Question: Analyse how at least three techniques were used to present an important theme In the tragedy Macbeth, William Shakespeare explores the timeless theme of the battle between good and evil. Through the techniques of soliloquies and asides, contrast between the characters and imagery in the dialogue, Shakespeare shows how uncontrolled ambition corrupts the noble protagonist, Macbeth, into an evil tyrant. Shakespeare uses soliloquies and asides to reveal the inner conflict within Macbeth as he chooses between good and evil.
After the witches prophesy that Macbeth will become king, Macbeth becomes consumed by his ambition. He becomes obsessed with thoughts about the murder of his sovereign lord, Duncan. His struggle is revealed in the soliloquy in Act One Scene Seven, when he says, “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent but only vaulting ambition”. He admits that his overpowering ambition spurs him to do things from which his nature shrinks. Unfortunately Macbeth is unable to resist his ambition and before he commits regicide he says, “Stars, hide your fire, let not light see my black and deep desires”.
This soliloquy shows Macbeth’s internal conflict between his ambition and his morality as he is ashamed of what he is about to do, he does not wish heaven to see the stirring evil within him. The soliloquies demonstrate that Macbeth’s uncontrolled ambition eventually overwhelms him and that he loses the battle between good and evil. Shakespeare also uses the technique of contrasting characters to highlight the struggle between good and evil.
During the first half of the play Shakespeare reveals the fact that Macbeth is evil by contrasting him with his close friend, Banquo. They are both strong leaders and victorious generals and both witness the witches’ prophesies; however their reactions to these prophecies contrast dramatically: Banquo is able to resist his ambition for his decedents to be kings; Macbeth is not able to resist his desire to become king. This reveals that the world is full of temptations and that man constantly struggles to resist evil.
We are always only one decision away from succumbing to sin. Macduff is another character that contrasts vividly with Macbeth. This is especially notable in the way they treat each other’s wife. When Macduff discovers the death of King Duncan he tries to spare the harshness of his discovery from Lady Macbeth, saying “O gentle Lady, Tis not for you to hear what I can speak” and shows his concern for Lady Macbeth when she faints “Look to the lady”. However Macbeth’s treatment of Lady Macduff reveals the depths of degradation to which his character has fallen.
This is shown when Macbeth slaughters Lady Macduff and her children during the absence of Macduff. Macbeth commands the murderers to “Give the edge o’ the sword/ His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls/ That trace him in his line”. His action demonstrates how far his character deteriorates into evil as he loses the sense of conscience and humanity, near the end of the play. Lastly the imagery in the dialogue reinforces the idea of evil overwhelming good as a result of Macbeth’s ambition to be king.
One of the most effective images Shakespeare uses is blood imagery, which can be seen throughout the whole play and begins at the opening battle between the scouts and the Norwegian invaders. The wounded captain’s harrowing description of Macbeth’s victory against the enemy symbolises his bravery and honour at the start of the play. However once Macbeth and Lady Macbeth embark upon their murderous journey, blood comes to symbolise their guilt, and they begin to feel that their crime has stained them in a way that cannot be washed clean. Will great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand? ” Macbeth cries after he has killed Duncan. His wife scolds him and says that a little water will do the job. Later, though, Lady Macbeth comes to share his horrified sense of being stained: “Out, damn spot; out I say…who would have thought the old man would have so much blood in him? ” Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s evil deeds transform blood from symbolising honour and bravery to guilt that sits like a permanent stain on the conscience of them both, which hounds them to their graves.
This shows that in the battle of evil, even though evil may prevail temporarily, those who use evil to gain their desire will be unable to enjoy what they have gained. Shakespeare’s skilful use of techniques not only portrays the important theme of the battle between good and evil to the readers but also creates a warning to us when we make choices in life. Ambition helps us to pursue our dreams and goals but may also blind us from what is right and wrong when it becomes uncontrolled, as it does to the once noble protagonist, Macbeth.