Friday, 16 January 2015

The Character of Macbeth
The Supernatural element in the play “Macbeth”
The part played by the witches in the play “Macbeth”
“Macbeth” as a Shakespearean tragedy
Among William Shakespeare’s four tragedies such as Macbeth, King Lear, Othello and Hamlet, Macbeth is the shortest and the most beautiful and sublime tragedy. Macbeth is a man of noble character. He is called ‘Bellona’s bridegroom’, valiant cousin, bold and fearless. In the war, the Scottish army under the inspring leadership of General Macbeth crushed the enemies and won victory for Scotland. Grateful Duncan, the king of Scotland showered praises honours on Macbeth and he is promoted to the Thane of Cawdor. As a general, he is successful, as a husband, he shines better than any other Shakespearean heroes. His love for Lady Macbeth leads him to evil ways. It is a blind love.

 The most important feature of ‘Macbeth’ is the effective introduction of supernatural element. The three witches in the Ist scene of  First Act encourages the unbridled ambition of Macbeth. They predict that Macbeth will become the Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland. This leads him to murder Duncan, helped by Lady Macbeth. The witches gives sweet words into the ambitious ears of Macbeth and flatter him with false prophecies which has double meanings. Thus the witches are the evil forces in the play. Lady Macbeth may be considered the fourth ‘witch’ because it is she as the beloved wife plays an important role in the fall of the great General Macbeth. General Banquo is a foil to Macbeth, warns the hero of the deceitful ways of the witches. He says, “ …But’tis strange, and often times, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths/Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s / In deepest consequence”. But the overambitious Macbeth ignores this warning and murders Duncan and fulfills his great ambition. Macbeth becomes the king of Scotland and Lady Macbeth becomes the queen.
 But alas, “Nought’s had, all’s spent” Lady Macbeth painfully tells these depressing words. They lost peace of mind. They lost sleep for ever because they killed Duncan in his sleep. Retribution or Nemesis, the poetic aspect of justice is seen in Shakespearean tragedies, especially in ‘Macbeth’. After Duncan, he kills Banqo and the family of Macduff. Finally Macbeth fights bravely to death. We don’t hate Macbeth, but feels sympathy for this tragic hero. He is essentially a human being, a great poet-philosopher. In the beginning, he tries to withdraw from the deed of murder of Duncan, and his guilty conscience asks him not to murder Duncan, because he is his guest, his king and he should be protector of the precious life of the king. But Lady Macbeth provokes him to commit the murder.
 Shakespeare does not strictly follow the Aristotelian concept of ‘tragic hero’ and as a result we don’t feel pity and fear but ‘Macbeth’ is a sublime tragedy. The conflict in Shakespearean tragedies is external and internal. Macbeth suffers from conflict of external circumstances and also mental conflict. The dagger scene and ghost scene are examples. In the banquet, when the ghost of Banquo appears, only Macbeth feels the presence of Banquo and is terrified. The dagger scene appears in the IInd Act of the play. Macbeth is alone sitting and waiting for the bell of Lady Macbeth to murder Duncan. He sees the dagger coming to him with blood dropping from its blade. It reflects Macbeth’s mental conflict. He does not want to murder Duncan. But his over-ambitious mind and the force of Lady Macbeth leads him to the bed chamber of Duncan and murders the king. But soon  after the murder, his mind is full of guilt and he says that he cannot make prayers and he hears a voice crying “Macbeth has murdered sleeping Duncan, therefore Macbeth will never sleep and never get peace of mind. Yes we feel pity for the tragic hero Macbeth when he is killed by Macduff in the war. Misfortune after misfortune follows Macbeth till the end, the death of Lady Macbeth and the running away of his soldiers and lords to the side of Malcom  and the prophecies made by the witches one by one failed him,. The Great Brinam wood came to Dunsinane hill and Macduff who had no natural birth from a woman, confronted Macbeth in the battle and declared that he was not born of a woman shocked Macbeth and killed him. Macbeth fought bravely till his last breath, it was a heroic end, making the play a sublime tragedy.
  1. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,
Hover through the fog and filthy air”
