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Macbeth - A glorious tragedy
Sep 20, 2009 08:25 AM 7754 Views

Readability:

Story:

Advantages: Just read the op


Disadvantages: Old English, but what do you expect?


Think of Shakespeare and I am sure among the first things which will


spring to your mind will be his tragedy, Macbeth. You may not have read


this masterpiece, but I am sure you have heard of it. A few years ago,


I, along with many others my age, had the unenviable task of reading


Macbeth as part of my GCSE studies. Not only did I have to read


Macbeth, I also had to analyse and discuss the themes, subject matters,


language etc., thrown up throughout the book in countless essays.


This


was a mountainous task for me, as I had never read and studied a book


properly before, and it was very rare for me to stretch my reading


capabilities further than a Roald Dahl fantasy. I was rather daunted


and intimidated by what was required of me, yet all of my emotions and


feelings had no foundation; they were based on ignorance. Shakespeare


was for all the "poshnobs" in posh schools to read; why did I have to


read it? Well, that's what I thought before I read Macbeth.


On


my first reading of the book, I was rather bewildered by the language


of ye olde English, yet I understood it enough for it to entice me to a


second read. Second time around, I understood more of the words, and


this allowed the story to build much more easily in my mind, whereas


previously I was referring to the glossary every other sentence for


word definitions. I read Macbeth a couple more times, and by then I


understood every part of the play, both thematically and


linguistically.


What I discerned at that time, and since, is


not only is Macbeth an enjoyable and engaging story, but moreover it is


one of the most strongly dramatic plays ever written, and although its


subject matter is one of grim horror, it contains many passages of


unforgettable beauty and power. Macbeth can also be enjoyed on many


levels. It is an exciting story of witchcraft, murder and retribution,


yet it can also be seen as a study in the philosophy and psychology of


evil.


Macbet


h has true historical foundations, for indeed there was a gentlemen


called Macbeth, who killed a king called Duncan, then ruled Scotland


between 1040 and 1057. Shakespeare's uses these facts liberally to


illustrate what happens to a man, essentially noble and heroic, who so


desires supreme power that he will commit murder to attain it.


An


eerie, witch-haunted heath; gloomy Scottish castles; a lonely road at


nightfall; fog, wind and thunder - these are the settings where the


tragedy of Macbeth is acted out. Macbeth, at the start of the story, is


a faithful servant to the king. He had expelled Nordic invaders and was


acclaimed by the king himself, the doomed Duncan. Duncan is so grateful


to his gallant warrior that he grants Macbeth the title of "Thane of


Cawdor". Macbeth, at this stage at least, fits his image as the refined


gentleman.


Soon, however, things human and ghostly unite to


inflame the ambition previously controlled within Macbeth; his triumphs


as a warrior, the prophecies of witches, his wife's determination, a


visionary dagger.


The witches quite simply brainwash Macbeth.


Macbeth essentially is an innocent soul, but with this innocence comes


an exploitable naivety. Their predictions prey on Macbeth's naivety as


well as his superabundance of ambition following his victories in


battle. Macbeth is initially able to control his urges to act on their


predictions, dismissing any possibility of murder, thus retaining his


sense of dignity and conscience. This all changes in Act 4 however.


Malcolm,


Duncan's son, is installed as Prince of Cumberland, and with it, the


successor to Duncan as King of Scotland. King of Scotland is the title


Macbeth covets, though, rather significantly and intriguingly, the


witches had never prophecised to Macbeth that he would become king.


Macbeth is torn on how to proceed; Lady Macbeth then sways the path he


will take.


Lady Macbeth begins to plan the


murder of Duncan, an act Macbeth had repudiated. Macbeth's


reservations, mainly brought about by fear, are extinguished, and


finally, after intermittent doses of guilt and disgust, the evil deed


is perpetrated. Duncan is slain.


Malcolm


and Donalbain, Duncan's sons, forgo the power of the kingship and flee.


Macbeth, in due course, is crowned as king, yet even now, he is not


content. The prophecies of the witches return to torture him. They had


foretold that his offspring will never rule, only those of Banquo, his


close friend. The now corrupted Macbeth has little clarity of thought,


and sanctions the murder of Banquo, exemplifying his removal from all


sense of reality.


Macbeth finds no enjoyment in his kingship,


but he is no longer able to turn back. To rule in safety more murders


are necessary. His nobles desert him to join Duncan's young son, while


the queen becomes ill and crazed. Macbeth realises all he has won is


solitude and emptiness;


"I have liv'd long enough: my way of life


Is fall'n in to the sear, the yellow leaf;


And that which should accompany old age,


As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,


I must not look to have."


The tide of horror mounts. Lady Macbeth dies, his castle is besieged, and the witches


prove


not to have foretold Macbeth's safety, but his doom. Macbeth himself is


murdered by one his besiegers, Macduff, the Thane of Fife. Malcolm is


then crowned king.


The story of Macbeth's glorious path to


tragedy can be understood in any age. Ignorance is bliss, while


knowledge is torture, a torture which Macbeth can not deal with. He was


respected as a warrior and leader. His intrinsic innocence is robbed


however, and nefarious influences attack him from all directions. His


response to all this evil, from his wife, the witches, the nightmarish


dreams, is a rule of tyranny. His people hate him, and so falls this


innately good man


.


If you have not read Macbeth, I


would advise you too. Once you understand Shakespeare's language, you


will thoroughly enjoy the story. There is of course many performances


of Shakespeare's plays, which may act out the story of Macbeth, but I


feel you will not discover every genial piece of dialogue, or explore


fully every subject matter, unless you read the book. Macbeth, along


with almost all of Shakespeare's plays, is such a challenge, as well as


being richly enjoyable, that it requires going over many times. This


can be done much more easily and at leisure through reading the book.


I will finish this op with a quotation from Stanley Wells, a great student of Shakespeare;


"It


is Macbeth's neurotic self-absorption, his fear, his anger, and his


despair, along with his wife's steely determination, her invoking of


the powers of evil, and her eventual revelation in sleep of her


repressed humanity, that have given the play its long-proven power to


fascinate readers."


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