At the start of the play, we see Shakespeare introduce Macbeth’s character (act1 scene2).
The Captain who had fought in the battle for Chowder describes Macbeths as brave, several times referring to his bravery as ‘valour’s minion’, the lion or the Eagle to the enemies hare or sparrow. This is useful to us, because it shows us what the ordinary soldier thinks of Macbeths. We are also shown what the thanes think of Macbeth at the beginning, when Duncan calls him ‘noble Macbeth’. So, at the start of the play we are introduced to a brave nobleman.
In scene 4, we see a hint at the ending of the play, were Duncan and Malcolm discusses the thane of Cawdor. Duncan says that he thought he could trust him, and that you cannot judge a man on his outwards appearance, as the thane of Cawdor redeemed himself at his death. We will see a similar theme occur in the rest of the story.
Later in that same scene, we see the first glimpse of Macbeth’s deep desire to see the prophecy fulfilled. ‘Do not let light see my black and deep desires’ this shows us he knows what he wants, but doesn’t want to do what he has to do in order to get it.
Moving onto scene 7, we see Macbeth struggle with his conscience about the murder, and give thought to the implications of the assassination. We see him use words like ‘assassination’ instead of murder, because he is trying to convince himself that this is for the good of everyone, and not simply for his own ambition. We see that he knows it is wrong, ‘I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed’. We also see that he well knows the cost of the deed, ‘the deep damnation of his taking off’. But none of this stops Macbeth, for his ‘vaulting ambition’ is too important now. He would rather become king, and live an easy life on earth while knowing he will suffer in hell, than do the right thing and go to heaven. He decides he cannot go through with it, until Lady Macbeth arrives and accuses him of cowardice. ‘When you durst do it, then you were a man’ she says, and then says that had she promised to, she would ‘dash the brains out’ of her baby if he had so asked. It is here that we see the Macbeth is not quite how he is first portrayed, he is under the control of his wife, and she knows she can get him to do anything she wants by insulting his manhood. This is the first major change in his personality that we see. He has gone from brave and noble to weak and indecisive.
Act 2 sees Macbeth make his move to murder Duncan, and he encounters Banquo on the way. When Banquo says that he has dreamt of the witches, Macbeth lies ‘I think of them not’ telling us that he feels he has to lie to his best friend. This shows us he knows he is doing wrong.
When he moves into kill Duncan, Macbeths thinks of evil images such as Hecate, Tarquin, a dagger, wolves, witches and ‘gouts of blood’. We can see from this that he sees this as an evil deed, and doesn’t really want to go through with it. But his ambition, and pressure from his wife makes him go through with it.
After the murder is done, we see Macbeth confront his wife, and she tells him to wipe the blood on to the guards so that they will be blamed for the murder, but Macbeth will not go back. ‘Ill go no more, I am afraid to think what I have done’ this is very interesting, because he is totally refusing to do what she tells him, and at the end he says ‘wake Duncan with your knocking, I would thou couldst’. This shows us that Macbeth repents what he has done and wishes he could bring Duncan back to life. Here we feel slightly sorry for Macbeth because he did not want to carry out the murder, but was pushed into it.
Once the Thanes have discovered Duncan body, we see Macbeth panicking. He murders Duncan’s guards almost as if it were to make himself feel better about the crime he had just committed. When he speaks of Duncan he uses elaborate wording, and goes into huge speeches, which are so poetic, they could not have been made up on the spot. Lady Macbeth then faints to divert attention away from Macbeth before he gives the game up.
In act 3, Macbeth calls in Murderers to kill Banquo. This is interesting because before now, Macbeth has killed everyone himself. But now he gets people in to do it for him. We also see him use the same tactic on them that Lady Macbeth employed on him. ‘In the catalogue, ye go for men’ we see here that Macbeth has become more ruthless in his dealings, the more people he kills, the less it worries him.
The murder of Banquo is different from the others in that it is not really serving any purpose. Banquo is not standing in his way, as he is already king but, ‘our fears in Banquo stick deep’, even though the witches have said that he shall never be king. So Macbeth is probably doing this to kill Fleance as well.
Macbeth has given the murderers a location and a time to kill Banquo, but is not doing it himself, which also shows us that he is becoming less bothered with the morality of the deed.
The appearance of Banquos ghost is a strange occurrence, and we are not sure whether it is an image in Macbeths mind caused by guilt ‘make our faces vizards to our hearts’, or an actual metaphysical presence. If it is just an image caused by his guilt, then it shows us that Macbeth has been driven into insanity by his dealings. We no longer feel sorry for Macbeth, because Banquos murder was totally of his own doing, and was not spurred on by his wife. Were as before it was made clear to us by Shakespeare that it was a mistake which Macbeth only later realised.
Act 4 sees Macbeth return to the Witches, to ask them more. The ‘weird sisters’ show him that he ‘will not be killed by one of woman born’ and that he shall not die until ‘Birnham wood to Dunsidane hill shall come against him’. But he is also warned to beware Macduff.
Macbeth has started to hear only what he wants, however. He decides not to kill Macduff ‘ then live Macduff, for what need I fear of thee’. But he does have Macduffs family murdered, as he
Believes Macduff cannot hurt him, but he should still dissuade him from action against Macbeth. He also believes that he is totally invincible because of the vague nature of the prophecies. If Macbeth totally believed the prophecies, however, he would have not tried to have Fleance killed. As he would’ve known it would fail.
Act 5 sees a role-reversal between Macbeth and his wife. She is now overcome with guilt, and has been driven insane, whereas Macbeth is confident, and believes he is invincible ‘fear not Macbeth, for no man born of woman shall hold power over thee’.
When the servant arrives with news of the arrival of the English forces, Macbeth dismisses it. He believes that no one can harm him. We also see that Macbeth has become a tyrant ‘hang those that talk of fear’. Macbeth has become a murdering, lying, backstabbing tyrant in almost no time at all. At this point, the audience feels no pity for him whatsoever. He has stopped caring about almost anything. He no longer cares for his wife. It doesn’t bother him that the doctor sees her as incurable, he ignores it, and orders her cured. He hasn’t actually listened to what the doctor has to say ‘throw physic to the dogs’.
When the servant tells Macbeth that Birnham wood had begun to move, Macbeth simply yells at him ‘liar and slave’. He has no time for bad news, and has become so over-confident, that he doesn’t care about such news any longer.
Macbeth is confronted by siwards son in the oncoming siege, and slaughters him ‘ though was born of woman..Weapons laugh to scorn brandished by a man of woman born’. This shows us that Macbeth has totally absorbed himself in the prophecy, and believes that he cannot be slain.
It is at the end of the play, in the fight between Macduff and Macbeth that we see Macbeth return to his original self. Macduff tells him that he had a Caesarean birth, he offers Macbeth the chance to yield and ‘live to be the show’. But Macbeth refuses, and decides to die fighting, in the style of the Macbeth we saw at the beginning, who is brave, and thinks nothing of fighting against the odds. The audience does end up feeling sorry for Macbeth at the end, once he has returned to his former attitude. Because, like the thane of Cawdor before him, ‘nothing became him in his life like leaving it’.