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Character Analysis of Macbeth

Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies. It brings to life a cast of complex characters, each playing a pivotal role in the story.

Macbeth

Macbeth starts off as a brave and victorious general. He is well-respected by his peers and King Duncan. In act one, he receives high praise, “For Brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name.” Yet, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that he is not an honourable character.

His transformation from a heroic figure to a treacherous tyrant is driven by ambition and manipulation. His obsession with the witches’ prophecies, spurred on by his wife’s persuasion, leads him to commit heinous acts, including murder.

  • Once he commits his first crime, it becomes increasingly easy to tempt Macbeth into further acts of murder

As King, Macbeth’s paranoia and guilt become his downfall. His tyrannical rule is marked by fear and insecurity. He descends into madness, haunted by his deeds and the fear of losing the throne. This is evidenced by his lamenting:

“O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!”

Macbeth

His death signifies the ultimate consequence of unchecked ambition and moral decay.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing characters. Her initial portrayal is of a ruthlessly ambitious woman, willing to abandon her morality to achieve power. She manipulates Macbeth into killing Duncan, even taunting him with words that cut deep:

“When you durst do it, then you were a man; And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man.”

However, as the play progresses, we see her crumble under the weight of her actions. Overwhelmed by guilt, she sleepwalks and obsessively tries to wash imaginary bloodstains off her hands, groaning “…what, will these hands ne’er be clean?”

Lady Macbeth shares a deep bond of ambition with her husband, and holds significant influence over him. In the end, her broken character, suspected of suicide, is very different from her once tough spirit. Notably, she suffers from madness more than Macbeth, suggesting she became more vulnerable than her husband.

Banquo

Banquo is Macbeth’s friend and fellow general. He is regarded with the same high respect as Macbeth, but finds himself overshadowed by Macbeth’s quest for power.

Banquo is also ambitious and seems pleased when he hears the prophecy that his descendants (his children) will become kings. However, his reaction contrasts greatly with Macbeth’s. Despite the prediction that his descendants will rule Scotland, Banquo remains loyal to Duncan and does not resort to treachery.

His growing suspicion towards Macbeth manifests in his wary remarks: “…I fear thou played’st most foully for ‘t.

Even in death, Banquo’s influence is significant, haunting Macbeth as a ghostly reminder of integrity. He also represents the true moral compass in the chaotic world of the play.

The Witches

The three witches, also known as the Weird Sisters, ignite Macbeth’s dark ambitions with their prophecies of his rise to power.

They are:

  • mysterious entities
  • manipulative figures
  • representations of supernatural forces
  • symbols of the darker side of the human psyche

Little is known about the witches, and they are portrayed as mythological creatures who control the destiny of others. They warn that nothing will be as it seems in the play through lines such as, “Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair”.

Their cryptic prophecies are accurate, but deliberately misleading, fuelling Macbeth’s paranoia and encouraging his destructive actions.

They enjoy using their predictions to manipulate and devastate the lives of others.

Macduff

Macduff is the Thane of Fife, and a nobleman loyal to King Duncan and Scotland. He quickly sees Macbeth’s tyranny and the danger it poses, crying out in despair, “Bleed, bleed, poor country! Great tyranny, lay thou thy basis sure”

  • lay thou thy basis sure” means to ‘establish your reign securely’.

Macduff becomes the moral hero of the play, symbolising justice and righteousness. His journey to England to rally forces against Macbeth reflects his commitment to restoring Scotland’s well-being. He is also determined to ensure that Malcolm becomes the rightful king.

When his family is brutally murdered on Macbeth’s orders, his personal grief highlights the tragic costs of Macbeth’s tyrannical rule.

Macduff ultimately avenges his family’s death and liberates Scotland from Macbeth’s oppressive reign, restoring justice and order to the kingdom.

King Duncan

King Duncan is the initial ruler of Scotland (at the beginning of the play). He is a respected ruler, admired for his kindness and fairness. His revered character is captured in the poetic phrase, Silver skin lac’d with his golden blood,” indicating his noble and precious character, similar to gold and silver.

His death marks the start of chaos in Scotland representing the betrayal of trust and the disruption of natural order. Duncan’s character serves as a moral touchstone in the play, illustrating the catastrophic consequences of the corruption of power.

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