Macbeth Soliloquies Essay, Research Paper
Probably composed in late 1606 or early 1607, Macbeth is the last of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies, the others being Hamlet, King Lear and Othello. It is a relatively short play without a major sub-plot, and it is considered by many scholars to be Shakespeare’s darkest work. Lear is an utter tragedy in which the natural world is amorally indifferent toward mankind, but in Macbeth, Shakespeare adds a supernatural dimension that purposively conspires against Macbeth and his kingdom. In the tragedy of Lear, the distraught king summons the goddess of Chaos, Hecht; in Macbeth, Hecate appears as an actual character.
On the level of human evil, Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy is about Macbeth’s bloody rise to power, including the murder of the Scottish king, Duncan, and the guilt-ridden pathology of evil deeds generating still more evil deeds. As an integral part of this thematic web is the play’s most memorable character, Lady Macbeth. Like her husband, Lady Macbeth’s ambition for power leads her into an unnatural, phantasmagoric realm of witchcraft, insomnia and madness. But while Macbeth responds to the prophecies of the play’s famous trio of witches, Lady Macbeth goes even further by figuratively transforming herself into an unnatural, desexualised evil spirit. The current trend of critical opinion is toward an upward re-evaluation of Lady Macbeth who is said to be rehumanized by her insanity and her suicide. Much of this reappraisal of Lady Macbeth has taken place in discussions of her ironically strong marriage to Macbeth, a union that rests on loving bonds but undergoes disintegration as the tragedy unfolds.
Throughout the novel, there are moments when important characters are given the opportunity to express details of their character and reveal information that is otherwise not given, but vital to the development of the story. A soliloquy is a classical literary technique to allow a character to share his or her thoughts and feelings with the audience. I will now examine and attempt to interpret two of these soliloquies, one from Lady Macbeth and the second from Macbeth himself.
As the scene opens, Lady Macbeth is reading a letter from her husband. The letter tells of the witches’ prophecy for him, which is
treated as a certainty, because “I have learned by the perfectest report, they have more in them than mortal knowledge”.
“The perfectest report” means “the most reliable information,” so it appears that Macbeth has been asking people what they know about the reliability of witches. If that’s the case, he has ignored the advice of Banquo, who is quite sure that witches can’t be trusted. But Macbeth seems to trust the witches absolutely, because he is writing to his wife, his “dearest partner of greatness,” so that she “mightst not lose the dues of
rejoicing”. That is, he believes that she has a right to rejoice because she will be a queen. However, Lady Macbeth doesn’t rejoice. She is determined that he will be king, but she suspects that he doesn’t have the right stuff to do what needs to be done. Speaking to him as though he were really there, she says: “Yet do I fear thy nature; / It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way”.
Her reaction to the letter shows that Lady Macbeth is a woman who knows her husband very well, perhaps because she shares some of his instincts. For both of them, murder is the “nearest way.” In an earlier scene, Macbeth had commented that “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, / Without my stir”, but later he assumes that he must be an assassin in order to be king. This is always his wife’s assumption.
In addition, Lady Macbeth seems to share the witches’ views on good and bad. She says to her absent husband, “Thou wouldst be great; / Art not without ambition, but without / The illness should attend it”. She, like the witches, believes that foul is fair. Ambition “should” be accompanied by “illness.” Yet she does not believe that Macbeth is really good. She says that he “wouldst not play false, / And yet wouldst wrongly win”. In her view, he’s something of a coward, because he has that within him that tells him what he must do if he is to have the throne, but he’s afraid to do it. Lady Macbeth tells her absent husband that he should hurry home so that she can “chastise with the valour of my tongue / All that impedes thee from the golden round”. In other words, she plans to persist with him until he’s ashamed of himself for being afraid to be bad. After all, it’s only that fear that’s keeping him from wearing the crown.
As Lady Macbeth is wrapped up in these murderous thoughts, a messenger comes in with the news that the King is coming to stay the night. Lady Macbeth’s first reaction is almost enough to give her away. “Thou’rt mad to say it!” she exclaims. To her, it must seem that there’s some magic at work, because just as she’s thinking about killing the King, here comes the news that he’s going to be sleeping under her roof. She covers up by saying that Macbeth must be with the King, and that her husband would have sent someone ahead to tell her, so that she could prepare for the King’s arrival. The messenger informs her that Macbeth’s messenger has just now come, only moments ahead of Macbeth himself. With that, she sends the messenger away and prepares herself for what’s next.
