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unchecked by moral constraints—finds its most powerful expression in the play’s two main characters. Macbeth is a courageous Scottish general who is not naturally inclined to commit evil deeds, yet he deeply desires power and advancement. He kills Duncan against his better judgment and afterward stews in guilt and paranoia. Toward the end of the play he descends into a kind of frantic, boastful madness. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, pursues her goals with greater determination, yet she is less capable of withstanding the repercussions of her immoral acts. One of Shakespeare’s most forcefully drawn female characters, she spurs her husband mercilessly to kill Duncan and urges him to be strong in the murder’s aftermath, but she is eventually driven to distraction by the effect of Macbeth’s repeated bloodshed on her conscience. In each case, ambition—helped, of course, by the malign prophecies of the witches—is what drives the couple to ever more terrible atrocities. The problem, the play suggests, is that once one decides to use violence to further one’s quest for power, it is difficult to stop. There are always potential threats to the throne—Banquo, Fleance, Macduff— and it is always tempting to use violent means to dispose of them. The Relationship between Cruelty and Masculinity Characters inM acbeth frequently dwell on issues of gender. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband by questioning his manhood, wishes that she herself could be “unsexed,” and does not contradict Macbeth when he says that a woman like her should give birth only to boys. In the same manner that Lady Macbeth goads her husband on to murder, Macbeth provokes the murderers he hires to kill Banquo by questioning their manhood. Such acts show that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth equate masculinity with naked aggression, and whenever they converse about manhood, violence soon follows. Their understanding of manhood allows the political order depicted in the play to descend into chaos. At the same time, however, the audience cannot help noticing that women are also sources of violence and evil. The witches’ prophecies spark Macbeth’s ambitions and then encourage his violent behavior; Lady Macbeth provides the brains and the will behind her husband’s plotting; and the only divine being to appear is Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. Arguably, Macbeth traces the root of chaos and evil to women, which has led some critics to argue that this is Shakespeare’s most misogynistic play. While the male characters are just as violent and prone to evil as the women, the aggression of the female characters is more striking because it goes against prevailing expectations of how women ought to behave. Lady Macbeth’s behavior certainly shows that women can be as ambitious and cruel as men. Whether because of the constraints
subjects are rewarded according to their merits. Hallucinations Visions and hallucinations recur throughout the play and serve as reminders of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s joint culpability for the growing body count. Under him. Malcolm says.” while Macbeth soon becomes known as the “tyrant. by seeking revenge upon Macbeth. Malcolm consoles him by encouraging him to take the news in “manly” fashion. In the scene where Macduff learns of the murders of his wife and child. order will be restored to the Kingdom of Scotland. offers the kingdom an embodiment of order and justice. Ultimately.” Macduf replies. “I shall do so. brings only chaos to Scotland—symbolized in the bad weather and bizarre supernatural events—and offers no real justice.iii. Macbeth. contrasts. both of which seem to characterize Macbeth perfectly. But I must also feel it as a man” (IV. Malcolm’s comment shows that he has learned the lesson Macduff gave him on the sentient nature of true masculinity. perseverance. temp’rance. [and] lowliness” (IV. When he is . In order to test Macduff’s loyalty to Scotland. he must be overcome by Malcolm so that Scotland can have a true king once more Motifs are recurring structures. the play does put forth a revised and less destructive definition of manhood. As the embodiment of tyranny. Siward receives news of his son’s death rather complacently. The model king. by contrast. On the other hand.of her society or because she is not fearless enough to kill. scene iii. Malcolm responds: “He’s worth more sorrow [than you have expressed] / And that I’ll spend for him” (V. “The king-becoming graces / [are] justice. He tells Macduff of his reproachable qualities—among them a thirst for personal power and a violent temperament. as when Duncan makes Macbeth thane of Cawdor after Macbeth’s victory over the invaders. with Malcolm’s coronation. when Macduff meets Malcolm in England. At the end of the play. / Bounty. Most important. the king must be loyal to Scotland above his own interests.iii. It also suggests that. Malcolm pretends that he would make an even worse king than Macbeth.221–223). only a habit of capriciously murdering those he sees as a threat. stableness.92–93). “Dispute it like a man. then. Macduff shows the young heir apparent that he has a mistaken understanding of masculinity. but also comfort and affection. or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. mercy. Duncan is always referred to as a “king. The Difference between Kingship and Tyranny In the play. verity.16–17).” The difference between the two types of rulers seems to be expressed in a conversation that occurs in Act IV. Lady Macbeth relies on deception and manipulation rather than violence to achieve her ends. To Malcolm’s suggestion.xi.
