Macbeth Attitude Changes Essay Research Paper WILLIAM

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Describing Scotland under Macbeth’s rule, Macduff says, “Each new

morn / New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows / Strike heaven

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on the face…” (Act IV, Scene iii, lines 4-6).

So Macbeth does horrible things, but that is not the whole story.

Macbeth is different from some of Shakespeare’s other villains like

Iago (in Othello) and Richard III. The latter enjoy doing evil; they

have renounced what we think of as normal ethics and morality.

Macbeth’s feelings are more complicated. In the beginning of the

play, at least, he appears to have a conscience that tells him what

he’s doing is wrong. Or is he just afraid of the consequences of his


He is never able to enjoy the crown he has taken. He experiences

nothing but anguish. Is that simply because he is afraid of losing

the crown, or is his conscience bothering him?

None of these questions is answered directly in the play. Each

reader has to form his or her own opinion, based on the text.

Let’s look at how Macbeth feels about each of the crimes we listed before:

1. Killing Duncan horrifies Macbeth. Before the murder, he tries to

tell Lady Macbeth that he will not go through with it. She has to

goad him into killing the King. After committing the murder, Macbeth

seems almost delirious. He says that “…all great Neptune’s ocean

[will not] wash this blood / Clean from my hand” (Act II, Scene ii,

lines 60-61).

2. When he murders Banquo, Macbeth is still in torment, but the

cause of his anguish seems to have changed. He is afraid of Banquo,

because Banquo knows about the witches and because the witches

predicted that his descendents would be kings. Banquo’s death, he

says, will put his mind at rest.

3. We are never told how Macbeth feels about the murder of Macduff’s

wife and children. Their killing gains him nothing. He has good

reason to fear Macduff, but slaughtering his enemy’s family is


Macbeth seems to order their murder for spite, out of a feeling of

desperation. Despite the witches’ new prophesies, which appear to be

reassuring, he is afraid of losing the crown. Since he cannot get at

Macduff directly, he lets loose this senseless violence.

4. The spies Macbeth plants show how desperate and paranoid he is.

He sees enemies–real or imagined–everywhere.

5. The other unspecified acts of violence serve no purpose, as far

as we can see, beyond terrifying his subjects so much they won’t

resist him. Macbeth is striking out at random, and his moral sense

seems to have entirely disappeared. The brave hero we met in Act I,

who at least seemed honorable, is completely twisted.

You can see how much his crimes have cost Macbeth. His reaction to

Lady Macbeth’s death is a sign of complete despair–all feeling is

dead in him. His famous speech upon hearing of her

suicide–”Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” (Act V, Scene v,

lines 17-28)–is less an expression of grief than it is a speech

about the utter meaninglessness of life.

You wonder how all this has happened. If he was so horrified by

first the idea and then the fact of Duncan’s murder, why did he do

it? And why commit the other crimes?

Apparently his ambition is stronger than his conscience. The witches

tempt him with the idea of becoming king. Lady Macbeth helps him

overcome his natural hesitation to commit murder. But Macbeth

himself chooses between his honor and the crown–and between

salvation in the next world and material gain in this one.

Once he has killed to get the crown, the other crimes seem

inevitable. In order to keep what he has taken, Macbeth learns to

lie and kill as a matter of course. His values become totally

confused. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” to him now; he has lost

track of the difference.

All that seems left in the end is his pride. You respect him when he

fights to the death rather than be displayed as the monster he is.

But some people think that if Macbeth had not been so proud he would

not have wanted to be king to begin with, and that if he had been

humbler he would have repented.

Another aspect of Macbeth is his active imagination. Considering

Duncan’s murder, he can vividly picture all the possible

consequences. His imagination pursues him throughout the play. He’s

continually reliving his crimes and fantasizing about present and

future dangers. Nothing Lady Macbeth can say will quiet his mind.

At times he seems crazy–or haunted.

Before he kills Duncan, Macbeth sees a dagger floating in the air.

After the murder, he hears voices. And later he sees Banquo’s ghost.

You are never quite sure if these are hallucinations–the imaginings

of a sick mind–or if they are apparitions, like the witches. You

begin to wonder how real they are.


At the beginning of the play Lady Macbeth, unlike her husband, seems

to have only one opinion about murder: if it helps her to get what

she wants, she is in favor of it. For the first two acts of the

play, some readers think she is the most interesting character.

Their fascination is probably based on her total lack of scruples.

Lady Macbeth is a strong woman. She is a twisted example of the

saying, “Behind every great man there’s a woman.” Once she sees that

her husband’s ambition has been inflamed, she is willing to risk

anything to help him get the crown.

She understands her husband very well:

Yet do I fear thy nature;

It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way.

(Act I, Scene v, lines 17-19)

In other words, she knows that Macbeth’s conscience will stand in the

way of his ambition.

For the sake of their “prize,” she renounces all the soft, human

parts of her own nature. In a play so full of supernatural events,

we can take her literally if we want to when she calls upon

“…spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts…” to “Stop up th’ access

and passage to remorse / That no compunctious visitings of nature /

Shake my fell purpose…” (Act I, Scene v, lines 41-42 and 45-47).

It is as if she were tearing her heart out to make her husband king.

Lady Macbeth’s singleness of purpose seems to prove that she has been

successful in emptying herself of human feeling. When Macbeth tries

to back out of committing the murder, she treats him with contempt.

She questions his manhood and shames him into doing it.

