Which version of Macbeth do you prefer?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we first see Macbeth as a noble man; a man loyal to his King. He has earned respect from his King and the court and is regarded as first amongst his peers. But Macbeth falls from this highly regarded position. He commits evil acts. He kills King Duncan first, then many other innocent, good people. Macbeth continues committing evil acts, but each time Macbeth’s clear sense of what is right and wrong takes a toll on him. Though Macbeth does great evil he suffers, until he cares not whether he lives or not. He loses his “jewel”, his sense of grace and peace of mind and without this he knows that his life is worthless.

When the play opens, Macbeth is a noble, loyal man who would give his life for his King. He puts his life in great danger to save Duncan and his crown from the traitor Macdonald. Macbeth battles bravely and with honour. Macdonald had waged war against King Duncan and his kingdom and threatened Scotland’s peace. Macbeth was reported to have saved many people from capture by the enemy through his great valour. This earned him “golden opinions” from his King and other nobles. Macbeth was regarded a “worthy gentleman”; a man who should be rewarded and trusted. Macbeth was a man the King could depend on for loyalty. Macbeth is at the beginning of the play a great soldier and loyal servant to the King. His reputation for goodness and courage could not have been higher as the play opens.

A natural leader Macbeth had great ambitions and felt inadequately rewarded by his King. Macbeth knew that he could become King by use of force, but to do so would mean to break his oath of loyalty to the King. This would be an act that would condemn him to the flames of hell. Macbeth thinks often of the reasons that should prevent him from killing his King. Duncan was put on the throne by God, so if Macbeth was to kill him he would be acting against God’s will and would be doomed for all eternity to hell. Despite clearly understanding that he is acting with evil, Macbeth decides to kill Duncan. He sees a dagger floating in the air before him. The temptation is so strong that he sees the imaged actions as real. We know that he has taken the decision to act immorally when he orders the dagger to come into his hand. Macbeth’s mind is full of dark ideas. He can gain greater power and wealth. He can gain the recognition that he knows he deserves but he also knows that he will be full of sin if he does this.

Macbeth commits a gross act that most other thanes would never even think about. The Thane of Cawdor went into King Duncan’s chamber and stabbed him repeatedly. He left his King’s chamber with blood all over his clothes and hands. This is a sight that haunts him and makes him suffer enormously. His sense of guilt was so great that he feared that the King’s guards had seen him while he was committing this most ungodly act. He felt he must kill these innocent guards to keep suspicion away from him. He felt that his blood soaked hands were so guilty, they would turn the world’s oceans red and that no amount of water would be able to wash away the blood. He felt that he would be unable to remove this sin or make amends for it. Macbeth knew he would have horrific visions and thoughts for the rest of his doomed life. Macbeth committed an act that he knew would condemn him to hell.

Macbeth hopes that his gross actions will bring the matter to an end but he finds it necessary to commit more evil acts to try and protect himself. His pain is magnified by every murder he commits. Macbeth had called killing Duncan the “be all to end all” but it was not so. He finds that he must go on a murderous path if he is to escape detection. He sees his friend Banquo and his innocent son Fleance, as enemies plotting against him. Therefore he feels they must be removed from the face of the Earth, to ensure he will remain unchallenged on his throne. He sends murderers to kill Banquo and his son. They fail in killing Fleance, but succeed in killing Banquo. This throws Macbeth into a rage fuelled by fear but Macbeth’s conscience has even more punishment in store for him. Macbeth’s sense of guilt and evil makes him see visions of Banquo’s son growing up and taking the crown from Macbeth. Macbeth’s horror at the guilt of killing a good man, a close friend like Banquo, manifests itself as an illusion of Banquo’s ghost which rises from the grave to torment Macbeth’s very soul. Macbeth commits more and more evil acts in the name of self preservation and this need for self preservation springs from his sense of utter guilt.

Macbeth continues on this path until he feels his own life is so ruined, it is worthless. He keeps going but his every act digs him deeper into trouble. With every immoral act he was condemns himself further and further down into the pits of hell. He knew this and eventually he cared not if he lived or died. Macbeth had become a shell of a man, he only cared that he would die honourably in combat, so that he wouldn’t be baited and tormented like the bears caged for the people’s entertainment. Macbeth had suffered so much that to him death was a release from the misery that he had created for himself.

Macbeth does commit great evil, but for each evil act, he was tormented by his moral instincts. His good side made him suffer by showing him horrific sights and putting terrifying thoughts into his mind until he couldn’t face his life anymore. The memory of his good, noble self that was loyal to his King and God, was destroyed and this caused him more suffering than the suffering of those he hurt with his actions. Macbeth commits the most evil acts but is so tormented by his actions that he would rather die and go to hell than endure his suffering any more.

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