Macbeth:How the magnitude and horror of his actions are underlined

Max Weitzmann

In Shakespeare?s Macbeth, the repercussions of Macbeth murdering his King are very numerous. Through themes which include, imagery, soliloquies, atmosphere, and supernatural beings, Shakespeare enforces the magnitude of Macbeth?s crime. Most of these factors are linked together.

One of the main ways in which the horror of the murder is underlined is through the Great Chain of Being. At the time this play was written, it was believed that there was a hierarchy in the universe, with God being at the top, then angels, then the King, then man, and finally animals. This meant that the King was God?s representative on earth, and so if a rebel were to attack the King, he would be seen to be attacking and rebelling against God. This is seen in Act One, Scene Two, when the Thane of Cawdor rebels against King Duncan, where the Sergeant says ? ?Ship wracking storms and direful thunders break? (L.26). This thunderous weather symbolizes God?s anger at his representative of Scotland being attacked. The darkness during the play (all but two of the scenes are set in darkness) shows how the night is strangling the earth, representing the anger of God at the events in Scotland. The ?Dark night strangles? (Act Two, Scene Four, Line Seven) the earth, showing God?s, overall grip on the world. The King at this time had an absolute monarchy (power of life and death over everyone in his kingdom). The belief was that God had passed special powers to all Kings, such as that for healing, which Malcolm identifies in Edward the Confessor (the King of England) in Act Four, Scene Three ? ?He cures?the healing benediction?he hath a heavenly gift of prophecy? (L.152-157). Shakespeare later uses Edward to compare a great King to Macbeth, in order to show what a bad King Macbeth is. Macbeth does not have the divinity as he is not a rightful King, and this is why his Scotland turns into chaos.

In killing Duncan, Macbeth goes against the great chain of being. He attacks God through killing Duncan; he undermines God?s authority on earth, which will lead to God being very angry, and eternal damnation for Macbeth. By losing the rightful King, Scotland can only become a worse place, and this is what happens ? ?Poor country; It cannot be call?d our mother, but out grave? (Act four, scene three, line 164). Duncan was a great King, and for a king of his power and greatness to be sacrificed to the ambition of someone like Macbeth shows the magnitude of the murder.

Duncan?s character backed up his status? he was very generous, such as in giving Macbeth the title of the Thane of Cawdor. But his naivety was his fault as a King, and it is partially what led to his downfall. When Macbeth defends him on the battlefield, he describes Macbeth as a ?Valiant cousin?Worthy gentleman? (Act 1 Scene 2 L.24). He praises Macbeth in a regal way ? ?More is thy due than more than all can pay?I have begun to plant thee, and will labour to make thee full of growing? (Act 1 Scene 4 L.21, 28). By nurturing Macbeth in this way, he builds up his confidence, and gives him the confidence to carry out his ambitions. Horror is built up here through Macbeth taking advantage of the King?s solitary weakness ? naivety.

Horror is also built up from the irony which Shakespeare creates in Macbeth continuing what the previous Thane of Cawdor started ? a plot to over through the King. It is also created when Macbeth was defending the King in battle, yet he is the one who eventually kills him. Characters such as the Sergeant in Act One, Scene Two, build up a heroic stature of Macbeth, when he says ?Brave Macbeth?Valour?s Minion.? This again creates irony, as Macbeth turns out to be quite the opposite.

In Macbeths? soliloquy in act one scene seven, Macbeth debates with himself as to whether he should carry out the murder of the king ? ?If it were done? (L.1). He works himself into frenzy, worrying about the horror of the deed. He describes the murder as a ?horrid deed? (L.24). This may not appear to symbolize the magnitude of the crime, for the word horrid has a meaning which is a lot less drastic now then it was