Look at how effortlessly she lies. When Duncan, whom she plans to

kill, arrives at the castle, her welcoming speech drips with false

graciousness. While Macbeth has horrifying visions, Lady Macbeth

seems cool and literal minded. To her, Duncan’s blood is just

something to be washed off her hands. Worrying over things you

cannot alter is a waste of time, she says.

But Lady Macbeth is not as simple as she seems. By the end of the

play she has killed herself to escape the horrible nightmares that

torment her. Shakespeare seems to be saying that guilt and fear can

be suppressed for a time, but they cannot be done away with entirely.

Some readers find Lady Macbeth a fascinating portrait of a horrible

murderer. They see her actions as frighteningly amoral, and her

madness and death as divine justice. Others see Lady Macbeth as a

tragic figure. They are awed by her strength, her determination, and

her resourcefulness. To them, the tragedy is that she wastes such

qualities on evil deeds. And by the end, when her mind is rotten

with madness, they can say she has struggled with her guilt every bit

as much as her husband has with his.


We can learn a lot about Macbeth by looking at Banquo. Banquo is a

man of integrity. He is brave in battle but cautious in his actions.

It is valuable to look at how he and Macbeth react differently to

similar circumstances.

At the beginning of the play, they are equals. Macbeth and Banquo

are leading Duncan’s army–they fight side by side. They seem to be

equally brave in combat.

Banquo and Macbeth meet the witches together, and Banquo’s response

to the prophesies is wiser than Macbeth’s. He is skeptical from the

beginning. When the witches first appear, he taunts them: “Speak

then to me, who neither beg nor fear / Your favors nor your hate.”

(Act I, Scene iii, lines 61-62). After the prediction that Macbeth

will become Thane of Cawdor comes true, Banquo is more cautious. He

warns his friend not to be won over by small truths only to be

betrayed in more important matters. He senses the women are evil,

and he expects a trick.

Banquo has an honest and trusting nature. It never occurs to him

that Macbeth may want to kill Duncan to make the prophesy come true.

Later, even when he suspects that Macbeth killed the old King, Banquo

does not suspect that he himself is in any danger.

It is interesting to note that Banquo does have some interest in the

things the “weird sisters” promise him. He tells Macbeth that he

dreamed about them. He also wonders if, since their prophesy for

Macbeth came true, he should hope that his descendents will be kings.

But Banquo refuses to compromise his honor and his integrity to get

the things he wants. He is willing to wait for the fullness of time

to bring about whatever is coming. Also notice that Banquo, unlike

Macbeth, does not hide the fact that he sometimes thinks about the

three witches.

So it seems that Shakespeare formed Banquo’s character the way he did

to show how a man of honor would respond to the kind of temptation

that Macbeth gives in to. There is probably another reason why

Banquo is portrayed as he is. historically, Banquo was an ancestor

of King James I of England. Macbeth was first presented for James.

In Holinshed’s Chronicles, which was Shakespeare’s source for the

story, Banquo helped Macbeth murder the king. Many critics believe

that Shakespeare changed Banquo’s role to please King James.


The three witches that Macbeth and Banquo meet are also called the

“weird sisters.” In Old English wyrd meant “fate.” And it is part of

their role in the play to act as the forces of fate.

But “fate” in what sense? Do they cause Macbeth’s actions? What

powers do they have, and what are the limits of their powers? In

other words, do they dictate what will happen?

They certainly know things that no mortal could know. Even a person

who knew that the Thane of Cawdor was a traitor would be awfully

shrewd to guess that Macbeth would be given his title. And who

without supernatural powers could have known that Macbeth would only

be defeated when Birnam Wood moved to Dunsinane?

The witches have other supernatural powers. They can cause storms,

and they appear and disappear at will.

But their powers are limited. Look at Act I, Scene iii. The First

Witch has been insulted by a sailor’s wife. When the witch asked the

woman for a chestnut, the woman says, “Aroint thee, witch!” In other

words, “Get lost!” The witch doesn’t seem to be able to harm the

woman directly. Instead, she sends a storm to disturb the sailor’s

ship. Even at that, her powers are limited: “…his bark cannot be

lost…”, the witch says.

These hags lead Macbeth on to destroy himself. Their predictions are

temptations. They never lie, they never tell Macbeth he has to do

anything, they just give the trick answers. In that sense they are

agents of the devil, out for his soul; they trick him into damning


But it is clear that the responsibility for the crimes is Macbeth’s.

Nothing the witches did forced him to commit them. He was wrong to

hear their words as an invitation to murder the King. Still, you

wonder if Macbeth would have murdered anybody if he had not met the

witches. And you can argue that either way.


Malcolm represents the rightful order that Macbeth disturbs. Duncan,

who is a good and wise king, names his son the Prince of Cumberland

and heir to the throne.

Will Malcolm make a good king? Clearly, Shakespeare wants us to

believe he will. Though Malcolm is young, he is already wise. He

and his brother Donalbain are smart enough to get away from Macbeth’s

castle as soon as possible after their father’s murder. After safely

reaching England, Malcolm does not rashly try to reclaim the throne.

Instead, he waits until the time is right.

In his scene with Macduff, Malcolm displays cleverness and verbal

skill. He manipulates Macduff, testing his loyalty, but he does it

only for the good of his people and his country.

In the final speech of the play, Malcolm demonstrates his fitness for

kingship. Macbeth has been killed, and Malcolm is about to be

crowned. Like his father, in Act I, Malcolm’s first concern is to

reward those who have helped him. The speech is full of images of

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