As she waits for her husband, Lady Macbeth works herself into a killer’s state of mind. She says, “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty!”. In Shakespeare’s time, as now, women were thought to be naturally more kind and gentle than men. But, Lady Macbeth, who is thinking deadly (”mortal”) thoughts, calls on the “spirits” of murder to take away her womanliness. We would say that those “spirits” are that part of her that can kill and not care; nowadays we might show such a person talking to herself, saying “you can do it.” But can she? For a person who wants to be cold-hearted, she seems to be talking quite a lot. She wants her blood to be thick and her milk to be bitter poison, but at the end she, as her husband did earlier, asks for the ability to kill without seeing what she is doing, and without being seen.
She says, ¡§Come, thick night, And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, To cry “Hold, hold!” In an atmosphere of black on black, of dark night darkened with the smoke of hell, Lady Macbeth’s knife won’t see what it’s doing, and neither will heaven. Of course, a real knife has no eyes and God’s eyes in heaven can see through night and smoke and all. The knife, then, is a metaphor for something else, perhaps her steely will, and “heaven” is probably a metaphor for her conscience. In short, she thinks she’s a killer, but there’s a part of her that wants to close its eyes to what she wants to do.
This concludes Lady Macbeth¡¦s soliloquy, in which many traits of her character are revealed and here motives made apparent, making the storyline of the play more apparent and giving the audience a greater feeling of involvement and familiarity with Lady Macbeth. I will now analyse Macbeth¡¦s soliloquy.
After Banquo and Fleance leave him, Macbeth sends his servant to tell Lady Macbeth to ring a bell when Macbeth’s drink is ready. The servant is supposed to think that the drink is some sort of toddy that one would have just before going to bed. Actually, there is no drink, and the bell is Lady Macbeth’s signal that the coast is clear for Macbeth to go and murder the King.
Alone now, Macbeth is so obsessed by thoughts of the murder that he starts to hallucinate. He says, “Is this a dagger which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand?¡¨ and reaches for it. Of course he can’t grasp it, and he realizes that he’s seeing the dagger that he plans to use in the murder, a dagger which beckons him toward King Duncan’s door, and a dagger upon which appear thick drops of blood. He understands that “It is the bloody business which informs / Thus to mine eyes”, but he is not horrified. Rather, he wants to be as deadly as that dagger.
The darkness of the dark night suits Macbeth’s purpose and mood. In the dark terrible dreams come, and witchcraft celebrates its rites, and Murder itself stalks the night. In Macbeth’s words, ¡§ . . . wither’d Murder,
Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf, Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth, Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time, Which now suits with it.¡¨
In his imagination, Macbeth sees Murder as a withered man who is “alarum¡¦d,” called to action, by his sentinel, the wolf. Normally, a sentinel would keep an eye out for danger and call out a warning, but Murder’s sentinel keeps an eye out for the opportunity to kill, and his howl is his “watch,” his announcement that another victim has been found for Murder. At this point, where Macbeth describes Murder as moving “thus with his stealthy pace,” it’s important to notice the “thus.” It doesn’t make sense unless Macbeth himself is now pacing like Murder itself, like
the murderous rapist Tarquin, “like a ghost.” He asks the earth to be deaf to his steps, not to “prate [chatter] of my whereabout,” because the present silence of the night suits the horror of what he’s about to do. Thus we see in Macbeth a man who wants to be a silent and deadly figure of horror.
But Macbeth hasn’t done the murder yet; he hasn’t even gone to the King’s door yet, and he tells himself that “Whiles I threat, he lives: / Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.” In other words, while he’s saying all these threatening things, King Duncan still lives, and his words haven’t yet inspired him to actually do the deed. Then the bell rings, and Macbeth answers the call, finally moving from horrifying words to a horrible deed only when his wife’s bell tells him it’s time.
I have now analysed both soliloquies and gathered sufficient evidence to draw a conclusion to the characters of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It is clearly noticeable that the two are very contrasting characters who¡¦s ideas and opinions differ greatly on some subjects, however they both have the same common goal, to become more successful. It is this determination that draws the most significant analyses of the characters.
It can be seen that Lady Macbeth is a far more unsympathetic character than Macbeth, although this is only confirmed through one soliloquy, whereas Macbeth¡¦s character is brought about in several soliloquies. This means that although Lady Macbeth¡¦s character seems to be fairly simple in contrast to Macbeth¡¦s, it may be as Lady Macbeth only has one soliloquy to reveal aspects of her character.
The image of Lady Macbeth¡¦s character however, is very one dimensional, her corruption of innocence and her femininity in order to attain a greater position shows how narrow her incentives are and it seems that any obstacle put in her way can be resolved, regardless of the solution. Lady Macbeth is therefore amoral as she is single mindedly putting herself ahead of others and causing others considerable distress in order to achieve greatness.
Macbeth¡¦s character is far more complex as he expresses his character in numerous ways that build up the image of a moral, but determined character.