Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare based loosely on the historical King Macbeth I of Scotland, in which the king is unflatteringly depicted.

Lady Macbeth is seen by many as one of the most challenging roles in Western theater for women. She is driven mad for her part in the king's murder and dies off stage in the final act.

Actors often consider this play to be 'unlucky', and usually refer to it as 'the Scottish play' rather than by name. To say the name of the play inside a theatre is considered to doom the production to failure.

Table of contents
1 The story of Shakespeare's play
2 Concept of Evil
3 Shakespeare's sources
4 Film versions
5 Opera versions
6 External link

The story of Shakespeare's play

Macbeth, Thane of Glamis and a general of the army of Duncan, King of Scotland, quickly rises through the ranks after a great victory over the rebel Macdonwald. In his lust for power, inspired by the witches' prediction that he would become king, he and his wife murder the king, and he becomes King of Scotland himself. The heir, Malcolm, flees to England, where he is joined by Macduff, the loyal Thane of Fife.

His friend Banquo, who, the witches have predicted, will be the ancestor of future kings, begins to suspect him, and Macbeth, becoming more evil every day, orders Banquo's murder in order to prevent the prediction from coming true. However, Banquo's son, Fleance, escapes the assassins. Macbeth is haunted by Banquo's ghost, whilst Lady Macbeth also suffers pangs of remorse, and constantly sleep-walks.

Urged on by Macbeth, the witches conjure spirits which tell him that he will not "vanquish'd be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come" and that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth," but also to "fear Macduff". Since Macduff is in exile, Macbeth orders the murder of his wife and children. Macduff, spurred into seeking revenge, leads an army camouflaged by boughs from Birnam wood to Dunsinane, where in a battle with Macbeth he reveals that he was ripped from his mother's body (ie, by Caesarean section) and therefore is not "of woman born."

Macduff vanquishes Macbeth and Duncan's son, Malcolm, takes the throne.

Concept of Evil

Macbeth explores the nature of evil through the gradual change in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as the play progresses. Pathetic fallacy plays a major role in this. Macbeth explores the difference between innate evil and evil influenced by others. The contrast between different categories of evil is fully explored. The natural, clearly defined evil of the Three Witches contrasts with the heavily influenced evil of Macbeth himself. Initially, Macbeth is far from evil within: "Chance may crown me, without my stir", preferring to let fate lead his future. Later, he takes actions to remove those in his way, like Banquo, and "the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand", not caring who he harms and how he harms them. This phrase is brutal in its simplicity; an earlier Macbeth would never have said this.

Their corrupting influence of the three sisters on Macbeth is clear, as they prophesy his forthcoming kingship. Their gruesome magic-making increases the feeling of evil. The witches appear as pure evil with wretched souls in wretched bodies. There is no doubt in the audience's mind that they mean no good to Macbeth. Their evil sows the seeds of treachery and murder in his mind. They seem the epitome of evil.

At the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth appears a ruthless, merciless woman, willing to murder the King of Scotland within her own house. In Act 1 Scene 7, she mocks Macbeth for being uncertain at the prospect of murdering their king for the pursuit of power. She says that she would (of her child) "dashed the brains out, had I sworn as you have done to this." This symbolises the destruction of her tenderness, of her femininity through the murder of a child. Having made the decision, she calls upon the gods to crush her frailty and humanity: "Unsex me here. And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top full of the direst cruelty" further highlighting her willingness to destroy her feminine nature and emotions.

She mocks Macbeth for being unsure: "Infirm of purpose!" and questions his status as a man and a warrior. Her influence on Macbeth is seen in the hardening of his heart. However, she slowly goes mad later in the play, unable to cope with a tortured soul and a guilty mind. Now she appears a woman of purpose who can no longer cope with her conscience. This is in stark contrast to the beginning of the play. Just after the murder of the king, Macbeth states: "this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red." Lady Macbeth replies: "...a little water clears us of this deed." However, later, in her madness, she says: "Will these hands ne'er be clean" and "all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" showing the change in her character.

The most difficult character to judge in the play is Macbeth, because he is so complex. This is the way Shakespeare wants us to feel, and our perspective of him changes throughout. At the beginning, he is true, loyal and honourable to his king. However, during battle we see what he may become, killing men in cold blood and revelling in the glory. Shakespeare intends us to ask questions: What is the difference between killing men in cold blood in battle, and murdering your best friend's family when he is away? There is a startling difference, and this is illustrated by the actions of Macbeth as the play progresses.

Initially, he is almost innocent and fails to see the evil of the witches and their lies, unlike Banquo who instantly sees the ill they promise for Macbeth. A distinct change in his actions is seen. From being an open man, Macbeth turns into a shady character unable to trust even the cheap murderers of Banquo, hiding in the shadows like a criminal as he watches paid men butcher his best friend. This is in contrast with Banquo's heroic last words, telling his son to flee. Macbeth is undoubtedly influenced by the Three Witches, and especially by his wife. The challenge to his worthiness of being a man is particularly powerful. However, all of his evil cannot be placed on the shoulders of others; Macbeth was driven by the promise of power and fame. At the beginning, Macbeth fears his own temptations and the retribution of his own soul: "So foul a fair a day I have not seen", "Stars, hide your fires!" and "Glamis hath murdered sleep" illustrate this particularly strongly. These phrases show that Macbeth is human and that there is uncertainty in his heart. His 'murder' of sleep tells us that he has a conscience at the beginning of the play, unlike Lady Macbeth. At the end of the play, Macbeth is described as a cruel, mirthless tyrant who has ruined the noble country Scotland. His actions of murdering families and their children seem to reinforce this. However, before and during the final battle he shows nobility and weariness at the world and the deed that he has performed. His mind varies from melancholy and sadness: "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" to bloodthirsty barbarianism: "I'll fight, till from my bones my flesh be hacked" and "cursed be the man that says 'Hold, enough!'"

However, at the last Macbeth seems to us as a honourable man, who will fight to the last, and Shakespeare makes us feel sadness for his fate. It is unfortunate that he would be remembered by most as a "dead butcher" with his "fiend-like wife".

In conclusion, Macbeth explores evil in many ways, in which all characters play a part. Shakespeare makes us think about how evil is manifested in greed, temptation and corruption, and how it is compared with other acts of revenge and justice. Evil is created and influenced by others; no one man can be Evil.

Shakespeare's sources

  • Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, based on Hector Boece's 1527 Scotorum Historiae.
  • Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft
  • King James I of England's 1599 Daemonologie
  • Macbeth's words on dogs and men in Act 3, scene 1, (91-100), likely came from Erasmus' Colloquia

Film versions

Opera versions

  • Macbeth, Verdi's 1847 opera with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, with additions by Andrea Maffei, based on Shakespeare's play. Verdi substantially revised the opera in 1865.

See also

External link

Macbeth is also a Scottish clan.