The Importance of Macbeth’s Character

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 Metaphysical beings are prevalent characteristics of Shakespeare’s plays and are a concept that was widely believed in the Elizabethan era. “The weïrd sisters” in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth are possibly some of the most famous supernatural elements in his plays. They serve as instruments of fate by delivering their prophecies to Macbeth, the protagonist, who is motivated to pursue his ambition. Although some may argue otherwise, Shakespeare suggests that the Witches in Macbeth are eminently responsible for Macbeth’s decisions and are what primarily lead him to his downfall. He conveys this through his choice of diction, use of context and that of the motif of the prophecy.

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Violent and persuasive diction is used to portray the strong influence The Witches have in convincing Macbeth of the possibility of a powerful future. The initial appearance of the witches forcefully influences Macbeth’s future ambition through their flattering song: “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis. / All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor. / All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.”  The language of “Hail” automatically “puts Macbeth on a pedestal” and shows him as the “Almighty powerful leader” like the Great Chain of Being states he should be. Similarly, the repetition of the quote further depicts the importance of Macbeth’s character and further highlights his power. Although Shakespeare could have just stated “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee”, instead he makes sure to include his hierarchical status within each line, which increase as the witches speak. By including this, Shakespeare portrays the power that the Witches are placing upon Macbeth, listing everything that he will accomplish. Not only does this give Macbeth confidence, but it also blinds him from reality and thus acts as a driving force that leads to his downfall. Furthermore, violent diction emphasizes the actions Macbeth has to take in order to pursue power and serves as an element that confirms the ideology that The Witches are eminently responsible for his downfall. In The Witches’ second apparition to Macbeth, they try to convince Macbeth to do all he can to become king by commanding him to “Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to / scorn”. This could have possibly mislead Macbeth into thinking that this is what he must do in order to gain all the power and become King, when in fact, it only worsens the situation for his future. The use of violent diction, further highlights the ideology that the Witches have brought death towards Macbeth’s hands and that he should take no mercy and do all it takes to become King. The juxtaposition of violent diction like “bloody” and “laugh to scorn” used in the same sentence once again depict the lack of mercy the Witches and Macbeth feel towards his actions.

Moreover, context in Shakespeare's Macbeth is a crucial element that creates an unsettling environment of the witches and a direct link to an Elizabethan audience. In the Elizabethan era, citizens and even royalty, like James VI, were great believers of metaphysical beings; and interest linked with hysteria, which are a concept well known in Shakespeares’ works. Many believed that they were to blame for unexpected events and where somehow linked to the devil. This superstition clearly explains why Macbeth trusted the Witches’ prophecy and even killed based on it. Macbeth even begins to sound as if he were performing an incantation when he says that “It will have blood they say: blood will have blood. / Stones have been known to move and trees to speak.” like the Witches themselves as a way to assure that his absolute ruling is bound to happen, once again based on superstition. His use of nature like “trees to speak” is another element that the Witches are known for and one that assures that there is no doubt that they are right. Having a connection to nature, signifies a greater power that only supernatural beings possess, thus depicts Macbeth’s belief in this concept and his wish to honor it in order for the prophecy to occur. This of course drives Macbeth to his assassination as he does not dare to question what the Witches are saying and thus trusts his superstition and the prophecy to be the only thing he needs to be king. This concept of superstition is linked to the idea of destiny and how people in those times vastly believed that their actions could not affect their future as destiny would be the only deciding force. Once again seen in ?

Shakespeare uses the prophecy as a recurring motif in the story, that acts as the guiding force of Macbeth’s actions and thus his downfall. Not long after being presented with the prophecy, Macbeth realizes that he is now Thane of Cawdor and that the prophecy could be true. Immediately, in his soliloquy, Shakespeare displays Macbeth’s uneasiness towards the decision of killing Duncan. Finally, he decides that he “has no spur to prick the sides of [his] intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’erlaps itself and falls on th’other”. This depicts how Macbeth’s only motivation to kill is his ambition and the reassurance that he will become king, highlighting how the Witches’ prophecy has clouded his judgement. Some may argue that it was indeed Lady Macbeth who convinced him to kill Duncan, however if it weren’t for the Witches’ prophecy, neither Macbeth, nor Lady Macbeth would have ever gotten that idea into their heads. Furthermore, the impact that the prophecy has had on Macbeth reflects on its recurrent mentioning throughout the story. He uses the prophecy as an excuse to portray his own companion, Banquo as a threat and “[his] fears in Banquo/ Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature /Reigns that which would be feared.” Not only is Macbeth deceiving himself in this scene, but he is also deceiving the Murderers into believing that Banquo who was eminently influence by the three is indeed a threat and thus should be killed. It is evident that he intents on killing Banquo based only upon the prophecy that stated that Banquo will be the maker of future Kings. This is an ideology that greatly threatens Macbeth to the point where his “fears in Banquo [are]/ Stick deep”. Macbeth is troubled as he thinks that everything he has done in order to fulfill the prophecy would have been for nothing if Banquo lives on since “for [his future sons], the gracious Duncan [has he] murdered”.

Overall, the tragic hero was eminently influenced by the three Witches and thus was led to a brutal demise. Some may defend the ideology that it was Macbeth’s own deception and ambition, as well as Lady Macbeth’s shaming what lead him to undertake horrid actions. However, it was the Witches that blinded Macbeth’s judgement and presented him with a deceptive prophecy and thus convince him to do all he could to become powerful. Shakespeare captures this through his choice of diction, context and the recurring motif of the prophecy.    

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