In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, is seen as a courageous
soldier who is loyal to the King but is corrupted by the witches
prophecies and by Lady Macbeth’s and his own ambition. This is because of
the weakness of Macbeth’s character and the strong power of Lady
Macbeth as she is easily able to influence him. Her strength
motivates him at the start but after he realizes what he has done it
is himself that continues in his murderous, bloody path. At the
beginning of the play Lady Macbeth appears as a kind wife
but underneath lies a scheming and treacherous woman. Both Macbeth and his wife go through many changes throughout the course of this play. They go from being honored, noble people to being reduced to nothing. They both have tragic flaws such as ambition and greed which bring them to their down fall.
In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is a strong soldier who
fights for the King without mercy but his strive for ambition and his
curious nature leads him to the witches who greet him with a prophecy.
Banquo realizes that there must be a trick hidden in the witches
prophecies somewhere but Macbeth refuses to accept that, and when Lady
Macbeth finds out about the witches her strong desire for ambition and
her cold nature leads Macbeth astray. Lady Macbeth’s ambition far exceeds Macbeths and so she is able to get Macbeth to agree with her to kill King Duncan. Macbeth still has a conscience at this stage because he is very hesitant about killing the King but his weak nature over comes him. He has a conscience throughout the entire play as this is seen by the hallucinations of
the dagger and the ghost of Banquo. His vivid imagination and his
constant worry also provokes him. This is also evident in his
terrible dreams which gives the solid theme that he has indeed “murdered sleep”.
Throughout the play we see the character of Macbeth change not
from just the way he thinks and what we hear from the play, but from
the actions he takes in the play. Killing Banquo, then having
Lady Macduff and her children murdered, shows the insecurity that was
present in Macbeth. After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth becomes
paranoid and his first step of killing the guards is one of many that
he takes to secure himself. Macbeth is also very superstitious
and this is shown when he believes the prophecy the witches told him
about Banquo’s offspring becoming Kings.
Towards the end of the play when Macbeth’s wife has died and
the battle is drawing closer Macbeth shows some potential good. He wishes for a normal life in which he would have lived to an honorable age but he recognizes that he has ruined any chance of that. Even when Macbeth hears that the prophecy has come true of Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane, he rejects this idea and fights on until he realizes that Macduff wasn’t born in a natural birth but instead was “Untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb. When Macbeth hears of this he realizes what he has done and how he has been tricked by the witches. Although he has come to that realization, he continues to fight only to be slain in the end.
Macbeth can be summarized as a character who is physically strong
but he is mentally very weak and it is this weakness which causes his downfall and change. Other factors do however also contribute to this change such as his wife whose ambition is very strong at first and is much stronger mentally than Macbeth. It is also Macbeth’s ambition and his trust in the witches which ultimately change him.
Lady Macbeth seems to be almost opposite compared to that of
Macbeth in physical and mental power. Lady Macbeth is the person who
is able to persuade Macbeth into killing Duncan, assuring Macbeth that
it will succeed, as Lady Macbeth’s ambition is far greater than that
of Macbeth. This change in the character of Lady Macbeth is apparent
after she reads the letter from Macbeth. She talks to the evil spirits to make her cold hearted with lines such as “Fill me from the crown to the toe-top full of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood”. She goes to the extent of planning the murder of Duncan and assumes full responsibility for this. She exerts a lot of power over Macbeth in this part of the play and even calls him a “coward”. This shows just how determined she is and how much ambition she has for the two of them. It is this confidence in herself plus the persuasiveness in her words that makes Macbeth act without hesitating.
After performing the necessary acts in preparation for the
murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth thinks of performing the act herself but shows a sign of humanity. She says that he resembles, “My father as he
slept”. This stops her from doing the deed herself, so instead Macbeth does it. After the murder has been done Lady Macbeth shows just how
strong a person she really is by using kind words and confidence to
calm Macbeth and prevent him from going insane. Lady Macbeth however
jokes with Macbeth about forgetting the incident as “These deeds must
not be thought after these ways: so, it will make us mad”. Afterwards
she smears blood on the daggers and tells Macbeth to change into a night gown.
At this point Lady Macbeth is in complete control and has tried to make
Macbeth free of guilt even though he, in fact, did perform the deed.
When Lady Macbeth is told of Duncan’s murder she exclaim in horror “What! In our House!” all the while in complete control, so as to draw away the suspicion from Macbeth. When, however, she finds out that
Macbeth has killed the guards she faints “Help me Hence”. Is this a
another sign of an act to again draw away the suspicion from Macbeth?
Or did she faint from shocked dismay? I believe she was shocked
because she was surprised that she was able to get Macbeth to not only commit the murder of Duncan, but also kill two more men in cold blood.
Lady Macbeth is still strongly in control as the play proceeds
and is able to handle crises very well which is shown at the banquet
incident where Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo. Lady Macbeth is
quick to lie for Macbeth to conceal what is really happening. As Macbeth progresses with his evil acts, however, Lady Macbeth starts to go mad which is almost like what her prophecy mentioned. She also hallucinates like her husband but this time about trying to cleanse her hands of the blood that will not wash off. Even though she may be a strong character greatly supporting her husband, she is reduced and battered by her evil deeds and her conscience which eventually drive her insane. She then kills herself when unable to remove the “damned spot”. At his wife’s suicide Macbeth has already thrown away his conscience, so much so, that Macbeth continues to commit even more evil acts.
Over the course of the play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth greatly
change with respect to their characters and their personalities.
Although Macbeth was weak at first it was the strong Lady Macbeth who
helped him through the first murder. Due to the effort put into controlling
Macbeth and his conscience, she lost control of hers and in turn became mentally ill and killed herself. Thus in the end it was worthy to
call Macbeth and his wife “a dead butcher and his fiend like queen”
but it must not be forgotten that at the beginning of the play Macbeth
and his wife were ordinary nobles at the time. They both had tragic flaws which included being too greedy and ambitious for their own good. These flaws became the cause of their bloody downfall.