The play ‘Macbeth’ was believed by scholars to have been written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1603 and 1606. Shakespeare’s date of birth is unknown but he was baptised on 26th April 1564 and died on 23rd April 1616, aged 52. He was an English poet and playwright with 38 plays, 154 sonnets, 2 long narrative poems, and several other poems which all consist of his surviving works. His plays have been translated into every major language and are performed more than any other playwrights around the world. Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon and married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18.
They had three children and between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as a writer and actor. Many speculations surround Shakespeare dealing with such matters as sexuality, appearance, religious belief, and whether work credited by him really was his own or whether it was another writer’s. ‘Macbeth’ is the shortest and most compressed of Shakespeare’s tragedies and with so many plot-holes many wonder whether the play was really ever finished. Shakespeare also adds a supernatural element to this tragedy with ghosts/spirits and witches making appearances.
Shakespeare’s first plays were written in the style of the day; however he soon began to write in a more traditional style for his own purposes. Shakespeare developed a poetic style of writing with complex and extreme variations that we can see in alot of his more popular plays, for example in ‘Macbeth’ the language goes from one unrelated metaphor or simile to another. An example of this can be found in Act 1, scene 7 “was the hope drunk/ Wherein you dressed yourself? ” The listener/reader is challenged to complete the sense. The play was written in the 17th century during the ‘early modern’ period of Europe.
Dramatic advances in scientific understanding took place during this century and two civil wars were fought. James 1st, Charles 1st and Charles 2nd all reigned at some point during the century. The name of the play is thought to have been cursed by witches because Shakespeare used real spells of witches in his text, so some actors refer to ‘Macbeth’ merely as ‘the Scottish play’ or by other names. This however is thought to only be superstitious, although links in well with ‘Macbeths’ supernatural element involving witches – almost making it seem like Shakespeare put some truth and some of his own experiences into the play when writing.
The themes illustrated in ‘Macbeth’ include ambition, fate, deception, and treachery. Macbeth and another general called Banquo are confronted by three witches on return from a victorious war between Scotland and Norway. The witches predict that one day Macbeth will become king even though he already has the title of Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is persuaded by his wife to kill Duncan the King and frame some sleeping guards for the murder. A noble man called Macduff finds King Duncan’s body but Macbeth uses blood on the guard’s swords as proof that they committed the murder.
Macbeth murders the guards and becomes king. However, the ghost of Banquo appears to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s conscience begins to drive them insane. Lady Macbeth commits suicide and Macbeth is killed by Macduff. Malcolm is then appointed King. Surprisingly, King Duncan and Macbeth can actually be traced back leading similar lives to the characters in Shakespeare’s play, though obviously Shakespeare’s characters are mainly fictitious. 12th Century Scotland was ruled by Malcolm 1st, David 1st, and William 1st. The play is set at the time of the middle ages, mostly in Scotland and briefly in England.
However, Shakespeare changed alot of details to make the play historically inaccurate such as the length Macbeth ruled as King, the locations such as where battles were fought, and many portrayals of characters are incorrect. In Act 1, Scene 5, we see Lady Macbeth’s reaction to Macbeth’s letter in which Macbeth tells her about his promotion to thane ship of Cawdor and the witches’ prophecy. She is in Inverness – Macbeth’s castle. Lady Macbeth is concerned because although she believes he is ambitious, she is worried that he is “too full o’th milk of human kindness” to carry out the murder of King Duncan.
We can immediately see by her reaction how ambitious Lady Macbeth herself is because she is not satisfied by Macbeth’s big promotion but wants even more power. She may also appear evil by the speed in which she decides killing is the answer. After being informed by a messenger that Macbeth is on her way, Lady Macbeth delivers a famous speech asking for help of spirits to rid her of her natural feminine ways so that she can convince Macbeth to carry out the bloody deeds needed to take over the crown. She states “Come you spirits that tend on mortal thought, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty! When Macbeth does arrive, there is a strong sense of dramatic irony as Lady Macbeth begins by praising Macbeth for his promotion even though the audience knows she is far from satisfied. This immediately shows us that she is a very false and two-faced character. She exclaims to Macbeth “Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor! Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter! ” In Act 1 Scene 7, Lady Macbeth eventually convinces Macbeth to kill Duncan. Macbeth is alone at the beginning of the scene pondering on the assassination of Duncan that Lady Macbeth suggested earlier. He knows that the act would be easy if not for the series of awful consequences.
