Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one of the reoccurring themes throughout the
play was “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” This is used to explain that people and
events may seem either good or bad, but after some inspection, turn out to be the
opposite. In my opinion, “Nothing is but what is not,” is similar to “Fair is foul and
foul is fair,” because it is declaring how things are, in fact, what people believe
they are contrary to.
First, throughout the play, many people end up being the opposite of how
their peers actually perceive them. In the play’s opening act, the Thane of
Cawdor is discovered as being a leader of the rebel forces after Duncan had
previously believed in his loyalty. In act one, the same can also be said for
Macbeth. As soon as the witches tell Macbeth of his new title and then foretell
that he will be king, he too begins to turn his once loyal thoughts against the
beloved king. In addition to Macbeth, his wife is also a good example. She is
busily making her castle ready for Duncan’s visit. When he arrives, he gives her
gifts and thanks her for being his host, when she was actually planning his
murder. It is a popular reoccurrence in a number of the Shakespearean plays for
people to appear to be one thing, but on the inside, to be completely different.
Not only does this theme apply to people, but it also applies to different
events during the play as well. There are comments made to how the day is
“Foul and fair.” This simply relates someone’s emotions to the weather. They
could be personally having a terrible day, but the weather outside is simply
gorgeous. The same was said for Macbeth’s castle when Duncan and his
followers arrived for their visit. Duncan himself commented on how nice the
castle appeared. Little did he know that it would be the shelter for his demise.
Next, and possibly the greatest example of “Nothing is but what is not,” is
Macbeth’s will to become the king. He so badly wants to become the king that he
finally takes a man’s life for it, eternally condemning him in the eyes of God.
What Macbeth was not aware of, was that even though he was the most
important man in Scotland, the evil he had caused in Scotland was so great that it
would cause the holy position to be looked at as a curse. Just as people can be
foul and fair, so too can be nonliving things.
One of the reasons that Macbeth is still popular today is because of its
universal themes such as “Nothing is but what is not.” This great theme still
applies to life in the twenty-first century. There are many evil people who are
looked up to, and many lonely or unpleasant jobs or positions that people desire
because they do not see the real substance behind the attractive “gold” covering.
Throughout Macbeth, Shakespeare uses different forms of imagery to add
to the effectiveness of the characters’ actions in the play. Specifically though, I
feel that the supernatural usage of imagery is the most effective form that
Shakespeare used. The supernatural imagery told us a great deal about the
personal troubles that the characters were dealing with.
The first example in the play comes when Macbeth is visited by the bloody
knife in his soliloquy. The fact that the knife had blood on it and the was pointed
toward Macbeth did a great deal in foreshadowing the upcoming events. This
hallucination came at a time when Macbeth was having a rough time deciding
whether or not he would in fact take the life and the throne of Duncan. I feel that
the bloody knife was Macbeth’s will and desire for the throne of Scotland giving
hem the last nudge he needed to push him to become a murderer. The blood on
the knife was of course the soon to be slain Duncan, and the fact that the knife
was right in front of him, easily accessible for him grab, perhaps convinced
Macbeth that the murder conspiracy would, in fact, not be that difficult to perform.
The first supernatural use of imagery served as a catalyst to the upcoming events
that would shape the rest of the play.
In addition to the bloody knife, Banquo’s ghost appearing in the king’s
throne was another great use of imagery. It began to show us the great internal
struggle going on inside of Macbeth. He knew that Banquo was his friend and he
would greatly benefit his cause, but he also felt that he was suspicious of
Macbeth’s involvement in Duncan’s murder. He knew that if Banquo were to rival
Macbeth, it would mean his definite demise. He also was worried about the
witches prediction that Banquo’s descendants would be kings. In order for
Macbeth to stay in power he would have to kill both Banquo and Fleance. In my
opinion, Macbeth felt so guilty for killing his friend that the hallucination of his
ghost was his conscience’s was of getting even with him. At this point in the play,
imagery was used show the repercussions caused by Macbeth going more and
more against the will of God and his own mind and beliefs.
Out of all the imagery in the Shakespearean plays we have read thus far,
this supernatural imagery in Macbeth is by far the most effectively used. It is
used to jump-start the events that will shape the characters’ lives, as well as the
path of the play itself. It is also used to show the consequences that can result by
going against one’s own conscience and morals, perhaps the most important part
of who a person is. This style of imagery immensely adds to the greatness of this
The Murder of King Duncan was perhaps the single most important event
that took place in Macbeth. The two perpetrators of the murder Macbeth, who
actually did the killing, and his wife, who morally bashed him in order to make
him kill both played equally important parts in the murder. Both of these
characters, though, were affected in entirely different manners.
First, Lady Macbeth’s changes took place more subtly and slowly. Before
the murder, Lady Macbeth was entirely behind it. If it would not have been for her
role, Macbeth would not have killed Duncan at all. She kept egging Macbeth on
because she felt he was too nice to murder. After the fact though, I believe that
she began to regret that they had killed Duncan. She quickly became quiet and
did not communicate with her husband as much. It is as though she had a
complete transformation. Slowly and subtly, she kept getting worse. Toward the
end of the play she was sleep walking, pretending to wash her hands, trying to
get the blood the Duncan off of her. When Macbeth asked the Doctor to heal
her, he replied that because she was sick in the head, she had to heal herself.
