William Shakespeare in 1606 has created the tragedy “Macbeth”, which story was taken from the “History of Britain.” In this work, the author raises questions about the pernicious influence of personal power, and especially – the struggle for power, which makes a brave Macbeth, valiant and renowned hero, into a villain. Even more sounds in this tragedy by William Shakespeare his constant theme – the theme of retribution. Fair punishment that falls on the criminals and villains is the mandatory law of Shakespeare’s drama, a kind of manifestation of his optimism.
Shakespeare in all his works is paying special attention to the analysis of the individual and society, and their interaction. He examines the sensual and the spiritual nature of human interaction and feelings of agony, diverse states of man’s mind, the emergence and development of affects and their destructive power. Shakespeare focuses on turning points and critical states of consciousness, on the causes of spiritual crisis, the causes of internal and external, subjective and objective. And it is this inner conflict of man is the main theme of the tragedy “Macbeth.” (Bradley, 1991)
In this work it is necessary to consider the supernatural elements, which take a special place in the Shakespeare’s play, they complement and complicate the plot. Shakespeare uses in his tragedy “Macbeth” many fantastic images: the ghost of Banquo, and fabulous witches. Witches, ghosts and visions become an integral part of the story, as they represent many human qualities and motives, such as evil and hatred, fear and despair, lies and deceit. Thus, Shakespeare uses the elements of supernatural in order to emphasize the theme of evil and vile qualities of people in the play. (Knight, 2001)
The tragedy begins with a discussion of the three witches, who discuss when they come together again, and decide to come as soon as the end of a battle is victory.
First Witch: When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch: When the hurly burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.”
The witches in “Macbeth” have long attracted the attention of Shakespeare’s critics. Some critics see them as a prophetess of old women, other say that the witches are hallucinations, the “projected” secret desires of Macbeth. In this interpretation there is an undeniable truth, as witches only repeat the thoughts of Macbeth. Yet the interpretation that reduces the “supernatural” phenomena in “Macbeth” to hallucinations or “projected” secret desires of the actors, is unlikely to be apply to the play, written in the early XVII century. It is doubtful, for example, to shadow of Banquo is a hallucination, as most of the audience, for which Shakespeare wrote his plays, believed in the reality of the shadows. Shakespeare, in this case, used the traditional notions of his era, and that material, which gave him an old Scottish legend.
“Macbeth” is the story not only of the disastrous and criminal vanity, but also about external influences, which take control over the man and “destroy” him. And in Shakespeare’s play all kinds of hell is a fantastic trick to visualize the inner world of man, his psychological metaphor. On the one hand we can see fairy images, but they also embody the evil passions and selfish desire of a man. The images of witches are of great importance in the overall conception of the work. In this sense, witches are the embodiment of all moral filth, deceit and treachery that reigned in the surrounding Shakespeare’s reality. (Bradley, 1991)
Then the third scene of the first act, in which appears Macbeth, begins with the words of the hero: “So foul and fair a day I have not seen”. (Macbeth, 1.3.)
The point of this comparison is as follows: a combination of terrible and beautiful together – horror of the battle and the victory of beauty. But in a broader sense, in combination of beauty and terrible is hidden entirely different meaning: Macbeth himself embodies the combination of the beautiful and terrible. The play reveals the tragedy of magnificent warrior, who made a murder, and the motif of opposition is necessary here to underline the inconsistency of human nature. Witches can be considered as some otherworldly force, which decided to prove the relativity of moral standards in human life, to blur the line between disgusting and beautiful, good and evil in human soul. And the object of their influence is Macbeth, who took their words for “clue”, he considered the prediction as the call, which could conceal nor evil nor good.
Banquo: How far is’t call’d to Forres? What are these
So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,
And yet are on’t? Live you? or are you aught
That man may question…
Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair? — I’ the name of truth,
Are ye fantastical, or that indeed
Which outwardly ye show? My noble partner
You greet with present grace and great prediction
Of noble having and of royal hope,
That he seems rapt withal; to me you speak not.
If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear
Your favours nor your hate. (Macbeth, 1.3)
The witches turn intimate and passive desires of Macbeth in reality, efficient and purposeful actions. They come into Macbeth’s ambitious desires, describing them as dark and evil – demonic, fatal to the conscience and humanity. Doubts and hesitations, which Macbeth is experiencing, relate to the moral sphere, caused by the resistance of duty and conscience, inhuman intentions. Macbeth dreams and ambitions of the crown of the commander Banquo are embodied in the images of witches and their predictions. And Macbeth follows his desires and intentions. This is closely related to the Shakespeare’s characterization of the individual, as a person who knowingly and consistently assigns his own interests above those of other people.
