Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
What is a brief summary of “Macbeth”? A prophesy is given. The first part of the prophesy is unexpectantly fulfilled. Motivated by selfish desires and encouraged by a wicked wife, a great warrior murders the King in order to become King himself. The murderous warrior continues to act as a tyrant and a murderer. The dead King’s son flees the country to protect himself, and he gathers an army to fight against the tyrannical King. The once-great-warrior-now-tyrannical-King consults the witches for further prophesies. Finally, the witches’ prophesies are fulfilled when the tyrannical King is murdered and the escaped son rightly takes the crown.
Like “Hamlet,” I expected this play to sketch a character and pose questions about morality and right vs wrong. Why would somebody commit murder? What leads somebody to act in that way? Are there consequences for these wicked actions? I don’t think that the play is definitively going to answer any of these questions, but I think that these are some of the questions that “Macbeth” will make us consider.
In Act 1, the witches anticipate Macbeth’s ascension to the throne. Lady Macbeth feels like she must take the situation into her own hands. In scene 1, Lady Macbeth appears more corrupt and more evil than Macbeth. At first, Macbeth is opposed to murder, but then he concedes to his wife. What sort of power do women have that makes men fall so far into wickedness? What caused Lady Macbeth to become corrupt? Is the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth analogous to the relationship between Adam and Eve? Does everything go back to the Garden and the Fall? Eve was tempted to sin first, just like Lady Macbeth suggested murder first. Adam followed Eve’s leadership, just like Macbeth followed Lady Macbeth’s leadership. Both marriages fell to sin. What is the pattern here? When the wife assumes the leadership role in marriage, does this lead to corruption? Why were Eve and Lady Macbeth tempted to sin before their husbands, and why did the husbands concede?
Why are witches conventionally depicted as evil? Perhaps the witches initiated Macbeth’s path to evil. They placed the idea of kingship in Macbeth’s mind, which prompted Macbeth to share the witches’ prophecy with his wife, which lead Macbeth to act in order to self-fulfill the prophesy. This whole sequence of events began with a seed planted by the witches, just like the Fall of Adam and Eve arose from a seed planted by Satan. Is it easier to entice women with false words than men? Why does Satan target Eve? Why do the witches’ words compel Lady Macbeth to act maliciously? I think that generally women are more susceptible to false teachings, and men are more susceptible to manipulation via their spouses.
In Act 2, I thought about the relationship to Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity. The king is murdered. Other characters, unaware of the king’s death, notice signs and portents of darkness around them. For example, Lennox remarks that, “The night has been unruly... Our chimneys were blown out... Lamenting heard in th’ air, strange screams of death... some say the Earth was feverous and did shake.” Similarly, the old man remarks, “Threescore and ten I can remember well, within the volume of which time I have seen hours dreadful and things strange, but this sore night hath trifled former knowings... A falcon, tow’ring in her pride of place, was by a mousing owl hawked and killed.” Duncan’s death seems to coincide with other events in the surrounding world. The events are so noticeable that people are willing to remark about them. Even an old man, who has seen much, notices that the nature of events is unusually dark. How can so many dark events group together? Each event is extremely unlikely to occur in isolation, and yet many extremely unlikely events all occur at the same time. This is not something that happens only in Shakespeare's plays; it is also something that happens in our personal realities. Series of physical and observable events occur, with a frequency that exceeds any reasonable probability, and these events appear to align with a subconscious state of mind or other significant event.
By Act 3, Macbeth has clearly transformed from the exceptional warrior hero that he was introduced as in Act 1, to a murderous tyrant. He murdered the king and now he also orchestrates the murder of Banquo. Macbeth is not a figure of the light. He is acting for selfish gain, and it seems like there should be consequences for his evil actions. As the play’s protagonist, Macbeth feels more like a “bad guy” than a “good guy.” I was impressed by Macbeth’s desire to lose his humanity, and similarly by Lady Macbeth’s desire to lose her sexuality. Why do these characters want to lose something so significant? That’s a great question! What prompts a person to want to lose his humanity or her sexuality?
The wickedness and tyranny of Macbeth is now absolute. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a great warrior and worthy of honor. Moreover, he was initially disgusted by his wife’s suggestion of murder. But by Act 4, Macbeth has clearly transformed into a wicked and evil tyrant. He consults the 3 witches a second time, he orders the death of Macduff’s family, and the nobles complain about his ignoble rule, which lacks virtue, nobility, honor, and compassion. Macbeth has been consumed with greed for power. He wanted more power, so he murdered Duncan. Afterwards, he was afraid of losing his power, so he murdered Banquo and slaughtered Macduff’s family. Did Macbeth's slide to wickedness begin with this wife? Is there anything in Macbeth's background that would cause him to act and proceed with such malice? I don’t think that we will ever know the answers to those question. Will Macbeth be punished? Will he face judgement?
What happened in this Act and what stood out to me? In this Act, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, the English armies prepare to attack Macbeth and the Scots, Macduff kills Macbeth, and Malcolm becomes King of Scotland. There are a lot of scenes leading up to Macbeth’s death, and they all prepare the reader for the inevitable conclusion – the witches prophesies will be fulfilled and Macbeth will die.
The essays and discussions at the end of the book were really good! There seems to be a big question of, “What makes a man?” Is it his wife? Is it his actions? Is it both? I love thinking about love and the relationship between men and women, specifically man and wife. Why? I think it’s because I don’t understand it. But I recognize that there is great power in this relationship. Love motivates people to do some crazy things, and sex rules the world. Why is love so powerful? I don’t think that anybody fully knows the answer to that question; it is a question that only God’s wisdom can answer. We recognize that it is true, but we cannot explain it. We must accept it. Why is the relationship between husband and wife important in this play? Lady Macbeth pushed her husband to commit murder, and in doing so, Lady Macbeth usurps the leadership role from her husband and corrupts the natural order of things. Once Macbeth concedes his leadership, against his better wishes, he falls into wickedness and tyranny. I think that the key point here is that Macbeth was hesitant to listen to his wife. He conceded in order to honor his Lady and because she insulted his manliness. So back to the original question: What makes a man? Is it blind obedience? No. Is it being submissive? No. Is it acting? No. Is it acting rightly? Yes, I think that’s right. A man acts rightly. He is not simply filled with right words, but he is also filled with right actions.
The other essay that I found interesting was the comparison to “Hamlet.” In many ways, these plays are opposites of one another. Macbeth commits murder at the beginning of the play and continues to commit further treacheries as the play progresses. Macbeth is clearly a wicked man. On the other hand, Hamlet is not portrayed as wicked. He is intelligent, and he seeks to find a solution to a moral problem. Hamlet is motivated by justice and a desire to act rightly for the greater community, whereas Macbeth is motivated by selfish ambitions. Hamlet accepts the consequence of death for his actions, whereas Macbeth tries viciously to avoid death, begging Macduff not to fight. Both Hamlet and Macbeth can be considered “men” because they act in agreement with their words. Words are followed by action. Although these men are motivated by different desires, Hamlet’s motivation is altruistic whereas Macbeth’s motivation is selfish. Despite their different motivations, they both meet the same end, that is death. Is that fair?