Macbeth analisys


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 MACBETH

Macbeth is the shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies, and scholars have surmised that the text may have been truncated, perhaps by Shakespeare himself. Yet its brevity is a virtue, for the play's concentrated tension contributes enormously to what may be the most horrific of Shakespeare's works. Other plays are as gory. In other plays, as many or more characters are murdered. But none of the others is so preoccupied with the concept of murder, with the deliberate planning and outcome of the act. Furthermore, the motivation for this series of murders is uncomfortably clear: so eager is Macbeth to possess and maintain power that he is willing to kill in cold blood.

The creation of the play may have been influenced by the new king of England, James I, formerly James VI of Scotland, who succeeded to the throne in 1603 upon the death of Elizabeth. He had a keen interest in demonology, and even wrote a book, Daemonologie ( 1597), which Shakespeare probably used in writing the scenes involving the witches. Furthermore, James had a deep concern for Scottish history, and could trace his ancestry back to the eleventh century, the time of the story. Shakespeare's main historical reference was Holinshed Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland ( 1577), the primary source of his history plays. In his adaptation, however, the playwright made several deviations. In Holinshed, Macbeth has a legitimate grievance against a young and incompetent Duncan. In the play, Duncan is older and decent, and Macbeth's reason for murder is not political, but personal. Banquo, Macbeth's accomplice in Holinshed, is a noble bystander in Shakespeare's play, possibly because Banquo was said to be an ancestor of James. Finally, Shakespeare dispenses with what Holinshed described as a successful ten-year reign by Macbeth and turns him into a tyrant who rules briefly and cruelly. The impact of all these alterations is an emphasis not on political ramifications, as in Holinshed, but on psychological and moral implications.

One sidelight: Macbeth has long been regarded as a jinxed work, because so many productions have gone awry. Thus theatrical professionals often prefer that it not be spoken of by its title, but instead referred to as "the Scottish play."

The brief opening scene sets the eerie tone and atmosphere. The storm and noise suggest chaos, but the three witches are in control, as they agree to meet again:

When the hurly-burly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.
(I,i,3-4)

The emphasis on time as a symbol of order pervades the play. The battle to which the witches refer may be any one of three: the specific battle in front of them, the battle for the Scottish crown, or, most profound of all, the battle for Macbeth's soul. The structure of the phrase "lost and won" suggests the witches' detachment, an issue to be considered presently. The third witch adds that they will meet "ere the set of sun" (I,i,5). The line refers not only to the seemingly constant darkness in the background to the action, but to the death of Duncan, for the sun was traditionally the symbol of kingship. The three witches depart with a warning in unison:

Fair is foul, and foul is fair,
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
(I,i,11-12)

The couplet implies the moral ambiguity and other confusion soon to possess not only Macbeth and his wife, but all of Scotland.

After this opening tableau, some audiences may believe that the witches ordain their subsequent meetings with Macbeth and that they determine his future. According to this interpretation, the play is about fate, and in murdering Duncan, Macbeth is only playing out his destiny. Such a reading is inaccurate, as becomes apparent in scene ii. Duncan sets the tone by asking: "What bloody man is that?" (1, ii, 1). The sergeant then recounts the course of battle against the rebel Macdonwald, particularly Macbeth's triumph:

For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smok'd with bloody execution,
(Like Valor's minion) carv'd out his passage
Till he fac'd the slave;
Which nev'r shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to th' chops,
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.
(I, ii, 16-23)

This description emphasizes the brutality of war, the environment in which Macbeth flourishes. Thus his capacity for violence is easier to understand. The phrase "Disdaining Fortune" characterizes Macbeth's behavior, and the motif is basic to the play, for Macbeth constantly attempts to see himself as in the grip of fate. Right here, though, we learn that Macbeth is a free agent, responsible for whatever happens to him.

How, then, are we to regard the witches? Shakespeare's contemporaries generally believed in witches as in league with the devil and empowered to fly, vanish, conjure storms and images, and inflict disease. Perhaps these three figures are best viewed as invidious meddlers, toying with human action. The outcome of events matters little to them. They desire only to play upon human vulnerabilities, to tap evil within, and they have chosen as the subject Macbeth, whose frailties and vices are exploitable.

In the rest of scene ii we learn more of this man. After the Sergeant's opening description, Duncan comments: "O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman!" (I, ii, 24). The rest of the play proves this evaluation tragically ironic. The Sergeant continues to describe the invasion of the Norwegian king, whom Macbeth and Banquo have turned back. Rosse then enters to report the traitorous activities of the Thane of Cawdor, who allied himself with Norway (I, ii, 49-53). Macbeth, however, fought so boldly that the Norwegian king surrendered, now seeks an end to the fighting, and is even willing to pay indemnity. In response, Duncan orders a change of titles:

No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive
Our bosom interest. Go pronounce his present death,
And with his former title greet Macbeth.
(I, ii, 63-65)

Duncan hopes to rid his army of treachery, but here, too, irony underlies his actions, for treachery on a massive scale is soon to flourish. Furthermore, his rhyme of "death" and "Macbeth" resounds ominously. The last line of the scene, too, has ironic overtones: "What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won" (I, ii, 67). We remember the witch's comment in scene i (I, i, 4), and the sense of instability continues.

In scene iii the witches return. The first vows to punish a sailor whose wife cursed the witch and committed the comparatively trivial crime of refusing her chestnuts.

But in a sieve I'll thither sail,
And, like a rat without a tail,



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