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Macbeth by Shakespeare, Commentary by Maria Rioux

Macbeth by Shakespeare, Commentary by Maria Rioux

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These notes are the fruit of a directed study, and I hope they are helpful to you.
These notes are the fruit of a directed study, and I hope they are helpful to you.

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Published by: Homeschool Connections on Nov 11, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Commentary by Maria RiouxIn Macbeth, there are no subplots, nothing to take our attention away from the the plotting of Macbeth and his wife,and it’s developing ugliness. All the action of the play follows upon a single decision by Macbeth to act on hisambition.The fact that Duncan is a wise, old, just and generous king makes Macbeth’s betrayal all the more repugnant. Headmits to a double betrayal: one as a soldier of the king, and one as a host to his guest.(Porter’s reference to the Gunpowder Plot: Jesuits tried to blow up the king, his heir, and both houses of Parliamentby placing gunpowder under the Parliament building.)If we look to Scottish history, what Macbeth did initially was not so very grievous nor uncommon. The Scot’s didnot cling to a sort of Divine right of kings, nor follow blood succession that closely.The evil humans commit is reflected in the weather and in the behavior of animals. Macbeth is seduced by prophecyand by Lady Macbeth’s and his own greed for power, as well as his love for Lady Macbeth and his desire to earn herlove and respect. His initial murder might be viewed by Scots as somewhat expected, and surely, no one in the playseems either deceived nor surprised. However, this one act leads to other murders, culminating in the murder of awoman and her children as they sleep, the murder of the innocent.In both the plot and the language, Shakespeare explores the influence of fate and free will. The Witches could bevehicles of fate, or they could be Macbeth’s ambition personified. In support of this, Hecate reprimands the witchesfor their part in fanning the flames of Macbeth’s ambition as though he could, indeed, choose otherwise. Macbethseems to act, and then to sit back and resign himself to the consequence of his chosen actions as if he had no will inthe matter.Macbeth is the tragic hero, for he was not always evil. He begins the play good and noble, for which he is rewardedwith the title “thane of Cawdor.” He struggles against his ambition and ignoble thoughts, but is rather easilyovercome by his wife’s ambition and scorn.Duncan says:“No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive our bosominterest. Go pronounce his present death, and with his former titlegreet Macbeth.”Ironically, the granting of this title gives Macbeth the idea to kill the king. Macbeth will go far beyond deceivingDuncan’s “bosom interest.”Macbeth is astounded when he is addressed as “thane of Cawdor,” but Banquo warns him that evil sometimes tellssmall truths to trick people into believing larger lies. Macbeth is confused, but the thought that he might soon ruleScotland begins to erode his noble nature. Lady Macbeth knows her husband’s nature all too well and braces herself to undermine the good in him. She fears he is all to noble to do the ugly things that ‘must’ be done. One has tochuckle a bit at her prayer to unsex herself. She doesn’t seem to require a whole lot of pushing to quiet any tenderand gentle tendencies she might have. It is important to add that this is true only in the abstract. Once the deed isdone, and her hands are wet with Duncan’s blood, she begins her decent into madness. Having denied her nature, hermind begins to acquire an unnatural sickness.Banquo is right: the witches tell only part of the truth, and then only that part which disguises the evil required forthese events to come to pass. Macbeth argues that since the witches’ predictions have begun to be true, how can thewitches be evil? If they were evil, they would lie. This ignores the evil of equivocation – when partial truths serve agreater lie. Banquo warns against equivocation: “oftentimes, to win us to our harm the instruments of darkness tellus truths”. Shakespeare establishes Banquo as heroic and wise, a faithful servant of the king, of Scotland, and a fitfather for future kings.The fact that the witches lie, or at least, shield the truth, suggests that Macbeth is not ruled by fate. He has a choice,which they hope to influence, but they cannot command his actions or they would not bother to hide the reality fromhim. He must be at least able to struggle against fate.“If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir.”It’s as if Macbeth is simply resigning himself to fate. On the other hand, we see that he does not. He takes mattersinto his own hands, not waiting for the fates to have their will. Perhaps he feels that any action is justified becausethe fates have sort of given him the nod: this is what he is meant to be, hence, meant to do.Lady Macbeth seems to be more vicious than her husband. She readily adjusts to the evil plans, seeking only theirpersonal good. (One might ask if personal good is ever distinct from common good. )

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