Macbeth Analysis

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:​ Hover through the fog and filthy air Act 1 Sc 1 – The witches. Starting the play with the witches introduces the theme of the supernatural. Shakespeare is using popular beliefs about witches – including appealing to King James who even wrote a book about witches. Pathetic fallacy is used here as the violent weather signifies the beginning of disorder and chaos, while the oxymoron shows that the play is full of contradictions, not least that you cannot judge appearances. The fricatives give an additional menacing feel while the rhyming couplet both gives resolution to the scene and adds a sense of the witches chanting a spell. The witches speak in trochaic tetrameter as opposed to the iambic pentameter of other characters showing that they are strange and less ‘human.’
King Duncan: “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won” Act 1 Sc 2 Army campBoth Duncan and the Captain in this scene use ornate vocabulary to glorify and praise Macbeth’s valour. The use of repetition to structure the line gives a sense of inevitability which links to the idea of fate – but also to the idea of the ‘Great Chain of Being’ where each person was deemed to have their own place in the hierarchy. The reports about Macbeth show how honourable and loyal he is – which makes what he does all the more shocking for the audience. Duncan is referring to the traitorous Thane of Cawdor which is ironic as his replacement, Macbeth is much more traitorous.
“So foul and fair a day I have not seen” Act 1 Sc 3 Heath. Macbeth’s first words in the play: ​The repeated fricatives suggest the evil within Macbeth. In this scene, Shakespeare has Macbeth speak in asides to the audience so that we understand his innermost thoughts – and are almost in collusion with him.This paradoxical idea echoes the words of the witches at the start showing the link between them. It also suggests their power as it foreshadows that he will be led by them. In Shakespeare’s day, there was widespread belief in the supernatural. The play explores their power which works through suggestion and manipulation rather than directly. Macbeth brings about his own downfall but is easily manipulated by them.
MACBETH: [Aside] Stars, hide your fires;​ Let not light see my black and deep desires Act 1 Sc 4 King Duncan’s CastleIntroduces the ideas of dark and light – where dark represents treachery and evil and reflects Lady Macbeth calling up the ‘black smoke of hell.’In a previous speech, Duncan has just referred to the signs of nobility as ‘stars’ but Macbeth is extinguishing them.The colour imagery offers connotations of darkness and the witches. Macbeth is talking about the fact that Duncan has just taken the unusual step of identifying Malcolm as his heir. This links to the Theory of Divine Right whereby the monarch is not subject to earthly authority but derives his right to rule straight from God. Therefore, what Macbeth is planning goes against God himself.
…yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness​ To catch the nearest way Act 1 Sc 5 Macbeth’s castle. Lady Macbeth (after reading the letter): ​We first see lady Macbeth on the stage on her own. This is the first sign that she is not a typical Jacobean woman. She is decisive rather than submissive. This soliloquy ensures that we know that these are her opinions unguided and ungoverned by her husband.She immediately wants Macbeth to ‘catch the nearest way’ to becoming King – by killing Duncan but fears that he is ‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness.’ The idea of ‘milk’ is a particularly feminine image thus foreshadowing the technique she will use for influencing him by questioning his masculinity.
Look like the innocent flowerbut be the serpent under’t Act 1 Sc 5 The theme of appearance and reality -specifically the idea that one can look innocent whilst actually being treacherous. The idea of the serpent links specifically with evil – and even has religious connotations in the sense of representing the devil as the serpent in the garden of Eden who tempted Adam and Eve away from God.
I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself Act 1 Scene 7 Macbeth knows that the only reason he would go through with it is ‘vaulting ambition’ which is trying to make him ‘o’erleap’ his designated position in the Great Chain of Being
Macbeth: “We will proceed no further in this business”​ Act 1 Sc 7 Macbeth decides.Macbeth, having pondered the reasons why he should not kill Duncan including that he is his host, subject and kinsman but also because he is a good king, uses this declarative sentence to show how definite he is in his decision. This reflects the power of Lady Macbeth who is able to overturn such a definitive decision. She is certainly not a typical, submissive Jacobean woman.
