Macbeth: the breakdown of character


The two main characters in Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, are Macbeth himself and his wife Lady Macbeth. Their marriage seems to be mainly one of convenience for Lady Macbeth, but for Macbeth it is clearly more than that. He loves his wife, and she takes advantage of that for her own gain. She is continuously making him feel guilty, for being weak, and for not being able to give her a child, as is suggested by her words, "I have given suck and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me". She also challenges his manhood, through words such as, "When you durst do it, then you were a man, and, to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man.", which loosely means, Be a man, and then I will admire you.

Macbeth is originally a hero to Scotland, and a strong character. He is a Lord under the rule of King Duncan, and has no reason to feel unhappy with his position. It is only after the prophecies of the Weird Sisters, that he begins to long for the throne of Scotland, and even then needs Lady Macbeth to convince him to commit the murder.

Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, begins as pure evil, and remains that way. She has previously been married, and is therefore presumed older and trickier than Macbeth. She appears to always be using him for her own gain, by using her femininity to seduce him into doing the wrong thing, and in this way she persuades him to kill the king.

When Macbeth hears the prophesies of his future, he appears to disregard them, but when he is made Thane of Cawdor (as foretold), he already is considering murdering the king: "My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, shakes so my single state of man that function is smothered in surmise and nothing is but what is not.". It is perhaps for this reason that he writes to Lady Macbeth, as though prompting her for some persuasion for him to kill Duncan, and she later refers to this as his agreement on the murder:"Nor time nor place did then adhere, and yet you would make both"; basically meaning that he was prepared to kill him before, and now he is too weak to go through with it.

The breakdown of both characters is revealed through their soliloquies. In Macbeth's first soliloquy you see an apprehensive Macbeth first starting to contemplate killing King Duncan. The thought of murdering his King, or indeed anyone, fills him with horror, and it would be for this reason that he writes to Lady Macbeth, seeking her evil support.

Macbeth's second soliloquy shows him discussing and hoping to dissuade himself from killing King Duncan, whom he should in reality be trying to protect. The only reason he has to kill him are his ambitions, spurred by the witches, and his wife.

The third soliloquy is the one that I have just performed. Macbeth is imagining a dagger covered in blood pointing the way to Duncan's chamber. He cannot decide whether or not he is only imagining it, or if it is actually a sign from the evil spirits, and eventually does go on to kill his King.

After killing King Duncan that was, Macbeth is starting to realize what it is that he has done, and becomes suspicious and paranoid of everyone around him. Banquo is the only other person who knows of the prophesies and would naturally assume that it was Macbeth who killed the King. The witches also foresaw that Banquo would be the father of the Kings of Scotland after Macbeth, and so Macbeth decides that Banquo is a threat to him. He realizes that his mental suffering due to the killing of Duncan, will benefit Banquo and he would rather "battle fate" than let this happen.

Act Five, Scene Three contains a few small speeches that do not really classify as soliloquies, and yet still show the dramatic decline of the character at this point. Macbeth has given up on life, and recognizes that he really does not have much left in the way of loyal subjects, friends, or honour as a king, and decides to go out fighting, as he thinks that the evil spirits are protecting him. He does not believe that he will