Macbeth is a study of how a central character degrades from ” Bellona’s bridegroom” (Act 1 scene 2) to ” this dead butcher.” (Act 5 scene 7). How far do you agree with this assessment? Use quotes to support your answer.
The play of Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s Tragedies and it certainly lives up to this title. Macbeth himself was a good and noble man trusted by the King. However amongst other factors his own greed and ambition brings about his demise.
The very start of the play describes the weather as thunder and lightning. This uses pathetic fallacy to create a mood, filled with darkness and menace. This beginning establishes a theme that runs throughout the play.
Throughout the play Macbeth’s character changes dramatically. He starts off being referred to as loyal and brave and is given the title of Thane of Cawdor. Yet as the play progresses and as a result of what the witches tell him, he becomes blood thirsty and is willing to do anything in order to make sure he gets what he wants.
Originally he was a loving man with a good heart, except the witches prophecies enthral him and he becomes overcome with desire. In order to feed his desire he finds himself committing murder after murder. He falls into the evil witches traps, the apparition that “no man of woman born can harm him” is the exploit of words that leads to Macbeth believing no-one can harm him, he is unstoppable.
Banquo proves to have been right to doubt the dependability of the witches. From the very beginning he had his suspicions about their true intent. “Win us with honest trifles, to betray in deepest consequence.” He may represent Macbeth’s conscience, having reservations about the witches once Banquo is killed Macbeth has no doubt, and kills Macduff’s family because the witches told him to beware Macduff. Another reason that this might be true is that Macbeth is haunted by Banquo at the dinner party. This could represent Macbeth feeling guilty for all that he has done and his conscience is reminding him just how wicked he has been.
The first time Macbeths name is mentioned, it comes from the mouth of a witch, “There to meet with Macbeth” in Act 1 Scene 1. This invites the idea that evil, and tragedy lies ahead for Macbeth.
There are many things said in the beginning of this play that shows that Macbeth is thought highly of and respected. As Ross describes the fight to Duncan he calls Macbeth, Bellona’s bridegroom. Bellona was the goddess of war therefore Bellona’s bridegroom would be her husband. The King himself has Macbeth made Thane of Cawdor and tells him, “more is thy due than more than all can pay.” He also refers to Macbeth as, “O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman”. The fact that Macbeth is actually made Thane of Cawdor means that one of the witches’ prophecies has come true.
In Scene three Macbeth first hears about his future from the witches. “All hail, Macbeth! Thou shalt be King hereafter.” It is also in this scene we first witness Macbeth’s interest in the impossible prospect of him becoming King. “Stay you imperfect speakers tell me more…… would they had stay’d.”
Banquo notices that Macbeth is engrossed by what the witches have told him. “That he seems rapt withal: to me you speak not” I believe that when the witches refer to Banquo and say, “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater. Not so happy yet much happier.” Gives us an insight into their fate compared to each other. “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.” Is talking about how Macbeth becomes King and so is superior to Banquo in that sense however, Banquo is greater because he is kinder and a better person, while Macbeth becomes perverted. “Not so happy, yet much happier.” Also speaks of how Banquo is unhappy he won’t become King but in the future his descendants will.
In Act 1 Scene 4 King Duncan tells Macbeth that he is giving his son Malcolm the title prince of Cumberland which will make him heir to the throne. “That is a step on which I must fall down or else o’erleap, for in my way it lies.” This is where we get a glimpse of Macbeth’s yearning to become King. “Stars hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires.” From this we know that he isn’t as pure as others think. He seems to be thinking of improper ways to become King quicker.
When Lady Macbeth receives a letter telling her of these events she doubts that Macbeth has it in him to do what is needed in order to make him King sooner rather than later. “Too full o’ the milk of human kindness.” She knows he is too kind hearted to kill the King.
In Scene 7 we see that Macbeth does not want to kill the King. “Who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself.” However he changes his mind, “I have no spur; to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition.” This proves his ambition brings him to do things he wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
“False face must hide what false heart doth know” This statement of Macbeth’s indicates the end of his noble and loyal characteristics. It also signifies the start of his merciless and murderous side.
Act 2 is the beginning of Macbeth’s deceit. He lies to Banquo when he says, “I think not of them.” when asked about the witches. As Act 2 continues Macbeth starts to hallucinate and killing Duncan starts to haunt him before he has even done it. “Is this a dagger I see before me, the handle toward my hand? He sees a dagger pointing to Duncan’s room with blood on it!
