Macbeth:Concious Villain To Unrepentant Tyrant Essay, Research Paper
January, 13, 1999
Macbeth: Conscious Villain to Unrepentant Tyrant
Thesis: To trace the degradation of Macbeth from a hero to a conscious villain to an unrepentant tyrant.
I. Macbeth as a Hero.
A. Admired warrior
B. Duncan’s Admiration
II. Macbeth as a Conscious Villain
A. First tidings of villainy
B. Murder of Duncan
C. Guilt-Ridden Soliquoy
III. Macbeth as a non-repentant Tyrant
A. Murder of Macduff’s family
B. Selfish thoughts of sleep
C. Feelings of Invincibility
Macbeth, like most tragedies tells the fall of the protagonist from grace. Macbeth, originally a hero, degrades into a conscious villain who feels guilt and then into an unmerciful, non-repentant tyrant. A man once heralded as a hero becomes the bane of the land and his people.
At the start of Macbeth we are introduced to him and it is implied that he is a great warrior and a great man. He is the hero of the recent battle and is the subject of rewards from King Duncan. In fact one critic describes him as “A great warrior, somewhat masterful, rough, and abrupt, a man to inspire some fear and much admiration. There was in fact, much good in him ? certainly he was far from devoid of humanity and pity.”(Bradley “Macbeth”) This paints the picture of an admired, somewhat inpersonable hero who was admired for his bravery and courage. In fact even Duncan, his later victim, admired him. Duncan gives him another kingdom and appoints him the Thane of Cawdor. The captain says of Macbeth to Duncan that:
For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name — Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution, Like valor’s minion carved out his passage Till he faced the slave; Which nev’r shook hands, nor bade farewell to him, Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops (I, ii, 16-24)
These are the words of a man who admires Macbeth, and at this point rightly so. This is the heroic Macbeth of whom we are speaking. Unfortunately Macbeth soon begins his down fall and becomes a conscious villain.
Macbeth degradation to a conscious villain begins with his first tidings of villainy. These tidings begin when Macbeth hears that the Duncan’s son is the next in line for kingship. Macbeth says of this:
The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step I must fall down or else o’erleap. For in my way it lies. (I, iv, 47-50)
This is the point at which we see Macbeth start to become a man driven by his ambition for the throne. A man willing to kill for it. From this point in the story Macbeth’s villainy is not yet set in stone and is urged onward by his wife’s calls of cowardice. Macbeth soon acts on this ambition through the murder of Duncan. However his acts lead him toward a guilty conscious. After he murders Duncan he is haunted by his guilt. He cries out that “I’ll go no more. I am afraid what I have done; Look on ‘t again I dare not.”(II, ii, 49-51) In these lines it is clear that Macbeth regrets his action. According to John Andrews this “is his first attempt to bring about a ? transposition (to transpose “the structural conditions of his own mind into the external world”); in parricidal terms making himself the sole sovereign of his world.” (Andrews #?) In other words his need for power is so great that his ambition is willing to “o’erleap” his humanity to get what he desires. His guilt from his murderous action continues throughout Act II, scene ii. In Act II, scene iii we begin to see the cloud of guilt lifted from him and he slowly becomes an unrepentant tyrant.
Macbeth’s murder of Banqou is the beginning of his descent into the abyss of true tyranny. He murders a man with whom he once was a dear friend. He murders Banquo in hopes of securing the crown of which he wanted so much. He says:
They hailed him father to a line of kings. Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown and put a barren scepter in my gripe. (III, I, 60-63)
He murders this time with little guilt and the only fears that haunt him do so out of fear of discovery and not of guilt. At this point “The idea of Macbeth as conscience-tormented man is a platitude as false as Macbeth himself.”(Scott ?#) Perhaps the most heartless act of Macbeth’s reign is that of murdering Macduff’s family. He murders completely innocent people for the sake of vengeance. His first instincts and feelings of his heart overtake him. He states that:
From this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand ? to crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done: The castle of Macduff I will surprise. (IV, ii, 147-150)
And amazingly from this horrendous action there appears to be no guilt. It is said, “Macbeth has no conscious. His main concern throughout the play is that most selfish of all concerns: to get a good night’s rest.”(Scott ?#) He has no feelings for others but envy, “He envies the murdered Duncan in his rest.”(Scott ?#) At this point after all his actions his main want is rest. Truly he has become an unfeeling tyrant.
The tragedy of Macbeth has a common plot, that of a hero losing his heroism. Macbeth once the admired warrior soon becomes the hated tyrant of Scotland. Through key points in the play you can trace this devastating downfall. From Hero to Unfeeling tyrant, that is the tragedy of Macbeth.
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Scott, Mark, ed. Shakespeare for Students. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth, The British Tradition. Eds.
Ellen Bowler, et. al. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996