Macbeth: “False face must hide what the false heart doth know” Act 1 Sc 7 after persuasion by Lady MacbethThe repetition of the word ‘false’ reflects the key theme of appearance and reality. Even words are shown to hide their true meanings as when Lady M says of Duncan that he ‘must be provided for’ suggestive of her role of hostess and/ or potential murderer. Equally the witches words often hide their true meanings and Macbeth allows himself to hear what he wants to within him as it appeals to his fatal flaw of ambition. Ironically, the first Thane of Cawdor was killed for his treachery – for not being truly as he seemed and yet Macbeth is planning exactly the same.
“When you durst do it, then you were a man” Act 1 Sc 7 Lady Macbeth persuading.Lady Macbeth uses Macbeth’s own view of himself against him. At the start of the play, we see what a noble and valiant fighter Macbeth is. This ability to kill in battle would have shown a Jacobean audience how masculine and powerful Macbeth is. By suggesting otherwise, Lady Macbeth manipulates him into agreeing with her. In this powerful and violent speech, she accuses him of being a ‘coward’ and uses the inhuman, savage image of her dashing her own baby’s brains out while it was ‘smiling’ at her to show the lengths to which she would be prepared to go.
Macbeth:​ Is this a dagger which I see before me,​ The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. Act 2 Sc 1 Macbeth outside the King’s chamberMacbeth sees a vision of a bloodied dagger and wonders whether it is inviting him to murder. His speech shows that his mind if full of dark thoughts. This murder goes against the theory of the ‘Great Chain of Being’ and therefore against nature. Macbeth’s speech reflects this in the idea of darkness overcoming nature. However, he is interrupted in his musings by a bell (rung by Lady M) which rouses him and he goes to do it. Even when she is not on stage, Lady M’s actions influence Macbeth’s.
Macbeth: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”. Lady Macbeth: “A little water clears us of this deed.” Act 2 Sc 2: after the killing.Macbeth, having returned with the daggers in his hand, is incapable of returning to the murder scene. Lady M takes charge. However, while Macbeth was away we saw a much more nervous side to Lady Macbeth who would have been unable to kill Duncan as she says he ‘resembled my father as he slept’.Macbeth now views the blood both literally and metaphorically as he fears he will be unable to clean the blood from his hands as what has been done cannot be undone. While blood in the first act was a sign of his honour and bravery, here is is a sign of his treachery. Lady M dismisses the fear.
Macduff: ​O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart​ Cannot conceive nor name thee! Act 2 Sc 3 Macduff, Malcolm and DonalbainThere has been a storm, symbolic of the way in which the murder is upsetting the natural order of things believed in by the Jacobeans in which the King has been chosen by God. This is reflected in Macduff’s language in which he fears that it cannot even be spoken of. The repetition of the word ‘horror’ and the exclamation marks reinforce the shock the character is experiencing.
Old Man:​ ‘Tis unnatural…On Tuesday last,​ A falcon, towering in her pride of place,​ Was by a mousing owl hawk’d at and kill’d Act 2 Sc 4: Ross and an old man outside the castleThis scene allows the reader to reflect on what has happened so far. The murder is upsetting the natural order of things believed in by the Jacobeans in which the King has been chosen by God by ‘Divine Right’. Thus nature itself has been affected. The falcon and the owl could mirror Macbeth and Duncan.
Banquo:​ Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all,​ As the weird women promised, and, I fear,​ Thou play’dst most foully for’t: Act 3 Sc 1 Macbeth’s PalaceBanquo suspects Macbeth of becoming king by foul means. The verb ‘play’d’ suggests the idea of a strategic game which is close to how Lady Macbeth viewed the situation as one in which they could not fail.However, Banquo himself is portrayed as entirely innocent. King James believed himself to be descended from Banquo, so Shakespeare has included him as a blameless characters whose children shall be kings.
Lady M:​ Nought’s had, all’s spent,​ Where our desire is got without content:​ ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy​ Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy Act 3 Sc 2 Macbeth’s palaceThis is the first sign that Lady Macbeth is uneasy, made worse by the fact that Macbeth is keeping secrets from her. The idea of having ‘nought’ is ironic. By their ambition, they have achieved their roles as king and queen and yet she suggests that this actually amounts to nothing. This echoes Macbeth’s later sentiments that life, in the end, is a ‘passing shadow’.