“Macbeth shall sleep no more,” This shows that Macbeth still has a conscience and feels guilty after killing Duncan. He thinks he won’t be able to sleep again because he killed it. He also refuses to return to the scene with the daggers to frame the bodyguards. He remains in a very jumpy, paranoid mood and even a slight noise scares him. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hands?” Neptune was the god of the sea and cleaning your hands of something is used as a phrase meaning to take away the guilt or to forget. Macbeth fears he will never be able to forget the crime he has committed and will forever feel the guilt lying heavy upon him. So at this stage the descent to “butcher” is not complete because he still has a guilty conscience.
In Act 2 Scene 3 he begins to relax about what he has done and easily lies to everybody. “Had I but died an hour before this chance, I had but lived a blessed time, for from this instant, there’s nothing serious in mortality.” He tells them that there is no longer a reason or meaning to life now that Duncan is dead. He also kills the bodyguards, in case they had seen or heard anything, now he has killed a grand total of three people!
Macbeth begins to fear Banquo, in an attempt to stop his descendants becoming King he hires murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. Macbeth in Act 3 is now becoming the butcher he is referred to in Act 5 Scene 7.
In Act 3 Scene 2 Macbeth is very troubled with fears and insecurities. “Better be with the dead whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, than to the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy”. Macbeth begins to envy the peace of death that Duncan enjoys.
We can see that Macbeth’s conscience is lessening when he refers to Banquo: “Is he dispatched?” Speaking like the murder is just like sending a post card. The fact that Fleance is still alive unsettles him greatly, “Bound in to saucy doubts and fears.”
Macbeth’s paranoia worsens when at the banquet he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting on his chair. “Avaunt and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!” All the guilt and pressure of what he has done catches up with him and he babbles about it all in front of the Lords. This is the main sign that all he has done has troubled him greatly.
By the end of Act 3 Macbeth knows that he has gone too far now to redeem himself. “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” However he still shows a slight sign of sensitivity when he says, “It will have blood they say: blood will have blood.” Meaning bloodshed leads to more bloodshed. He decides after all he has done already he will kill anybody else who stands in his way.
In Act 4 he returns to the witches demanding to find out more of his future, they show him three apparitions. He is told to beware Macduff, no man of woman born shall harm him and, “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him.” These apparitions are misleading, and Macbeth is left feeling invincible. “Who can impress the forest bid the tree unfix his earthbound root?” He doesn’t believe the forest will ever move therefore he will always be King.
Now that Banquo, Macbeth’s conscience, is dead he has no problem killing anymore and continues with it.
“Then live, Macduff, what need I fear of thee? But yet I’ll make assurance double sure.” Even though he thinks he has been reassured that he can’t be harmed he wants to kill Macduff anyway to make sure he has no threats. But since he fled he resolves to kill all of Macduff’s family, “His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls that trace him in his line.”
By Act 5 Macbeth has definitely gone from Bellona’s bridegroom to a butcher! He has transformed from brave, trusted and noble to bloodthirsty, paranoid, demanding and selfish.
When he is told that Lady Macbeth, his wife, is dead he doesn’t show much sign of humanity. “She should have died hereafter; there would have been a time for such a word. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day.” He thinks Macbeth should have lived longer and that life is very tedious and each day passes extremely slowly amounting to nothing but death. All of this included, you would still expect a man to grieve, even slightly for their dead wife, not Macbeth.
Throughout all of these events Macbeth has been a puppet for his own outrageous ambition. Being driven by this to kill and kill again in order to get what he desires. However Macbeth isn’t the only one to blame. Lady Macbeth also played a huge role in prompting him and reminding him of what he wanted to achieve. She encouraged him to murder Duncan when he was having doubts. She was a very manipulative and pushy wife and had a lot of control over Macbeth. Therefore we mustn’t forget that Macbeth was given a firm helping hand as he created the path to his own destruction.
Overall I think it is clear to see that Macbeth was a butcher by the end of the play. I agree with the opening statement because there is no other word to describe Macbeth after he has been involved in the murders of the King and bodyguards, his close friend Banquo, and the helpless innocent family of Macduff’s.