Macbeth: The Breakdown Of Character Essay, Research Paper
The two main characters in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, are Macbeth himself and his wife Lady Macbeth. Their marriage seems to be mainly one of convenience for Lady Macbeth, but for Macbeth it is clearly more than that. He loves his wife, and she takes advantage of that for her own gain. She is continuously making him feel guilty, for being weak, and for not being able to give her a child, as is suggested by her words, “I have given suck and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me”. She also challenges his manhood, through words such as, “When you durst do it, then you were a man, and, to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man.”, which loosely means, Be a man, and then I will admire you.Macbeth is originally a hero to Scotland, and a strong character. He is a Lord under the rule of King Duncan, and has no reason to feel unhappy with his position. It is only after the prophecies of the Weird Sisters, that he begins to long for the throne of Scotland, and even then needs Lady Macbeth to convince him to commit the murder.Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, begins as pure evil, and remains that way. She has previously been married, and is therefore presumed older and trickier than Macbeth. She appears to always be using him for her own gain, by using her femininity to seduce him into doing the wrong thing, and in this way she persuades him to kill the king.When Macbeth hears the prophesies of his future, he appears to disregard them, but when he is made Thane of Cawdor (as foretold), he already is considering murdering the king: “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, shakes so my single state of man that function is smothered in surmise and nothing is but what is not.”. It is perhaps for this reason that he writes to Lady Macbeth, as though prompting her for some persuasion for him to kill Duncan, and she later refers to this as his agreement on the murder:”Nor time nor place did then adhere, and yet you would make both”; basically meaning that he was prepared to kill him before, and now he is too weak to go through with it.The breakdown of both characters is revealed through their soliloquies. In Macbeth’s first soliloquy you see an apprehensive Macbeth first starting to contemplate killing King Duncan. The thought of murdering his King, or indeed anyone, fills him with horror, and it would be for this reason that he writes to Lady Macbeth, seeking her evil support.Macbeth’s second soliloquy shows him discussing and hoping to dissuade himself from killing King Duncan, whom he should in reality be trying to protect. The only reason he has to kill him are his ambitions, spurred by the witches, and his wife.The third soliloquy is the one that I have just performed. Macbeth is imagining a dagger covered in blood pointing the way to Duncan’s chamber. He cannot decide whether or not he is only imagining it, or if it is actually a sign from the evil spirits, and eventually does go on to kill his King.After killing King Duncan that was, Macbeth is starting to realize what it is that he has done, and becomes suspicious and paranoid of everyone around him. Banquo is the only other person who knows of the prophesies and would naturally assume that it was Macbeth who killed the King. The witches also foresaw that Banquo would be the father of the Kings of Scotland after Macbeth, and so Macbeth decides that Banquo is a threat to him. He realizes that his mental suffering due to the killing of Duncan, will benefit Banquo and he would rather “battle fate” than let this happen.Act Five, Scene Three contains a few small speeches that do not really classify as soliloquies, and yet still show the dramatic decline of the character at this point. Macbeth has given up on life, and recognizes that he really does not have much left in the way of loyal subjects, friends, or honour as a king, and decides to go out fighting, as he thinks that the evil spirits are protecting him. He does not believe that he will either witness the Wood of Dunsinane coming towards him, or ever meet an enemy not born of a woman, as the witches have foretold, and so feels safe.Finally, in Act Five, Scene Five, there are again several small pieces where Macbeth analyses himself, and sees what he has become. He is so desensitized to violence and terror that it no longer bothers him as it would have previously. “I have almost forgot the taste of fears. The time has been, my senses would have cooled to hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hair would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir as life were in it”.Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, begins as a strong character who uses Macbeth to increase her power in society. She ultimately helps him reach his status as king so that she too will have influence. There are not many signs of her downfall in the play, and the one that stands out as being significant, is in the sleepwalk sequence. She is washing her hands over and over again, saying, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” and attempting to cleanse her conscience. Earlier, when she and Macbeth had just killed Duncan, she had said, “a little water will wash us of this deed”, and it would appear now that this is having a great effect on her, and she is still trying to wash her hands.Previously, it has seemed that Lady Macbeth has no morals or qualms about murdering anyone. In her most famous soliloquy, she is calling the spirits of the devil to fill her with anger and cruelty: “Come, you spirits, unsex me here and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty!”The emotions that Shakespeare evokes in the audience towards the two characters are vastly different. There is still some sympathy with Macbeth right to the end, and yet when Lady Macbeth dies, there is a sense of good conquering evil. In actual history, Macbeth was a competent king for 17 years, and perhaps that is what prompts Shakespeare to make him out as good, despite his impressive list of wrong doings.Throughout the play, the soliloquies reveal Macbeth’s change from a valiant Thane, to a guilt-oppressed King. He starts off frightened by his evil thoughts, and struggles to bring himself to kill Duncan. After he commits the deed, his entire persona is consumed with the guilt of what he has done, and this is where his character is flawed and leads to his eventual breakdown. Lady Macbeth has fewer soliloquies, and a much more sudden break in character. She remains wicked for the entire play, and suddenly collapses from her conscience which had been gnawing away at her from the moment things started to go wrong. Both characters demonstrate Shakespeare’s brand of tragedy well. The collapse of character is brought on by a small, yet fatal flaw within themselves, whereby they can no longer live with themselves, and they give up on life altogether.