I feel. from the open treachery of the Thane of Cawdor to the equivocation of the Witches. Macbeth defeats the invaders. Covered with blood and pointed toward the king’s chamber.' Soon people will be hiding their true ambitions and motives behind faces of deceit. than to any other of the other themes that run through the play. In between is a series of murders: Duncan. The reason that I feel that deceit is the most dominant theme is that there are more references to deceit. Rather oddly. Macbeth sees a dagger floating in the air.about to kill Duncan..' After the treacherous Thane of Cawdor is executed. in both cases. most of the killings take place offstage. Violence Macbeth is a famously violent play. but throughout the play the characters provide the audience with gory descriptions of the carnage. the dagger represents the bloody course on which Macbeth is about to embark. The next reference is when Banquo gives Macbeth a warning after the Witches prediction of him becoming Thane of Cawdor is realized.. Duncan’s Deceit is. 'So should he look that seems to speak things strange. he is slain and beheaded by Macduff. the first reference that one can make in terms of how dominant deceit is can be taken from Duncan's words upon the entrance of the Thane of Ross.. as she sleepwalks and believes that her hands are stained with blood that cannot be washed away by any amount of water. In each case. Interestingly. in the second..' . in some form or another. Duncan once again makes reference to deceit: 'There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face. the most dominant theme in Macbeth. to the endless references to the bloodstained hands of Macbeth and his wife. either in what they say or how they behave. The action is bookended by a pair of bloody battles: in the first. Later. 'Tell us truths. the Macbeths read them uniformly as supernatural signs of their guilt. he sees Banquo’s ghost sitting in a chair at a feast.to betray's in deepest consequence. pricking his conscience by mutely reminding him that he murdered his former friend. it is ambiguous whether the vision is real or purely hallucinatory. but. There are numerous characters in Macbeth who are deceitful.. from the opening scene where the captain describes Macbeth and Banquo wading in blood on the battlefield. The seemingly hardheaded Lady Macbeth also eventually gives way to visions.
' 'Look like th'innocent flower.' yet by now we know that the Witches predictions have taken root so strongly in Macbeth's mind that he has already planned to murder his king. Malcolm states: 'To show an unfelt sorrow is an office which the false man does easy.' Donalbain states: 'Where we are there's daggers in men's smiles. seem to be more astute than Duncan in realizing that there is danger in trusting people. 'To beguile the time.' In act three. Macbeth questions Banquo about his plans in seeming innocence but then later meets with hired killers and plots the murder of Banquo and his son by manipulative means . Macbeth kills them and then claims that is was done in grief at seeing Duncan's bloody body. In what we can only assume is a step to ensure that the officers do not get a chance to speak in their defense.When Lady Macbeth speaks to Macbeth she advises deceit. what the false heart doth know. Duncan's sons. Lady Macbeth takes the bloody daggers from Macbeth and goes as far as saying that if Duncan is bleeding she will smear their faces with his blood.even in his deceit he is deceitful.' From here we start to see a 'sub-theme' of deceit wherein people will pretend to be who they are not.' Early in the second act Macbeth lies to Banquo when they discuss the Witches predictions by saying: 'I think not of them.' Donalbain states: 'Where we are there's daggers in men's smiles. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth put on a show of grief when Duncan's murder has been discovered. framing the officers for Duncan's murder.' . seem to be more astute than Duncan in realizing that there is danger in trusting people. Malcolm states: 'To show an unfelt sorrow is an office which the false man does easy. In order to achieve their deceitful ends. look like the time. Another act of deceit is that Lady Macbeth and Macbeth not only plan to murder Duncan. under the pretense of friendship. Malcolm and Donalbain. but be the serpent under't. Macbeth also says: 'mock the time with fairest show: False face must hie. but to then frame his officers for the murder and pretend grief at his death. This theme is also often recognized as reality versus appearance.
' At the banquet. Macbeth responds saying: 'make our faces vizards to our hearts. . The third apparition says: 'Macbeth shall never vanquished be until great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him. After the banquet. (which one can suppose that he is for he is acting in defiance to his king .even in his deceit he is deceitful. but that can also be viewed as being made with the deceitful intent in terms of providing false comfort to Macbeth.' Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are hosting a banquet and once again Lady Macbeth councils Macbeth to: 'sleek o'er your rugged looks'. disguising what they are. from what people say as a result of Macduff's flight to England.In act three. and hearing that Banquo is dead. Although Macbeth openly goes about murdering Macduff's family.' Furthermore he tells them: 'Both of you know Banquo was your enemy. The first warns Macbeth to beware of Macduff. It is clear that the servant is paid to spy on Macduff. the one honest in action and the other deceitful. this merely confirms what Macbeth already knows.even if the man who is king gained that throne through murder and deceit) In act four. Macbeth questions Banquo about his plans in seeming innocence but then later meets with hired killers and plots the murder of Banquo and his son by manipulative means . under the pretense of friendship. Macbeth mentions that he has a 'servant fee'd in house. there is an inference that Macduff is being painted as a traitor. The second apparitions says: 'none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.' Macbeth takes this literally as expressed in his response regarding trees being earth-bound. Macbeth even goes so far as to toast Banquo. Whilst not a specific reference to deceit. The next two apparitions each make a pronouncement that is prophetic. after speaking with one of killers. Macbeth's nature is recognized by others through his actions and they are no longer deceived by him. when discussing Macduff's absence. Macbeth then laments his absence to Lennox and Ross. In act four Macbeth goes to the Witches who show him three apparitions. these apparitions each make a pronouncement. Even in his plotting of Banquo's murder he implicates Banquo to these men: 'Know that it was he in the times past which held you so under fortune. Macduff's refusal to attend Macbeth despite orders to do so serves as a counterpoint to highlight the difference in their characters.' Macbeth's response to this is to almost dismiss Macduff as a threat.
In act five when Macbeth is facing Macduff and learns that Macduff was 'untimely ripped' from his mother's womb Macbeth finally realizes that he too was deceived. .
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