Essay, Research Paper: Macbeth Characters

Shakespeare: Macbeth

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Acts I and II Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Banquo are all tempted with the
witches’ prophecies. Horrid images immediately begin to invade the minds of
these three characters. However, it is their responses to this and the choices
they make that distinguish them from one another and ultimately change lives
forever. Macbeth and Banquo respond to the witches’ predictions in different
ways. Banquo is very skeptical. Although he begs for their prophecy of his
future, he is not so taken with their revelations as he says, “Speak then to
me, who neither beg nor fear/ Your favours nor your hate” (I.iii.60-61). Fair
words can mean foul things. Their replies are tempting but he passes them off as
only trouble. Macbeth is understandably thrilled at the sudden reality of the
truths and becomes obsessed with the idea of being king. He claims to have
decided to allow fate to direct his destiny, but their predictions have left a
frightening impression in his mind. Banquo uses good judgment believing that the
witches represent evil and will bring more harm than good, but the rapid
occurrence of events clouds Macbeth’s judgment and cause him to fall prey to
this deep impatient ambition. From the moment Lady Macbeth reads the letter, she
is determined to make the witches prophecy come true. Her mind is an echo of the
witches predictions, “Fair is foul and foul is fair”(I.i.10). However, the
witches are forces of nature and fate and Lady Macbeth is human. They may have
pointed Macbeth in a direction but did not force him to commit to anything as
she did. Their predictions only came true because of her push. The quick
decisions begin as she plans the ‘quickest way’ to get Macbeth on the
throne. Shakespeare introduces her character as a dominant and controlling wife.
Contrary to her heartless nature though, Macbeth addresses her as a pure being
because only he knows of her hidden weaknesses. Lady Macbeth’s character
portrays many rich combinations of personality: evil, manipulating, delicate,
kind. Her resolution is so intense that it frightens Macbeth. The sickening
determination is expressed with potent imagery in scene 5, “Come to my
woman’s breast, and take my milk for gall”(I.v.48-49). As soon as she sees
Macbeth’s apprehensions, she mocks him by implying that he is a coward. She
even questions his manhood. Although Macbeth is chilled by his wife’s hard
attitude, he succumbs to her prodding and prepares to commit to the murder. His
goodness and loyalty can be seen as he struggles with the foulness of his
ambition. But when the king tells of his visit to their home, Macbeth realizes
that the time and opportunity are perfect to quench this “burning of desire”
(I.v.3). Banquo and Macbeth’s contrasting characters are obvious in Act II.
Banquo has some strange uneasiness which makes him unwilling to go to sleep. His
nervousness is evident when he hears somebody coming and calls for his sword,
even though he should feel safe in Macbeth’s castle. Banquo tells Macbeth
about his fear to sleep because of the witches’ predictions. He is having
“cursed thoughts” (II.i.8) and is fearful for Macbeth also. Macbeth bluntly
lies and claims that he has thought “not of them” (II.i.22). While Banquo is
confiding his private thoughts to his friend, Macbeth is dodging honesty and
hints at business that will “make honor” (II.i.26). Banquo, although tempted
by the thoughts of his heirs, rejects the prophecies and rationally overcomes
the sinful thoughts. He proves his integrity by never truly considering to act
of these evil dreams. Banquo maintains a clean conscience and responds
cautiously but begins to suspect that something is amiss. Macbeth’s character
seems to have become more independent at this stage. He has gained a sense of
purpose and does not need his wife’s demands anymore. However, in the moments
before the crime is committed, Macbeth sees visions and seems to have lost his
mind. He does not know whether to trust his eyes or his reason: “Mine eyes are
made the fools of the other senses, or else worth all the rest” (II.i.44-45).
His rationality takes over and the murder is done. He immediately changes once
again into a frightened child. Macbeth is nearly driven mad by the horror of his
actions but his wife urges him to be practical. Tension is seen when the deed is
done and husband and wife exchange sharp, quick words. Macbeth is horrified with
what he has done while Lady Macbeth takes a soldier’s stance as she says,
“These deed must not be thought/ After these ways; so, it will make us mad”
(II.ii.32-33). His guilt and remorse are also controlled by his wife’s
reassurance as she has him literally “wash this filthy witness”(II.ii.46) of
the deed. After the murder is discovered, Macbeth has to take control when Lady
Macbeth gives a blundering response to the death of Duncan. Banquo scolds her
for being distant and cold to the situation. Macbeth covers for his wife’s
lack of sympathy until he is caught in a lie regarding the slain watchmen. To
take the attention away from the crime, Lady Macbeth cleverly faints, showing
that she is still the collected and horrifyingly calm partner. No matter, the
atmosphere of suspicion had already been strengthened. The characters chose
different paths, good and evil, which eventually brought tragedy. Although Lady
Macbeth’s sick persuasion gave Macbeth courage to act on his ambition, his own
images and passions deceived him into changing his virtues for unrest and
immorality. A short period of fast and unsure actions led to the deterioration
and downfall of the characters.
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