Macbeth: “Be innocent of the knowledge.” Act 3 Sc 2This is halfway through the play and we can see how changed the Macbeth’s relationship is from the couple who shared everything at the start of the play.
What’s done is done Act 3 Sc 2 Lady Macbeth
Macbeth “O full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife.” Act 3 Sc 2The scorpions suggest the evil and darkness which has overtaken his mind but also give an idea of a mind which cannot be still as he struggles to remain sane.
Macbeth:​ Thou canst not say I did it: never shake​ Thy gory locks at me Act 3 Sc 4 The feast and Banquo’s ghostThe ghost of Banquo takes the king’s chair just as Macbeth took it from Duncan. Here we see that, even in death there is no rest, no sleep as ‘Macbeth has murdered sleep’. After the ghost and the guests have gone, Lady Macbeth comments on how night ‘is almost at odds with morning’. She cannot tell whether it is night or day. This reflects the key themes of appearance and reality, light and dark, foul and fair.
Second Witch:​ By the pricking of my thumbs,​ Something wicked this way comes. Act 4 Sc 1 – a cavern of witchesThe rhyming suggests the manipulation of Macbeth; he is almost being toyed with by them. however, the fact that they now recognise him as ‘something wicked’ shows how far he has changed.
Macduff’s Son:​ He has kill’d me, mother:​ Run away, I pray you! Act 4 Sc 2: Macduff’s castleThe scene with Macduff’s wife and children serves to reinforce the audience’ view of the tyrant he has become. The murderers refer to the boy as ‘you egg’ ensuring that the audience would understand how young and innocent and undeserving of death he is. In his final moments, the son tries to save the life of his mother, acting in a noble and honourable way entirely at odds with Macbeth’s actions.
Macduff:​ Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself; Within my sword’s length set him; if he ‘scape,​ Heaven forgive him too! Act 4 Scene 3: England – Malcolm & Macduff then Ross brings latest news of ScotlandMalcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty. In Shakespeare’s time, loyalty to the state and the idea of order was key – thus Macduff shows his loyalty to Scotland by seeking Malcolm’s help. When Ross arrived, he tells Macduff about his family and Macduff in a show of proper Jacobean masculinity swears his revenge.
Lady Macbeth:​ Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,​ then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky! Act 5 Sc 1 Lady Macbeth sleepwalkingIn this speech, her language is choppy, jumping from idea to idea. She speaks in fragments and short, unpolished sentences. Whereas before she spoke in iambic pentameter, now she speaks in prose showing how complete her loss of control is. Guilt has reduced her to this – ironically believing in her sleep that she cannot get rid of the blood. Her reference to the ‘Thane of Fife had a wife’ shows that she knows about Macduff’s wife and children; the internal rhyme scheme within the phrase makes it seem all the more horrific.
Macbeth:​ Bring me no more reports; let them fly all:​ Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane,​ I cannot taint with fear. Act 5 Sc 3 Macbeth hears of the English ArmyMacbeth is beginning to realise that, by his actions, he has deprived himself of the good things that should come with old age. He calls for his armour and we sense that he knows his time is near. His tone of reflection and his bravery in the face of death make it possible for the audience to feel for him as a character.
Macbeth:​ To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,​ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day​ To the last syllable of recorded time,​ And all our yesterdays have lighted fools​ The way to dusty death Act 5 Sc 5 Macbeth hears of Lady Macbeth’s deathMacbeth’s response appears to be numbness and he talks bout the pointlessness of life
Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Act 5 Sc 5 Macbeth refers to Lady M’s life as a ‘brief candle’. The idea here is that light signifies life – but the candle image reinforces the idea that human life is transient, and vulnerable. The ‘walking shadow’ suggests the meaninglessness of life which is merely an illusion.
Macbeth:​ Of all men else I have avoided thee:​ But get thee back; my soul is too much charged​ With blood of thine already. Act 5 Sc 8 Macduff confronts Macbeth
Malcolm’s closing speech describes “this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen”​ Act 5 Scene 8: Macduff appears with Macbeth’s head and Malcolm takes his rightful place as King of ScotlandThe characters offer this judgement where Macbeth is a ‘butcher’ due to his bloody actions and his wife a ‘fiend’ suggesting her evil. As an audience we are given a judgement but the implication is also that we should make our own.

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