Macbeth Attitude Changes Essay Research Paper WILLIAM

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so fair?” (lines 51-52). Why indeed? Has he already been plotting

to become king? Does he feel the witches have read his mind, and

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guessed how much he wants the crown? Or has his mind flashed ahead,

wondering how this could possibly happen? Whatever, his reaction is

that of a guilty man. Banquo, on the other hand, makes fun of the

witches. He is curious about what they have to say, but that is all.


Ross and Angus arrive and tell Macbeth that he is now Thane of

Cawdor. The witches told the truth! Look once again at the

difference between Macbeth’s response and Banquo’s. Banquo is


And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,

The instruments of darkness tell us truths,

Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s

In deepest consequence.

Act I, Scene iii, lines 123-26

He seems to be saying, “This could be a trick.” Fair words can mean

foul things.

Macbeth is already obsessed with the idea of being king. He knows

Duncan would have to die first, and even though he says that the idea

of murder “doth unfix my hair” (line 135), he’s started to think

about it. From this point on, Macbeth is clearly hiding things.

When Banquo comments that Macbeth is lost in thought, Macbeth lies to

his friend, saying he was thinking about something else.


Duncan learns that the traitor Cawdor has been executed. It is

important to note that he repented and asked for Duncan’s forgiveness

before he died. Through his honorable death, he seems to have made

up for his sinful life.


Macbeth, Banquo, Ross, and Angus enter. In the exchange that

follows, you can see Macbeth’s desire to become king, even if the

others can’t.

The King greets Macbeth with genuine love and gratitude. In the

presence of all the thanes, however, he names his son Malcolm the

Prince of Cumberland. That means that Malcolm will inherit the

throne when Duncan dies.

Macbeth responds to that announcement in an “aside,” which means that

he speaks his thoughts directly to the audience and it is understood

that the other characters don’t hear what he is saying. In his

aside, Macbeth grumbles that Malcolm is now in his way. You begin to

realize nothing will stop him.

NOTE: Notice the imagery of light and darkness in lines 15-52:

“Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep

desires.” Throughout the play, light symbolizes good, and dark stands

for evil. Macbeth has just taken one giant step toward evil.


At Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth gets a letter from her husband

telling her about the predictions. She dedicates herself to helping

Macbeth become king. When she learns that Duncan will spend the

night at their castle, she immediately decides to kill him.

Lady Macbeth tells us something vital about her husband–that, by

nature, he is not ruthless. She says that even if he wants something

so badly he feels like his life depends on it, he will not cheat to

get it. She sees that as a flaw in his character!

Lady Macbeth does not have that problem. The woman’s resolution is

so intense it is frightening. Her speech in lines 39-55 is worth

looking at, because it expresses her determination with some of the

most potent imagery to be found anywhere in Shakespeare’s plays. She

actually asks spirits to “unsex” her and “take [her] milk for gall.”

And look how she picks up the light-dark imagery: “Come, thick

night, / And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell.” If Macbeth took

a giant step toward evil, his wife makes a gigantic leap!

Notice how when Macbeth comes in, Lady Macbeth takes charge and

starts talking about the murder right away. She doesn’t even have to

ask if he’s considered it; she knows he has. She does most of the

talking, and several times she tells him to leave everything to her.

Macbeth does not agree to killing Duncan, but he does not refuse,



Duncan, his sons Malcolm and Donalbain, and Banquo and some other

thanes arrive at Macbeth’s castle. They comment on what a pleasant

place it is. Lady Macbeth welcomes them warmly.

Here is a scene in which nothing is what it seems. Macbeth’s castle

is really a place of evil and death. The gracious hostess who

delivers such pretty speeches is actually just waiting for the chance

to murder her guest of honor.

NOTE: Shakespeare uses a technique in this scene called dramatic

irony. We as readers know about the double meanings in the scene.

Except for Lady Macbeth, the characters are not aware of them. The

scene is more interesting for us, because we know more than the

characters do. Depending upon the way the scene is played, the

effect can be funny, scary, or both.


Macbeth starts this scene in a state of emotional turmoil. As Lady

Macbeth predicted, he wants to be king but he’s afraid to kill

Duncan. Having a vivid imagination, he can picture all the

consequences of the murder before he commits it.