He declares his willingness to risk eternal damnation in hell but realises even on earth “Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor”. He also realises how good Duncan has been to him and decides against the awful plan. Lady Macbeth then enters to change his mind. When she hears Macbeth is against the murder she is outraged and calls him a coward. She then emasculates him by questioning his manhood, telling him “When you durst do it, then you were a man” and questions him about his mental state considering him to be metaphorically hung-over.
In the time that the play is set, Lady Macbeth talking to Macbeth in the way she is would have been quite shocking because men were considered very superior over women and it would have been very disrespectful. Macbeth asks Lady Macbeth about the possibility of failure and she replies “But screw you courage to the sticking-place and we’ll not fail”. Lady Macbeth is evidently the main driving factor for the murder of Duncan so far in the play and we can see Macbeth is reluctant to carry out the task. Lady Macbeth uses some very powerful imagery in the scene when confronting Macbeth that may shock the audience.
She almost convinces Macbeth that she is fully behind the plan by talking about brutally killing her baby if that were the case. She says “Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, and dash’d the brains out, had i sworn as you have done this. ” The reasons for Lady Macbeths cruel nature is unclear though we are told “I have given suck” by Lady Macbeth but are not informed any more of this baby so it is possible that we are meant to presume something happened to do with a child that made Lady Macbeth the way she is.
However, this is another reason why some people believe Shakespeare did not finish the play because it is never revealed. Women back in the 12th century would have been expected to treat their husbands with respect, to listen to them, and to mainly look after children and work round the house. However, we can see Lady Macbeth is completely over-stepping the boundaries of how a women ‘should’ have acted. The audience would therefore see Lady Macbeths character as very ‘different’ and crafty women from the time that the play is set.
It is obvious that there must be some sort of unknown motive for Lady Macbeth’s appalling behaviour. In Act 5 Scene 1, Shakespeare shows us how Lady Macbeth is reacting after the murder of Duncan. We can see she is slowly turning insane and cannot deal with the consequences even though she was sure everything would be fine. In the Kings Palace, a doctor and a gentlewoman are discussing Lady Macbeth’s strange habit of sleepwalking. Lady Macbeth enters in a trance and moans about the murders of Lady Macduff and Banquo, in a poetic style. “The thane of fife had a wife: where is she now? —what will these hands ne’er be clean? She seems to see blood on her hands and claims that nothing will ever wash it off when she states “Out Damn spot! ” This is an example of dramatic irony because earlier Lady Macbeth stated that it would only take a “bit of water” to wash away the guilt. We can see her descent and downfall into madness properly in this scene. We can see madness when Lady Macbeth repeats words such as “come, come, come, come”. This entire scene shows us a change of heart for all the evil and a dramatic turn around, especially when Lady Macbeth says “What’s done cannot be undone” obviously showing us she regrets here actions.
Her words show guilt to the two onlookers who agree it would be better not to talk of the incident. This part of the play may be directed to make Lady Macbeth appear completely out of her mind with guilt. The scene would probably be very dark with a terrified Lady Macbeth. I believe the audience are expected to take pity on Lady Macbeth in this scene because it makes the character seem a lot more human. It is almost the first scene where Lady Macbeth’s true emotions are shown to us. Lady Macbeth may also be having a change of heart because she may sense Macbeth’s reign coming to an end.
The doctor can see Lady Macbeths change when he explains “What a sigh it there! The heart is sorely charged. ” I believe the Change of Lady Macbeth and her later death/suicide represents an overall moral message of the play. The play principally shows how destructive ambition or over-ambition can be and how others can lead us to do things we wouldn’t dream of doing in normal life. Macbeth who at heart seems to be a good man is led into thoughts and actions by his wife that are completely, fundamentally against his nature.
This leads to the destruction of himself, others, and Lady Macbeth who initially encourages him before having a change of heart, going crazy with guilt, and eventually taking her own life. We are also shown the power of kingship and power and the responsibility this brings with it. I would say that the way that Shakespeare has written the play makes it very unfavourable toward women. We are lead to believe that women can lead men into evil, possibly similar to the story of Adam and Eve in ‘The Bible’.
Some may disagree with me believing that we are actually shown the ambition and braveness of women compared to men. In conclusion, I believe Shakespeare decided to give Lady Macbeth the huge downfall to prove the point that although one may have “vaulting ambition”, the consequences of actions can be far, far worse than the action itself or the situation before the action. Themes of betrayal, redemption, selfless love, and retribution all echo throughout time because ultimately humanity cannot escape its own flawed nature and thus cannot escape the true tragedy.