Macbeth Attitude Changes Essay Research Paper WILLIAM

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divine grace and natural order.


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The King makes his final exit before the end of Act I, and he is

murdered offstage early in Act II. Not having a lot of time to

develop Duncan’s character, Shakespeare works in broad, clear


Duncan is “a most sainted king” (Act IV, Scene iii, line 109), as

Macduff calls him. His murder is a crime that has no justification.

Even Macbeth calls him “the gracious Duncan” (Act III, Scene i, line


We know that Duncan is old–otherwise he would be in combat with his

army. Owing to his age, he has to anxiously await word from the


His generosity is clearly demonstrated by the way he treats Macbeth.

He rewards the noble Macbeth immediately after hearing about his


Duncan is also gracious to Lady Macbeth. Even though he is actually

honoring Macbeth and his wife by spending the night at their castle,

he behaves as if they were doing him a favor.

The person who best sums up Duncan’s nature is his murderer–Macbeth:

“…this Duncan / Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been / So

clear in his great office, that his virtues / Will plead like

angels…” (Act I, Scene vii, lines 16-19).


Macduff is Macbeth’s major adversary. Malcolm is the rightful king

and leads the forces to overthrow the tyrant, but Macduff is a thorn

in Macbeth’s side from the beginning. In the end, he kills Macbeth.

Until the murder of his wife and children, Macduff has not been hurt

personally by Macbeth. He opposes Macbeth because he knows right

from wrong. He never wants the crown for himself. His desire is to

see the rightful king on the throne.

He refuses to play games. He will not attend Macbeth’s crowning or

put in an appearance at the tyrant’s feast just to keep up


Macduff is not clever with words. He voices his disapproval of

Macbeth not by statements but by his absence. Macduff’s simple

honesty is revealed when he is tested by Malcolm in Act IV, Scene

iii. In a play like Macbeth, in which many people and things are not

what they appear to be, Macduff is like a breath of fresh air.

Maturity is another trait of Macduff’s. He takes the news of his

wife and children’s murder like a blow squarely on the chin. By

having the courage to feel his grief, he is able to convert his pain

into a burning desire for righteous revenge.


The settings of Shakespeare’s plays generally come more from the

dramatic needs of the story than from any literal sense of the place.

Macbeth is no exception.

Most of the action takes place in Scotland. There are at least two

reasons: 1. Shakespeare invented the plot of Macbeth by combining

several stories out of Scottish history he found in Holinshed’s

Chronicles; and 2. James I, who was King of England when the play

was written, was a Scot. But reading books about the Scottish

landscape will not help you understand the setting of Macbeth.

Instead, read the play.

The Scotland of Macbeth seems rough and somewhat primitive. Each

thane has his castle, and in between there are woods and fields.

None of the action takes place in anything like a city.

The play has a murky feeling, which is reflected in the setting. The

action starts in the open fields, but the air is clouded by the smoke

of battle. Lightning and thunder fill the sky. Most of the scenes

in Macbeth’s castle take place at night. Torches are needed to see

anything at all.


Here are some of the major themes in Macbeth. Notice that each is

expressed through some combination of plot, character, and language.


A powerful sense of evil hangs over every scene in the play. Each

character has to either fight or give in to it. The play makes

several points about the nature of evil. The first point is that

evil is contrary to human nature. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have to

contort their natures to murder Duncan. First, Lady Macbeth has to

beg evil spirits to tear all human feeling from her, and then she has

to make her husband ignore his own conscience. But the play also

says that human nature cannot be avoided indefinitely. By the end of

the play, both characters have been destroyed from within. Fear and

guilt drive Lady Macbeth mad; Macbeth sees life as an empty,

meaningless charade.

The second point is that it is evil to disrupt the natural order of

the world. In nature, everything happens in its own time. A flower

blooms when the laws of nature say it should, neither sooner nor

later. When Macbeth takes the crown by murder, he upsets the natural

order of his life–and the order of Scotland. Without the rightful,

God-given king on the throne all society is disordered; under a

usurper there can only be evil and chaos. Even nature becomes upset:

it’s dark during the day; horses eat each other; owls kill falcons.

Nearly every scene has references to unnatural deeds or occurrences.

When Macbeth is killed and Malcolm takes the throne, the natural

order is restored.

The third point is that evil is a disease. Like a disease, evil

infects its victims and makes them sicken until they die. Once

Macbeth kills Duncan, he is committed to a course of lying and

killing. His sense of right and wrong is eaten away. Even before he

is killed, Macbeth is dying of a diseased spirit. Scotland is also

infected, and Macbeth is its disease. The longer he is king, the

worse things get. When Macbeth is overthrown, the country is healed.


Many readers feel that Macbeth’s downfall is caused by his ambition.

At the beginning of the play, Macbeth seems to be a brave, noble, and

loyal thane. For his desire to become king, he is willing to turn

his back on what he knows to be right. Lady Macbeth, because of her

ambition for her husband, uses all her strength and intelligence for

evil purposes. They are very unlike Banquo, who will not compromise

his honor for anything.