The three witches appear in the opening Act of the play ‘Macbeth” and sings these lines together. They are the devils and the enemy of humanity. So they attract ambitious people like Macbeth with some ‘trifles’ and finally trap them eternal hell. The witches are not interested in Banquo who is a very religious man. The witches live in dirty places like the marshes. They say that whatever is good for them is bad for human being. They always travel through fog and filthy air. Their prophecies have been fair to Macbeth and he always depend on these prophecies and committed many murders. Only in the end did Macbeth know that the fair was really foul.
  1. “So foul and fair a day I have not seen”
This is the first sentence spoken by Macbeth, the tragic hero of the play of the same title. After having defeated Macdonald and the Norweyen king in the battle, both Macbeth and Banquo reached a heath where the three witches have been waiting for them. Macbeth tells Banquo that the day is a combination of good and bad. The good thing is that Macbeth fought bravely in the battle and won the war for his king Duncan. Thus Macbeth has proved that he is not only a great General of Scotland but a great patriot and many honours and praises will certainly shower upon him by the King and the people of Scotland. The bad thing may be the life and death fight in the war and the bloodshed. There is an inner meaning to it. The day is a turning point in the life of Macbeth, because he will meet the three witches and this lead to the fulfillment of his ambition, he will become the king of Scotland and the bad thing is that he will murder the king and many people and thereby he will become slave of the devil.
  1. “Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell:
Though all thing foul would wear the brows of grace,
Yet grace must still look so.”  - Explain
Malcolm, the elder son of Duncan says these words to Macduff in the IVth Act of the play when Macduff visits Malcolm in England. Macduff asks Malcolm to get an English army to fight against Macbeth and regain the kingship of Scotland to Malcolm. At first Malcolm thinks of Macduff as a spy sent by Macbeth and tells Macduff that he is more wicked than Macbeth. Macduff is helpless and confused and repeats the honest words that he is not treacherous. Finally Malcolm learns that Macduff is the greatest patriot of Scotland and tells him that ‘angels are bright still’. It means that good and honest people are always good and honest because Malcolm is the son of gracious Duncan and his wife always spent her time in prayer and meditation. According to the Bible, the first group of Angels created by God had fallen to hell. However angels are heavenly and bright and holy.
  1. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red” – Explain
These words are said by Macbeth to himself, soon after the murder of Duncan by him. Lady Macbeth has gone to the bed-chamber to keep the dagger with the sleeping guards in the room. Macbeth expresses horror at the sight of his blood stained hand says that if he washes his hands in the ocean, the ocean will be made red by his sinful hands. Such is the horror Macbeth has committed when he murdered his King who has come to his house as his guest.
  1. “Here’s the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”  - Explain
These are the words of Lady Macbeth in her sleep-walking scene. She has been suffering from ‘somnambulism’ on account severe strain and guilt her mind received from the murder of Duncan who looked like her father when he was sleeping. She encouraged her husband to commit the murder and they became king and queen of Scotland, but they lost sleep and peace of mind. At night Lady Macbeth walks for a long time holding a lighted candle, keeping awake with open eyes while in deep sleep. She feels that her hands still carry the smell of Duncan’s blood and even the best perfumes of Arabia cannot wipe out the smell. It means she has committed the most hellish sin and she has no escape from the punishment. Soon after the murder of Duncan, she had said that “a little water clears us of this deed/ How easy it then”.
  1. “Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee:
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still”   - Explain
Just before murdering Duncan, Macbeth sits alone thinking. He is in deep tension. Macbeth is haunted by inner conflict. Duncan has showered praises and rewards to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. He is so kind hearted that he has come to stay in the castle of Macbeth to honour both of them. In such a situation, Macbeth, the man is confused and wants to withdraw from the decision of killing the king. But his over-ambition and the force of his wife Lady Macbeth ask him to commit the murder. His inner conflict appears to him in the form of the apparition of a dagger comes to him dropping blood from its blade and guides him to the chamber of the king.

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