Analyse and evaluate the techniques by which Shakespeare presents Macbeth’s changing feelings across the 3 major soliloquies.
In the following essay, I aim to provide an in-depth analysis of the change in feelings, emotions and even judgements which Macbeth experiences throughout the first three acts, focusing specifically on the three major soliloquies (I.7,II.1 ; III.1). I am also looking to evaluate, compare and contrast the linguistic and theatrical techniques Shakespeare suggests to project this.
In the first act, the major soliloquy (beginning, “If it ’twere done when ’tis done”) is one of the first times we, as an audience catch a glimpse of the strange emotional turmoil that troubles Macbeth. In this speech, Shakespeare begins to convey the doubt and fear which is stopping Macbeth from going ahead with the plans that would lead to such an all-powerful position. He cannot bring himself to even confront the words which mean murder, let alone do the deed himself. For example he uses synonymous phrases such as, “assassination”, “surcease” and, “jump the life” rather than “kill”.
This is an incredible contrast to the tyrannical figure who appears later on, in act III. If you compare the two main soliloquies, you can see that Macbeth is a completely changed man. He talks quite openly with himself about how he must rid himself of the dangerous Banquo when he says, “Our fears in Banquo stick deep”, comparing them with a knife with which, of course, he brutally murdered Duncan. He is no longer infringed by the fear of retribution and can therefore, he feels , do as he pleases.
If you compare these speeches again with act II.7, there is again a difference in language techniques. In this scene, Shakespeare aims to convey the range of emotions Macbeth is experiencing due to his position. As he is about to kill King Duncan, he has a lot of mental troubles upon his mind which put him into a state of shock and to some extent confusion. This can be seen when he talks of almost hallucinating, saying “I have thee not and yet I see thee still!”, He also says that, “the stones prate of my whereabout”, meaning that if he is not is careful, the bare, lifeless, cold stones that he walks upon will tell others where he is and what he is doing. This shows how the whole business is affecting him to such an extent that he sees things which are not there and imagines impossible happenings. It is madness!
In the first soliloquy, Shakespeare includes some very vivid and powerful imagery to express the severity of the crime that Macbeth is about to commit. There is the famous, dramatic image of the “angels, trumpet-tongued”, and also, “heaven’s cherubin, horsed…”. This is very classic Christian imagery with heavenly metaphors portraying the innocence of Macbeth at that point in the play. He has not yet totally conformed to the qualities his wife would like him to have and there is an element of childlike naivety to him at this moment compared to what he will later become.
This, compared with the later soliloquies is much more of a despairing nature. If for example, we look at the next major soliloquy, there are still many images and metaphors which Shakespeare has used to put across the severity of what Macbeth is going through but also creating at the same time. As an example, I think of, “Tarquin’s ravishing strides”, referring to he who raped Lucrece and meaning that he must be very stealthy in his movement. There are many references to himself in this speech with some quite severe imagery attached to them. The phrases, “heat-oppressed brain”, and, “fatal vision” come to mind. He is saying that he is becoming evil, the very thing he used to despise and that he is perhaps almost cursed (maybe by the weird sisters?).
In the last soliloquy, there are some good examples of imagery as well. One of the main is that of, “My genius is rebuked…Mark Antony’s was by Caesar”, which is, of course a reference to Antony and Cleopatra (genius in this sense meaning guardian angel). Here Shakespeare is setting the scene for the murder of Banquo by having Macbeth talk about how he would like to rid himself of the man that could take him from the throne by using a light vs. dark image. Mark Antony vs. Caesar. Banquo vs. Macbeth.
Although in this scene, Macbeth has taken on the role of a poised tyrant, it is also very similar to the other two. Each has its own meaning and message to convey of Macbeth’s feelings and emotions at different periods in his life but we must remember that Shakespeare wrote the play not to be read but to be watched or even listened to. However, he did not include pages of heavy stage directions because the very nature of his writing is very descriptive and can portray the characters feelings without the need for stage directions. The important emotions and feelings of the character can be put forth in a production of the play in which the actor can use techniques of his own to try and present Macbeth in their own style. This would include changes of pace, changes of place, volume and of course, movement/gestures to be included alongside the writing.
In I.1, the actor would have to portray a very scared individual. He would fear his wife, the King and his friends. He believes he can trust no one. He may even be plotting against them himself. This would be done by possibly speaking in a whisper or perhaps looking shiftily around, making sure nobody could hear him as he confers with himself. He would not stride about the stage confidently but keep himself to himself in a corner or near the back. There would be low lighting and there would be a quiet atmosphere in general.
This is quite similar to the second major soliloquy in that it has a dark, worried feel to it. Macbeth at this point is unsure of himself. He knows he is about to carry out the dreadful deed but he is still worried about the consequences. He is a little bit disturbed and also a bit wild-eyed. I would have him breathing heavily as he said all of his lines and his voice a bit shaky. He would have big pauses in his speech at first but get quicker further on as he begins to be more frantic. I would probably set it on the way to Duncan’s room because the hallways would be dark and dank, there would be a storm outside and the whole thing would provide a very fitting atmosphere for the scene.
Act III.1 however, would need a very different approach. This is because Macbeth is in a very different stage of his life. At this point he has killed the king and is now taking on the part of a very nasty ruler who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. The idea of this soliloquy is to show Macbeth’s real need to kill Banquo and a man of his character in his position could not say this timidly. Macbeth would certainly not, however, stand tall in the middle of the stage and confidently shout out his plans to the audience; he would want to keep some sort of secrecy. He would possibly be sitting in his throne, alone, pondering over the situation. This would show how immediately after the coronation Macbeth wants this loose end tied up. The lighting would be brighter than usual and Macbeth would be saying his lines slowly but deliberately as if he was deep in thought and they were revealing themselves to him as he spoke.
Shakespeare has used many descriptive images and metaphors to communicate how Macbeth’s wife gradually changes his character from innocent, mighty warrior, whose greatest honour it was to serve the king with his life through to nervous wreck whose judgements were changed and moulded to suit his wife’s needs and finally to sneaky, conniving murderer and tyrant king, who has to take the life of one he once respected to achieve the power he wanted but the character of those he hated. Macbeth has got all he wanted in terms of supremacy but when it comes down to it, has his life really improved? Perhaps this is the biggest irony of all.