Practically nothing in the play is what it appears to be. The

witches’ predictions sound like good news; actually, they lead to

death and destruction. Macbeth and his wife seem like gracious

hosts; actually, they are plotting murder. The Macbeths appear to

achieve their heart’s desires; in reality, they only gain torment and

death. In reading the play, examine each scene to compare what

appears to be happening with what is really happening.


In a feudal society such as the one in Macbeth, peace and order are

maintained largely through honor and loyalty. Men of honor obey

certain rules. Macbeth throws all ideas of honor out the window.

Once he has done that, the country is in turmoil. Nobody knows whom

he can trust. Look at what Macduff has to go through to win

Malcolm’s trust in Act IV. In Act V, it is made very clear that the

few followers Macbeth has left have been forced to stay with him.

They feel no sense of loyalty toward him. When it comes time to

fight, they just give up.


The play suggests that a person should trust his destiny to a higher

power. After encountering the three witches, Macbeth tries to take

fate into his own hands, and that action brings him nothing but

grief. Malcolm, on the other hand, trusts that all things will work

out “…by the grace of Grace [in other words, heaven]” (Act V, Scene

viii, line 72). “Be what you’re meant to be,” the play seems to be



The story of Macbeth is a combination of two stories found in

Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Shakespeare developed many of the plots and characters for his plays

from this book of history and legend.

Holinshed tells one story about a man named Macbeth who killed a king

named Duncan, but this story is different from the play in several

important ways. The Duncan of the story was a bad king. He did not

care about his people, and Banquo helped Macbeth overthrow him.

Shakespeare combined that story with another Holinshed story about

someone named Donwald who killed a king named Duff. Duff was a good

and pious king, and was Donwald’s guest when he was murdered. Also,

Donwald killed Duff because his wife urged him to.

For the supernatural elements of the play, Shakespeare might have

consulted a book called Demonology, written by none other than King

James I himself. (Remember that Macbeth was first presented at

James’ court.) In his book, James states that witches can predict the



Shakespeare takes a clear moral stance in telling the story of

Macbeth. He portrays humans as creatures capable of good but in

danger of giving in to the temptations of evil. Evil is introduced

through supernatural beings–the witches. You could say Macbeth is

as much a victim of their deception and his own ambition as he is a

victimizer of others.

All evildoers are punished. The numerous mentions of heaven and hell

remind us that good people who are killed will find eternal

happiness, while those who do evil will suffer eternal damnation.

It is important not to confuse the point of view that Shakespeare

gives to a character with the playwright’s own point of view. For

example, Macbeth’s “tomorrow and tomorrow” speech says that life is

meaningless, but the play as a whole says just the opposite.

Macbeth’s utter despair at that moment is a result of his evil deeds.

The very fact that he and Lady Macbeth are punished for their

wickedness is proof of a higher good which gives meaning to life.


Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth is divided into five acts.

Each act is broken down further into scenes. Editors disagree about

the proper division of scenes in Act V. Some divide it into six

scenes. Others make eight scenes from the same text, as we have in

the scene-by-scene analysis, and still others make it into nine

scenes. All these versions have the same text; only the divisions

are different.

Let’s look at the form of the play in terms of storytelling. At each

moment in the play, there is a question that keeps our interest.

That is called dramatic tension.

From the point when Macbeth hears the witches’ prophesies, he is

obviously enticed by the idea of becoming king. We wonder what he

will do about it. Will he kill Duncan? Once the murder has been

committed, we wonder what the consequences will be.

Macbeth becomes king, but some are suspicious. What will happen to

Banquo and Macduff? In the next section of the play, Macbeth tries

to make his position secure through murder. We can see that things

are only getting worse for him, and we wonder how long he can hold


In Act IV, the end of the play is set up. Macbeth visits the

witches, who give him new prophesies. Anybody who is following the

story should suspect that they are deceiving him somehow, but we do

not know how. In the same act, Malcolm and Macduff join together to

defeat Macbeth. Now we wait for the final battle.

Notice how skillfully Shakespeare maintains suspense up to the end.

Macbeth’s followers have deserted him; Birnam Wood has come to

Dunsinane. He seems doomed, but we know that he cannot be defeated

by any man born of woman. Who can beat him, then? Finally, Macduff

reveals his secret, and Macbeth is killed. All that remains is to

cheer the new and rightful king, Malcolm.


All languages change. Differences in pronunciation and word choice

are apparent even between parents and their children. If language

differences can appear in one generation, it is only to be expected

that the English used by Shakespeare four hundred years ago will

diverge markedly from the English that is used today. The following

information on Shakespeare’s language will help you to a fuller

understanding of Macbeth.


Adjectives, nouns, and verbs were less rigidly confined to particular

classes in Shakespeare’s day. For example, verbs were often used as

nouns. In Act I, Scene vii, line 5, Macbeth uses be as a noun:

…that but this blow

Might be the be-all and the end-all…

And nouns could be used as verbs, as when incarnadine, which was a

color, was used to mean “redden”:

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

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

The multitudinous seas incarndine

(II, ii, 59-61)

Adjectives could also be used as adverbs. In the above quotation

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