Macbeth Character Analysis in a Modern Depth-Psychological Sense

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Through a strong differentiation of the mental processes of the tyrannic protagonist up into the fine ramifications of the figure – in this case Macbeth – he thus manages for the first time, to some extent, to create the portrayal of a 'self-identity' within the drama. Just like before with the figure of Hamlet, Shakespeare intuitively undertakes the attempt of a character analysis in a modern depth-psychological sense with Macbeth as well.

Thereby, he uses imagination as a means of illuminating the 'functioning' of Macbeth's psyche in detail and thus, by internalizing the protagonist, bringing his inner life and his uniqueness as a personality onto the Elizabethan stage. With the repression of the externalized character depiction by a now internalized one, he took on a pioneering role in his time. Harold Bloom also endorses this: “Shakespeare’s final strength is radical internalization, and this is his most internalized drama, played out in the guilty imagination that we share with Macbeth.“ (Bloom, p.545, l.8-10). Despite the experimental character of imagination at that time, the dramatist made an important contribution to the psychologization of the drama by introducing imagination into the stage poetry.

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Both internalization as well as imagination as a means for it were repeatedly taken up and perfected during the succession of Shakespeare. One significant further development of this psychological method of characterization in the modern age is the technique of the 'inner monologue' and the 'stream of consciousness', of which, in English-language literature, especially James Joyce and Virginia Woolf made extensive use.

Shakespeare's dramatic art and creative power give the dramatic character that unmistakeable, individual will for expression which also becomes visible with Macbeth. His realistic, differentiated character design gives rise to this ambiguous, enigmatic, psychologically extremely interesting figure that is so rich in contrasting traits (see Unterstenhöfer, p.50, l.13-15; l.29ff.). Intuitively, he already saw modern concepts of psychology in the human.

Those critics who try to deny his characters any psychological consistency are disproved by Shakespeare with the detailed description of the psychology of a figure as multifaceted as Macbeth – a criminal who, due to humanistic and modern insights, possesses convincing validity (see Unterstenhöfer, p.194, l.33ff.). Besides, his success at the time, as well as today, still speaks clearly for him.





  1. Shakespeare, William. 2009. King Richard III. (ed. by James R. Siemon). The Arden Shakespeare. Bloomsbury: London
  2. Shakespeare, William. 2015. Macbeth. (ed. by Sandra Clark & Pamela Mason). The Arden Shakespeare. Bloomsbury: London
  3. Shakespeare, William. 2016. Hamlet. (ed. by Ann Thompson & Neil Taylor). The Arden Shakespeare. Bloomsbury: London 

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