William Shakespeare: an analysis of Macbeth’s character

Term Paper, 2002

9 Pages, Grade: 2.0


William Shakespeare:

An Analysis of Macbeth’s character

I would like to base my essay on the protagonist Macbeth.

Probably composed in late 1606 or early 1607, Macbeth is the last of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the others being Hamlet, King Lear and Othello.

If Hamlet is the grandest of Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth is from a tragic standpoint the most sublime and the most impressive as an active play.

If we just consider the plot, Macbeth is a relatively simple play. In fact like Richard III and numerous pre-Shakespearean plays, it deals with a traditional form: the rise and fall of a great man.

In the first part of the play we read about Macbeth’s rise to power; then he manages to become king of Scotland. From this moment on he begins with a period of tyranny that will end with Macbeth’s death and the accession to the throne of the legitimate king.

For this reason he can be considered as the epitome of a tragic hero.

In the course of the play we notice a great development of Macbeth’s character. At the beginning he is a man much honoured by his countrymen for his leading and courageous part in defence of his good king and native land.

During many conflicts he showed his great courage and he continues showing this personal quality also when he becomes king and he has to take a lot of difficult decisions.[1] But this first description about Macbeth’s character is not the definitive one: in fact as soon as we meet him, we find out also his negative qualities, for example that he is both ambitious and murderous.

It happens when the two Scottish generals, Macbeth and his friend Banquo, returning victorious from the great battle against a rebel army assisted by the troops of Norway, meet three witches in the middle of the road.

They begin to speak to Macbeth: the first of them greets him with the title of Thane of Glaning (so it is in the reality); the second follows by giving him the title of Thane of Cawdor, to which honour he has no pretensions; the third predicts that Macbeth will be king of Scotland. Then turning to Banquo, they prophesy that his son will be king of Scotland. So they turn into the air and vanish.

After a while Macbeth and his friend are stopped by some messengers of the king, who are empowered by him to confer upon Macbeth the dignity of Thane of Cawdor: an event so miraculously corresponding with the predictions of the witches astonishes Macbeth, who begins to think about the other and more important prophecy; particularly, to obtain the throne, he begins to think of murdering Duncan, the current king.

But probably Macbeth had these thoughts in his mind even before his meeting with the witches. This fact emerges from his strange reaction after the prophecies of the witches. We can also compare this reaction with Banquo’s one.

He, who is ambitious but perfectly honest, is hardly stricken by what the witches say and remains almost impassible; on the contrary when Macbeth hears the prophecies, he does not feel completely innocent: we find him to be quite afraid and unable to speak, he has a start of fears after the third prophecy just because ha had already conceived the murder, even if it was still something vague.

So we can say that the temptation was already in Macbeth’s mind and the prophecies of the witches reinforce this temptation.[2]

Perhaps even Banquo understands what Macbeth is thinking about after the meeting with the witches and tries to warn his friend against these prophecies, as we can notice from his dialogue with Macbeth:

Machb: “Do you not hope your children shall be kings,

When those that gave the Thane of Cawdor to me

Promis’d no less to them?”

Ban. : “That, trusted home,

Might yet enkindle you unto the crown,

Besides the Thane of Cawdor. But ’tis strange:

And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,

The instruments of darkness tell us truths,

Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s

In deepest consequence […].”

I, III, 118-126

But Macbeth does not pay attention to Banquo’s warning.

So the witches do not have a decisive influence towards Macbeth’s decisions. This is also demonstrated by the fact that in the course of the play he never accuses them: Macbeth curses the witches because they cheat him, but he does not consider them as the cause of his terrible decisions that will lead him to the decline and the death.[3]


[1] Mariangela Tempera, Macbeth, dal testo alla scena. Bologna: Cooperativa Libraria Universitaria Editrice 1982, p. 11

[2] Gabriele Baldini, Manualetto Shakespeariano. Torino: Piccola Biblioteca Einaudi 1964, p. 417

[3] A. C. Bradley, La tragedia di Shakespeare. Milano: Casa Editrice Il Saggiatore 1964, p. 377

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William Shakespeare: an analysis of Macbeth’s character
University of Education Ludwigsburg
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William, Shakespeare, Macbeth’s
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Doktor Alessandro De Vivo (Author), 2002, William Shakespeare: an analysis of Macbeth’s character, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/72750


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