Shakespeare never fails to stun an audience with a complex yet entertaining character. His play of Macbeth is no exception. One might judge Macbeth to be the valiant hero of the play, to the audiences surprise and bewilderment, he is also the villain. To create such a character requires an unparalleled plot and great writing skill. Macbeth’s character is expressed in a way that relates to the audience. His moral transformation from valiant to vile, his moral hesitation and his torturing conscience are all elements that condemn Macbeth but at the same time evoke the audience’s sympathy.
Macbeth is merely mentioned by the witches at the start of the play. We first meet “Brave Macbeth” while at work as a thane protecting his king from rebels and Norwegian invaders. “Valour’s minion…ne’er shook hands, nor bad farewell to him till he unseamed him from the nave to th’chaps”. A very detailed account of Macbeth as a warrior is given by an injured officer to Duncan. From this source it is proven how brave and courageous Macbeth is. “Cannons overcharged with double cracks…memorise another Golgotha”. This establishes that Macbeth is accustomed to killing and death, on the battlefield that is, but he is not a murderer.
“Bellona’s bridegroom” is also a “Valliant cousin” to the king of Scotland himself, which proves to be a loyal servant of somewhat royal blood. He is also conveyed as noble and worthy of praise: “what he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won”. A title is not a trifle for a reward, which proves that Macbeth is a sublime character loved by all. However not everyone is perfect, even Macbeth has some deep forgotten desire that will eventually come to surface through catalysts in the plot, and will led him to his pitiful demise.
Macbeth’s currently established character is put into question when it is discovered that he is so easily corrupted by the prophecy of the three wired sisters. Despite the good news of his promotion, Macbeth is shocked and frightened. The witches have awakened the long dormant vaulting ambition for him take hold of the crown. This puts into question if he was innocent and pure initially or was he stained with deep and dark desire to usurp the crown: “stay… speak… would they have stayed”. The fact that Macbeth wanted the witches to stay puts into question his loyalty to sovereign.
Even though the witches are evil characters, Macbeth does not want to believe in this. The first part of their prophecy came true, maybe the crown will be his after all. He is blinded by their equivocation and by his vaulting ambition: “Why do I yield to such a suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs”. Macbeth is slowly goaded into the thought of murder which shows that he was initially a little corrupted by his dormant ambition. However he does not succumb easily to this ghastly deed; his morals and his noble nature are in vicious conflict with his ambition. He is being torn apart by his desire for the crown and his moral prevention to achieve it. “chance may crown me without my stir”. Finally Macbeth mediates by hoping there to be a way to achieve kingship without murder.
The corruption of Macbeth is accelerated by an event and a character. Duncan proclaims Malcolm heir to the throne. To his un-awareness, this was Duncan’s greatest mistake as it gives Macbeth a motive for the murder. Now it is a “step” which he must “o’er leap for in my way it lies”. Now he realises that “chance” will not crown him without his inevitable “stir”. Even though Macbeth now has a motive for murder he is still in moral turmoil. “We’d jump the life to come”. Macbeth is bewildered, will he be able to trade his soul in the next life for kingship in this one. His intimacy with himself proves to him that his only motive for this murder is his bare ambition to be king: “I have no spur/ to prick the sides of my intent, but only/ vaulting ambition”. In his vacillation he decides not to carry out the deed.
This decision infuriates Lady Macbeth and she kills him morally. “was the hope drunk/ wherein you dressed yourself”. Lady Macbeth uses reverse psychology by insulting her husband’s manliness: When you durst do it, then you were a man”. This flawless tactic works well on Macbeth and he is won over by her “undaunted mettle”. “I am settled and bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat”. The verb “bend” shows the struggle in him to carry out the act, it goes against his nature. The decision for the murder is nevertheless Macbeth’s. Although Lady Macbeth is the catalyst he must ultimately take full responsibility for his own actions.
The murder of Duncan may be depicted as the point of no return for the character of Macbeth. He is now frail and quite paranoid just after the murder, this contrasts with him being confident and brave on the battlefield; killing then seemed normal to him, but murder, he feels that he has condemned his soul. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”. The amount of guilt that Macbeth feels is unbearable to any man, which shows that he has not completed the course of his moral deterioration. Macbeth has now become a tyrant that will suspect everyone, even those closest to him.
The crown has defiled Macbeth and he realizes that it only brings sadness and despair. Macbeth is even jealous of Duncan who is dead that he is resting in peace and him who is unable to even sleep is living in torment torn by guilt and paranoia. A new feature of the new Macbeth is also hypocrisy: “fail not our feast”. Macbeth sends off Banquo with a warm farewell and probably a smile. Here Macbeth is following his wife’s advice: “look like the innocent flower but be the serpent underneath”. Another trait acquired by Macbeth, again from Lady Macbeth is the power of manipulation. Macbeth appeals to the murders’ desire for revenge and mocks their patience for tolerating such injustice rendered to them by Banquo. Macbeth has also become cold and calculating in nature, even human life does not seem to posses any value to him. Terms like: “business” and “work” in reference to the murder and his attitude towards the innocent child Fleance, is merely another obstacle to Macbeth’s security. All of this reinforces his cold clinical attitude towards people and his morally corrupt attitude.
Macbeth has also become dead inside. When Macduff flees the realm of Scotland for England to conspire with Malcolm against Macbeth, Macbeth resorts to the most cowardly and ruthless of ways to punish Macduff for his insolence. Macbeth murders Macduff’s family. He has become so heartless that murder seems like a hobby to him. This is in stark contrast with the Macbeth whom the thought of murder “shook my very state of man”.
A final turning point that affects the character of Macbeth, is the death of his spouse. Although Macbeth has committed monstrous deeds, he is not a monster. In fact he feels, which is quite surprising, sadness and compassion towards the tragedy. Life now seems to him utterly futile, a slow inexorable progression toward death: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing”. One cannot help but feel at least some sympathy for Macbeth. He has been equivocated upon by the witches, his wife died, all of Scotland scorns him and he is carrying an unimaginable burden of guilt. However he still retains some of his original traits. In his fight against Macduff Macbeth refuses to go down without a fight: “ I will not yield to kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet… “hold, enough””. A formidable warrior indeed. Even when the entire world is against him he holds his head high with pride.
“Macbeth” would not have been the masterpiece of literature that it is without such a character. Notice that Macbeth is the protagonist, and also the antagonist. Hero and villain. Good and evil. Macbeth is not the average character which just defeats the villain and the play ends happily ever after; he is much more complex than that, much more alive. His transformation from the loyal, virtuous, moral individual to the abomination of a tyrant and finally to the heartbroken, empty individual. The moral turmoil that is experienced by Macbeth and his deep, delving sense of guilt proves him to be somewhat of a good person. But his heinous acts of murder and manipulation show the dark side of his character which is solely fuelled on his one flaw: his vaulting ambition. Macbeth was not originally a murderer, but he was bound to become one eventually. The turn of events at the end of the play also suggest that the spirit of Macbeth will live on, as most likely Macduff will become another Macbeth. Macbeth is a skilfully created character that possesses more than one personality within him; this is what makes him remembered by all, it makes him immortal.