Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
The shortest and bloodiest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Macbeth (written sometime in the early 1600s, and first performed sometime before 1610) treats the subject of ambition, tracing the disintegration of a powerful man who, longing to be more powerful, discards all moral boundaries in his quest for power. After being lured on by the insinuating prophecies of the witches and murdering Duncan, Macbeth is driven by his fears to greater and greater bloodshed, which the play chronicles with a kind of breakneck abandon; unlike Hamlet, which luxuriates over its complicated themes, Macbeth tears hell-bent toward its finale, leaving corpse after corpse in its wake.
The main theme of the play–the destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral constraints–finds its most powerful expression in its two main characters. Macbeth is a courageous Scottish general, not naturally inclined to commit evil deeds, but deeply desiring power and advancement. He kills Duncan partly against his better judgment, and afterwards stews in guilt and paranoia, descending by the end of the play into a kind of frantic, boastful madness. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, is more determined in pursuing her goals, yet also less capable of withstanding the repercussions. One of Shakespeare’s most forcefully drawn female characters, she spurs her husband mercilessly toward the killing of Duncan, and urges him to be strong in its aftermath; but she is eventually driven to distraction by the effect of the bloodshed on her conscience. She ends by committing suicide after a period of insane sleepwalking, convinced that her hands are stained with blood that cannot be washed off.
Throughout the play, the witches–known as the “weird sisters” to many of the characters–lurk like dark thoughts and unconscious temptations to evil. The mischief they cause is due in part to their magical powers, but mainly to their ability to pinpoint exactly what to say to goad their specific interlocutors to evil–they work upon Macbeth’s ambition like puppeteers. Moreover, the play attributes evil not only to ambition, but also to arrogance and the will to masculinity: Lady Macbeth continually manipulates her husband by questioning his manhood, wishes that she herself were a man, and agrees with Macbeth that her mettle should bear only boys; Macbeth encourages the murderers to kill Banquo by questioning their manhood; and Malcolm consoles Macduff after the murders of his wife and children by encouraging him to take the news in “manly” fashion, seeking revenge upon Macbeth. Thus, an untempered masculinity seems to yield aggression: whenever a discussion of manhood takes place, violence, chaos, destruction, and death will soon follow it.