Then, shortly after, Lady Macbeth killed herself. It is obvious that the murder of
Duncan was emotionally to distressing for Lady Macbeth to handle.
The murder of Duncan in Macbeth’s eyes, I believe, was kind of an
awakening of his evil capabilities. Soon after the murder, Macbeth and his wife
switched their personalities. Where Macbeth was scared and distressed before
the murder, he was willing and eager to kill again very soon after. By killing
Duncan, Macbeth slowly started eating away at any goodness he had left in him.
He was soon so evil that he ordered his friend Banquo and his son murdered.
With these new killing fresh in his mind, he decided to cross the boundary into the
realm of completely satanic behavior when he had Macduff’s family slain. It is
clear that by simply murdering Duncan, Macbeth was able to set free all the evil
urges he had inside of him, and thus, wreak evil havoc on all of Scotland.
When Macbeth and his wife decided to kill Duncan, I do not think they had
a clue it would transform their entire moral and psychological well-being. For
Lady Macbeth, she went from being the instigator to simply becoming a recluse
that could not control her guilt. It was directly opposite for Macbeth. Before the
murder, he was kind and very slow to come around to deciding to kill. Soon after
though, he would hardly think twice before ordering more death brought to his
land. Shakespeare showed us how powerful murder can be.
Macbeth and his wife, I feel, were the two most important characters in the
play. Their two personalities worked together to perform deeds that one or the
other could not have done alone. Their actions shaped the remainder of the play
and also changed their supporting characters’ lives.
Without his wife behind him, Macbeth would not have become the king of
Scotland. It was his idea to murder Duncan, but he could not have done it
without his wife’s guidance. Macbeth was too nice to commit the murder alone,
and his wife knew just what to say and do to get Macbeth the courage to change
his life. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth and his wife form one of the most
powerful duos in history.
Throughout the play though, this all changes. Macbeth no longer needs
the extra nudge from his wife to be able to put a life under the knife, and his wife,
in return, is slowly becoming quiet and shameful. She is still a great help to
Macbeth though. When he sees Banquo’s ghost, she covers for him by saying
that he is having another one of his headaches, and smoothly excuses the guests
so Macbeth can get some rest. Without his wife at his side, I feel that Macbeth
would not have been able to handle all he had going on in his life at the time.
As the story progresses, we can see an even greater change in Macbeth
and his wife. Macbeth is a full blown murderous psycho, and his wife is sleep-
walking and having guilt-fed hallucinations. At the stage in the play where the
doctor and Lady Macbeth’s servant see one of her fits, it signals the emergence
of a new role for her. She is no longer her husband’s right hand, but she is
instead her husband’s guilty conscience. Macbeth is busy trying to keep Scotland
from falling apart, so he has no time to feel guilt and repent his sins. His wife, I
feel, has somehow become a vent for all the guilt that Macbeth refuses to identify
that he has. She has somehow taken all of Macbeth’s guilt and made it her own.
By becoming a vent for all of his guilt, Lady Macbeth is giving her husband the
clear mind he needs to desperately cling to his failing country.
It is said that behind every great man, there is a great woman. In
Macbeth’s case, this is definitely true. Now, Macbeth might not be what we would
consider to be a “great man,” but his wife was surely used as both a catalyst and
a crutch throughout the duration of the play. Without her, the play Macbeth would
not even be worth studying.
Throughout the course of the play, Macbeth had a lot of important
decisions to make, as well as a number of outside forces contributing to his
decisions. His fate, his conscience, his wife, and the witches were all important
forces acting on him. In my opinion though, Macbeth was not affected by his fate,
but it was his own free will that caused it.
From the opening scene of the play, the witches were already a part of the
story. They informed Macbeth of his new title and then foretold him a surprising
future. They told Macbeth that he would be king. This was a very open ended
statement though. In no way did they tell Macbeth how he would become king, or
how he should become king. They simply told him that it was going to happen.
Using this information, Macbeth then took his life into his own hands when he
decided, along with the help of his wife, to kill Duncan. This single action
changed the course of his life and thus, changed what some would call his fate.
Besides the fact that Macbeth decided his own future by killing Duncan
instead of waiting to see what would happen, the witches even told us that it had
to be Macbeth’s own will that would drive him over to the dark side. The witches
told us the story of how they were going to punish the fat woman by tossing her
husband’s ship about the sea, denying him any time to rest. They could not reach
out directly and kill him, but they could punish his soul and his emotions. This is
an example of what they are doing to Macbeth. They are punishing him, leaving
him to wonder how, or even if, he will in fact become king. The witches did not
put a spell on Macbeth to make him kill, they just stimulated his emotions and
raised a questions deep within his soul that caused him to take action into his
own hands and commit the life altering murder.
There are many different paths in life that can lead to the same place.
Many people would explain that is a person’s fate. In some instances this may be
true, but with Macbeth, I feel that it was his own actions and decisions along
those paths that altered his final destination.