The Essence and Impacts of Macbeth's Imagination

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In short, he thus degenerates from “Bellona’s bridegroom” , as he was called in the beginning of the drama, almost into an epitome of bad and evil – or, in Malcolm’s words a “bloody, / Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, / Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin / That has a name.” – up into a “hell-hound” in the end.This detailed characterization of the protagonist underlines Shakespeare’s creative power and his literary art; thereby, his avant-garde internalization also becomes evident which grants insights into the psyche of the tyrant and, through fine psychological differentiation, underlines Macbeth’s uniqueness as a personality, thus, to some extent, his ‘self-identity’. 

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What now follows the rather external character description of the previous chapter is, with the discussion of Macbeth’s imagination, the internal, or psychological, introspection. For this purpose the essence and mechanism – the ‘functioning’ – of his imagination will be characterized first. Subsequently, it shall be further touched upon how it affects his thinking, or rather his mental state, and how it influences his concrete actions and, ultimately, the entire course of the plot.Macbeth’s overflowing fantasy connects with his ambition – a strong will for power, which only requires an impetus from the outside and which lets grim thoughts and wishes awaken inside him . The sinister combination of these two forces is, then, what ultimately leads him onto the path of evil and finally pushes him into his doom. 

“His language and his imaginings are those of a seer, which heightens the horror of his disintegration into the bloodiest of all Shakespearean tyrant-villains.”He possesses a special mental constitution, since due to his unusual sensitivity he is agitated by the horror of the crime from the moment of the first temptation. His restless imagination, which grows to being compulsive and pathological, makes him see the consequences of the deed visually before his eyes . Macbeth’s imagination has an especially crucial role within the drama insofar as that it is what enables him to interpret the witches’ prophecies the way he does and to make all his deeds, and thus also the entire course of action in the play, dependent on it. 

Through Macbeth’s fantasy, his better self embodies itself in images that are born out of deepest innermost excitement, molded by particular soul-forces – ‘imagination’ and ‘thought’ – and that obtain objective autonomy, meaning that they become independent of their producer and face him dominantly by appearing to him as constructions of supernatural forces that trigger timidity, fear and horror in him, but also shake him up, “instead of speaking to him in the overt language of moral ideas, commands, and prohibitions”.But Macbeth has no power over these “visionary fits [that] come upon him when and as they since his imagination is uncontrollable. 

What is also interesting in this context is the fact that products of fertile imagination – as it is the case with Macbeth – are, on the one hand, an expression of mischievous passions, in which he undoubtedly got enmeshed, but on the other hand – according to the Elizabethan interpreters of the doctrines on providence – they are, paradoxically, also indicators of a higher foreordination, which it uses for warning and avenging purposes. Furthermore it is to be noticed that disaster is looming anytime his imagination makes itself noticed with him – be it during his first thought of the regicide , the visionary dagger, the voices that predict the end of his sleep , his apostrophe of the night or the illusion of Banquo’s ghost. The awakening of his power ambition already slumbering inside him during his first encounter with the witches triggers a complex of thoughts and conceptions in Macbeth which, after the second prophetic witch-greeting comes true – “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor.”  – become so vivid that they immediately evoke intense vegetative reflexes:

“This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill; cannot be good. If ill, / Why hath it given me earnest of success, / Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor. / If good, why do I yield to that suggestion / Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair, / And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, / Against the use of nature? Present fears / Are less than horrible imaginings. / My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, / Shakes so my single state of man / That function is smothered in surmise, / And nothing is, but what is not. debate on the inside of his own torn soul, which concurrently introduces us to the essence of his imagination, tells us how sensitively and unstably Macbeth’s vegetative system reacts to supernatural conceptions. In this soliloquy of decision, he already anticipates his upcoming, wrong choice.

Since Macbeth’s power of imagination exhibits both positive and negative features, it appears reasonable to differentiate between a positive and a negative side of his imagination: Thereby the positive side, meaning especially his warning ‘conscience’ which is closely linked to the imaginativeness, is certainly to be rated as a preference; the negative side on the other hand, which incited him to the murder of Duncan and seems to stand in connection to demonic forces, is to be assessed as a corrupting vice.   

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