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



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.


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.


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


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



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.


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


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.


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.


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


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;


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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MacBeth - William Shakespeare