Macbeth is full of ambitious passions and he hurries to get away of moral principles and rules of life, considering them a nuisance, empty superstition. In “Macbeth” the theme of individualism has the central role. Individualism leads to the appearance of the opposite theme – the theme of the interests of society as a whole, here Shakespeare solves the most open conflict between two opposing views of human nature. For the first time this conflict manifests itself in the seventh stage of the first act after the monologue of Macbeth.
If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends th’ ingredience of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips. (Macbeth, 1.7)
At the end of the monologue Macbeth says that he does not feel the motivation to act other than ambition, which, as he himself realizes, is destined to destroy itself. So he announces Lady Macbeth: “Let us leave this matter.” He protects the individualistic point of view that Macbeth has the right and duty to act in accordance with his wishes and swept aside all obstacles. That is, Lady Macbeth on the one hand, and the supernatural forces on the other, are pushing Macbeth to the murder. There appears the conflict between the two sides of human nature, which is one of the most important in “Macbeth.”
The witches also appear in tragedy as the personification of fate and inevitability. The last meeting with Macbeth’s prophetic sisters riddled with tragic irony, “A man who has forgotten the wisdom, honor and shame”, according to Hecate, blind to the mysteries of fate.
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 smother’d in surmise, and nothing is
But what is not. (Macbeth, 1.3.)
The theme of inner conflict of man appears in the maim part of the play – during the banquet. At this time Macbeth is fully aware that he no longer controls the circumstances that he has created. This realization comes with the message that Banquo is killed. Even greater depth to the situation gives the appearance of the Ghost – another supernatural being in the play. Macbeth feels remorse and fear, expressed in the fact that he sees a ghost. .As soon as Macbeth expresses his fear, the ghost disappears.
Macbeth: Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that
Which might appall the devil.
Lady Macbeth : O proper stuff!
This is the very painting of your fear:
This is the air-drawn dagger which, you said,
Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts,
(Impostors to true fear) would well become … (Macbeth, 3.4.)
Ghost return marks the highest point of dramatic action throughout the play. The last “battle” in Macbeth’s soul is between the two points of view, expressed in his speech that caused the disappearance of the ghost again. Macbeth’s line of thought can be traced in part and by the images of the animal world. Macbeth as a result of their actions acquire qualities of the beast, beasts, and so in comparison with the ghost seemed to him something normal. He begins to doubt the reality of the Ghost, and, consequently, fear and remorse that this ghost symbolizes.
Then again the witches appear in the play, as they plan to lead Macbeth to his downfall:
Great business must be wrought ere noon:
Upon the corner of the moon
There hangs a vaporous drop profound;
I’ll catch it ere it come to ground:
And that distill’d by magic sleights
Shall raise such artificial sprites
As by the strength of their illusion
Shall draw him on to his confusion.
He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear
His hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace and fear:
And you all know, security
Is mortals’ chiefest enemy. (Macbeth, 3.5.)
Macbeth turns to the witches, and the ambiguous advice that they give him, convinced Macbeth that this was his destiny, and he becomes more confident. The witches appear in the tragedy as the personification of fate and inevitability. The last meeting of prophetic sisters with Macbeth’s is filled with tragic irony that “a man who has forgotten the wisdom, honor and shame is blind to the mysteries of fate”. All ambiguous predictions, showed in the terrible scenes of the future, Macbeth realized on the contrary. So in this tragedy, we can see the transformation of intentions into their opposites, made with the influence of supernatural. The main example of this is Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, whose actions invariably lead to opposite results.
“Macbeth” is the tragedy of inordinate human ambition, a grand tragedy of personality, which had the same opportunities to win, as well as to die, but the “valor” in the absence of “wisdom” has led Macbeth to a complete alienation from people and from his own soul.
Bradley A.C. Shakespearean tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Penguin, 1991
Coursen, H. Macbeth. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997.
Knight, G. Wilson. “Macbeth and the Metaphysic of Evil”. The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearean Tragedy. New York : Routledge, 2001
Mehl D. Shakespeare’s Tragedies: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 1987
McElroy, B. “`Macbeth: The torture of the Mind” in Shakespearean Criticism, Vol. 3. Gale, 1984.
Shakespeare W. Macbeth. The Classic Literature Library . Web.