophecy that he hopes to be true. This fool’s hope is ripped away by Macduff: “Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped”. The solid, seemingly unbreakable relationship between Macbeth and the witches has finally broken down completely proving that it was futile from the start.
This play is no exception to the fact that relationships are important and affect the story of Shakespeare’s plays. If it was not for the doomed relationship between the witches and Macbeth the play might not have been a tragedy at all. This bond between Macbeth and these minsters of evil serves as the cornerstone of the entire play and a crucial catalyst to the plot. It could be said that the relationship was forged before the fatal meeting and started to decide the fate of the plot and of Macbeth.
The Theme Of Macbeth
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The play Macbeth written by William Shakespeare in the beginning of the 17th century, deals with a man's turn from the king's most glorious, brave and courageous general into a traitor and murderer influenced by evil forces.
In the following I am going to describe the play briefly and explain the theme of it. Furthermore I will discuss Macbeth's character and his internal conflict.
While the general Macbeth and his friend Banquo are returning from a victorious battle, King Duncan hears of their courage and bestows the title of Cawdor on the still absent Macbeth. The two warriors encounter three witches who greet Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and „(…) King hereafter'. They prophesize that Banquo will become king though he will not himself be one. Macbeth, who is already Thane of Glamis, is startled when two messengers from the king greet him as the new Thane of Cawdor, thus fulfilling the witches' prophecy in part. When Macbeth learns that Duncan's son Malcolm has been appointed Prince of Cumberland, automatic successor to the throne, he momentarily entertains the idea of killing the king and so begins the ultimate prediction of the witches.
Banquo resists any thoughts that might hasten the witches' prophecy that his children will be kings. Lady Macbeth, however, strengthens her husband to kill the king and they accomplish it. When the murder is discovered, the king's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, seeing a similar fate for themselves, flee Scotland. Macbeth proceeds to Scone, where he is crowned as Duncan's successor to the throne.
Banquo half-suspects Macbeth of Duncan's murder but accepts an invitation at the new king's fiest and attends it with his son Fleance. Macbeth employs two murderers to kill both in an attempt to avoid the second part of the witches' prophecies. They kill Banquo but Fleance escapes.
Macbeth decides to find the witches to demand further assurances. They answer him with a procession of ghostly appearances: an armed head which warns him against Macduff; a child covered in blood which says that „(…) none of a woman born shall harm Macbeth'; a child holding a tree, who says Macbeth will be safe until „(…) Birnam Wood (…)' comes to Dunsinane; and eight kings followed by Banquo's ghost, which, with a smile, points to them as his descendants. Leaving, Macbeth encounters the nobleman Lennox, who tells him that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth vows to kill Macduff's wife and children.
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A messenger arrives at Macduff's castle to warn her, but it is too late and Macbeth's assassins kill Lady Macduff and her children. When Macduff hears the terrible news, he swears to kill Macbeth with his own sword.
At Macbeth's castle, Dunsinane, Lady Macbeth has begun to go insane. She walks in her sleep and while her doctor and a waiting lady watch in horror, she relieves her guilt and, unconscious of the others, speaks about the crimes she and her husband have committed. Macbeth is deeply alarmed about her disorder, but, nevertheless, is preparing for the attack by the English invaders under Malcolm, who has joined with rebellious Scottish forces. Malcolm has his soldiers cut branches from Birnam Wood to carry as camouflage in the assault. Thus the prophecy „(…) till Birnam Wood to high to Dunsinane hill (…)' begins to be fulfilled. Macbeth learns that Lady Macbeth has died, possibly by suicide. In despair, he goes forth to battle and encounters Macduff, who destroys his last confidence by admitting that he was „(…) from his mother's womb untimely ripp'd (…)' – he „(…) was not of woman born (…)'. With this part of the prophecy no longer the protection it seemed, Macbeth dies at Macduff's hands. Macduff brings the head of Macbeth to Malcolm and hails the son of the murdered Duncan as the new King of Scotland.
By „the theme' of Macbeth one means the principal idea of the play, an idea that is seen in dramatic setting probably in every act of the play. Abstracting a theme from a play is not identical to establishing a point as fact. In Macbeth, as in other Shakespearean plays, we find that appearances are one thing, reality another. A more specific configuration of the main theme (there are also minor themes) is that only a deluded person thinks that playing with evil can leave him or her unchanged and that humanity, yielding to evil, is led to destruction.
In Act I, this idea is embodied in Macbeth's and Lady Macbeth's responses to the salutations of the witches. Macbeth and his lady regard the greetings as Thane of Cawdor and future king as prophecies. Furthermore, with respect to the throne, they contemplate murder of the incumbent Duncan, although Macbeth is not told by the witches to kill Duncan for his crown. In Act II, the Macbeths are deceived by the apparent ease and subsequent guiltlessness with which they can achieve Duncan's death. In Act III, Macbeth arranges the murder of Banquo and Fleance; but Fleance, who mainly intends to continue Banquo's line, escapes. The murder of Banquo and Fleance had seemed to be assured, but the reality is otherwise. In Act IV and Act V, Macbeth wrongly reads the sayings of the second and the third apparitions – the prophecies that „none of woman born (…) shall harm Macbeth' and that he is safe „(…) till Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill (…) shall come against him'. Significantly, he takes no particular notice of the saying of the first apparition to „Beware Macduff'. In Act V, these three prophecies come true, as Macbeth learns to his horror, when Malcolm's army, disguised by branches from Birnam Wood, comes against his castle and when Macduff, confronting Macbeth, informs him that he „(…) was from his mother's womb (…) untimely ripp'd (…)' in Caesarean birth. Macbeth learns in death that appearances pointed one way, but reality, rock-hard, lay in the opposite direction. Against these rocks he is crushed.
The question why Macbeth has done all this and why the terrifying experience with Banquo's ghost did not warn him is answered by Macbeth himself: „I am in blood (…) stepp'd in so far', he says, „that, should I wade no more, (…) returning were as tedious as go o'er'. He says that he finds it too tiresome to repent. What has happened is that in making his first decision for evil instead of good, he has confused these two values. He has confused fair and foul, which confusion has all along been the devil's aim. Macbeth cannot return, even though returning means the difference between failure and success.
Foremost, Macbeth is a brave and courageous man; he is much honored by his compatriots for his leading part in defense of his good king and native land. However, almost as soon as we meet him, we realize that he is both ambitious and murderous and fears to accept the real and also the supernatural consequences of his actions. Early in the play, Shakespeare concentrates on Macbeth's courage so that he can contrast it later on with the terror and panic of Macbeth's psychological anguish. Lady Macbeth is certainly aware of her husband's fame as a fearless soldier, and she uses dazzling psychology to tempt her husband to kill Duncan: she „dares'; him to do „(…) all that may become a man'. Macbeth accepts her challenge; no one calls him a coward.
Part of Macbeth's actions, of course, can be traced to envy. Early in the play when Macbeth hears the witches, he envies Banquo's having heirs, as much as he fears, later, those same heirs as rivals for the throne. We feel pity, ultimately, for Macbeth, not hatred and disgust. This is the key to the tragedy: Macbeth's suffering is a result of his self-destructive behavior by leaving all his good qualities behind and eliminating his potentials and possibilities in an attempt to claim a fate that is not his.