Two things make Macbeth hesitate: the fact that the murder is

morally wrong, and the fear that he’ll be punished for his crime.

It’s hard to say which reason, if either, is stronger. Though

Macbeth does not seem like a religious man, there is a lot of

religious imagery in this speech, with references to “angels” and

“deep damnation” (lines 19-20).


Macbeth tells his wife that he cannot go through with the murder.

She works on him to change his mind.

Lady Macbeth’s first ploy is to mock her husband. She implies that

he is a coward and even questions his manhood. Using the fact that

she is a woman, and his wife, she twists the idea of motherhood into

a way to get at him further:

I have given suck, and know

How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:

I would, while it was sniffing in my face,

Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,

And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this.

(Act I, Scene vii, lines 54-59)

It is hard to argue with that kind of resolution. Macbeth gives in a

little. Instead of refusing again, he asks “If we should fail?”

(line 59).

Sensing she is about to win, Lady Macbeth coolly recites the details

of their plan; while Duncan’s servants are in a drunken sleep,

Macbeth can kill the king and blame the servants.

Macbeth himself is chilled by his wife’s hard attitude toward the

murder, but he’s also convinced. The scene and the act end on a note

of resolution. Macbeth will kill Duncan.


In the first scene of Act II, Shakespeare builds up suspense before the murder.


Banquo and his son Fleance talk casually about the night. In their

short exchange, we learn three things: 1. that it is late and

Banquo is sleepy (and we know what will happen once everybody goes to

sleep); 2. that Banquo has some strange uneasiness which makes him

unwilling to go to sleep; and 3. that Banquo has a son (that fact

will become important later).


Macbeth comes in and talks with Banquo. Notice how nervous Banquo

is. When he hears somebody coming he calls for his sword, even

though he should feel safe in his friend’s castle.

Shakespeare again uses the technique of dramatic irony. Banquo gives

Macbeth a ring that is a present from Duncan for Lady Macbeth. We

know, as Banquo does not, that the king is giving a gift to his

murderer. We can imagine how Macbeth feels when Banquo says he

dreamed of witches, and we know Macbeth is lying when he claims, “I

think not of them” (line 21).

The two friends move further apart in this scene. When Banquo

mentions the three witches, he is confiding his private thoughts to

his friend. Macbeth dodges Banquo’s honest comments, and begins

hinting around by talking with Banquo about some business that will

“make honor” for Banquo (line 26). Banquo responds politely but

cautiously, saying that whatever he can do for Macbeth with a clear

conscience he will do.


After Banquo and Fleance leave, Macbeth sends his servant off to Lady

Macbeth with a message about his nightcap drink. That is probably a

secret signal that everybody has gone to bed.

Macbeth prepares to commit the murder. His speech here is called a

soliloquy because he is alone on stage. When you read or hear a

soliloquy, you can assume that the character is speaking his true

thoughts. Since he is talking to himself, why should he lie?

As soon as Macbeth is alone he has a vision. He sees a dagger

floating in the air in front of him. It melts through his fingers

when he tries to grab it but it will not go away. Then suddenly, the

dagger appears to be covered with blood. Has Macbeth lost his mind?

Or could the dagger be as real as the witches? Is he hallucinating

or has some devil sent it as a sign? You cannot tell; and neither

can Macbeth. He does not know whether to trust his eyes or his

reason: “Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the’ other senses, / Or

else worth all the rest” (lines 44-45).

At line 47, Macbeth’s rational will takes over. “There’s no such

thing,” he says about the dagger, and he never mentions it again.

The imagery in the rest of this soliloquy shows that Macbeth knows

exactly what he is doing. He says that “nature seems dead” (line

50). He mentions witchcraft and ghosts.

NOTE: Unnatural means “perverted,” and in Macbeth the word works in

many ways. In Shakespeare’s time, people thought in terms of God’s

plan for mankind. This grand design was the “natural” order of the

world. The devil was always trying to mess it up by tempting people

to sin. So evil was “unnatural”; it corrupted the people God wanted

to be good.

You will see the image of “unnaturalness” multiply around Macbeth as

he mutilates his soul–or you might say his human nature, And since

he’s the king, the country reflects his spiritual sickness. It, too,

becomes mutilated. Also notice as you read how the unnatural acts

are reflected in nature–in animals and weather, for instance.


In this scene, the murder takes place. Macbeth is nearly driven mad

by the horror of what he’s done. Lady Macbeth urges him to be

practical: after all, there is no going back. They have killed

their king.

NOTE: It is interesting that Shakespeare chooses to have Macbeth

kill Duncan offstage. We can only guess why he wrote the scene that

way, but here are two possible reasons: 1. Shakespeare wanted to

focus not on the murder but on Macbeth’s reaction to it; and 2. the

bloody details supplied by our imaginations will be much worse than

anything that could be done onstage.


Lady Macbeth waits alone while her husband kills Duncan. She seems

excited by the idea of murder and pleased with herself because of her

part in the plan.

Yet we also get a peek at her softer side. She says that she would

have killed Duncan herself, but the old man looked too much like her

father. This small reminder of Lady Macbeth’s humanity will be

important to our understanding of what happens to her at the end of

the play.


Macbeth enters, his hands covered with Duncan’s blood. Notice how

the sharp, quick exchange of words between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

underscores the tension:

Lady: Did you not speak?

Macbeth: When?

Lady: Now.

Macbeth: As I descended?

Lady: Ay.

Act II, Scene ii, lines 16-17

As the scene proceeds, Macbeth and his wife behave in a manner

exactly opposite from what we would expect. According to

conventional logic, Macbeth, who is a soldier and has already killed

many men in battle that day, should not be bothered by the murder.

On the other hand, we would understand perfectly if his wife were

upset by having been involved in a killing.

Look at what actually happens: Macbeth is horrified by what he has

done. He says he has “hangman’s hands” (line 27), and he is afraid

that after having committed such a horrible deed he will never sleep

again. Lady Macbeth is practical. She gives the advice you would

expect to come from a soldier: “These deeds must not be thought /

After these ways; so, it will make us mad” (lines 32-33).

When Lady Macbeth tells her husband to take the daggers he used for

the murder back into Duncan’s room, he refuses. She makes fun of him

and takes them up herself.

We can understand the torture Macbeth is going through by realizing

that he seems to consider the murder one of the most evil deeds ever

committed. We would have to call this statement exaggeration:

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.

Act II, Scene ii, lines 59-62

But he is not consciously exaggerating. That is the way he feels.

Contrast his attitude with Lady Macbeth’s. She says that their hands

can be cleaned with a little water and that he should be ashamed to

be carrying on so. She tries to make him snap out of the state he’s

in and get on with their plan.

Macbeth’s final lines as his wife hurries him off sum up how he feels:

“To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself. [There is a knock at

the gate.] / Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!”

(lines 72-73) He never thought himself capable of such evil, and he

would love to be able to undo what he has done.


The previous scene of horror and murder is followed by a comic scene.

The Porter, one of Macbeth’s servants, is awakened by the same

knocking at the gate which sent Macbeth and his wife scurrying off to

clean up. The Porter is still drunk from the feast. As he weaves

his way to the gate, he talks to himself as if he were the porter at

the gates of Hell.

The comedy of the Porter provides a contrast to the gruesome murder.

By allowing the audience to relax a little, Shakespeare makes the

scenes of horror even more effective.

The Porter also has a serious purpose. The little routine he makes

up about being porter of “hell gate” reminds the audience of the

spiritual consequences of the murder that has just been committed.

NOTE: Audiences in Shakespeare’s time would recognize the “Porter of

Hell-Gate” as a stock character in the so-called morality plays of

the time. Morality plays were simple stories in which good was

rewarded and evil was punished. So Shakespeare is, in effect,

hinting that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are not going to get away with

what they have just done.

Let’s take a moment to examine one of the imaginary sinners the

Porter says he lets in: “here’s an equivocator, that could swear in

both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough

for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven” (lines 8-11).

Equivocation means lying, and we will soon see Macbeth and his wife

doing a lot of that. But remember the Porter’s speech: the liar

cannot “equivocate to heav

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