Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare between 1603 and 1606, features a Scottish warrior called Macbeth, whose life is totally changed by the prophecies of three witches. It shows how a hardened warrior such as Macbeth, who can nearly win battles on his own, can be mentally destroyed by a series of events which happen over a few days.
The play starts gloomily and with a sinister feeling about it; there is thunder and lightning which in Shakespeares play mean there is going to be trouble ahead, and things will not be as they seem to be, giving and immediate warning to the audience, while the three witches begin to cast their spells. Shakespeare opens with the witches to show their domination over the events which are forthcoming to the play.
In everything that the witches say, they deliberately confuse and talk in riddles: When the battle is lost and won and Fair is foul and Foul is fair which sets the scene for what happens later in the play. The language creates a cloud over events, leaving the audience confused and puzzled over what is to happen to Macbeth and the other characters in the rest of the play. It leaves a dilemma in the audience mind as they make up their own minds on Macbeths character as he is linked with their evil since they intend to meet him.
Shakespeare fixes the historical setting in scene 2, which is set in camp near the battlefield; it reveals that there was unrest in Scotland at that time, as the Kings army are fighting a group of rebels led by the then Thane of Cawdor. This scene again gives information about Macbeth, but this time it tells the audience that Macbeth is a hardened warrior who will kill for the honour of his King and country. The captain describes how both Macbeth and Banquo fought on regardlessly even though tired, against the villainous low life rebels, giving the historical context.
The captain describes how they destroyed and slaughtered the enemy and how they should have been killed because they were so outnumbered, which leads Duncan to praise the two warriors, practically calling them Supermen: noble and valiant. The audience has now seen the two sides of Macbeth: good and bad, it is up to them to decide whether or not he is good, valiant and honourable, or evil, murderous and possessed.
It is only Scene 3 when the audience finally sees Macbeth, speaking to the witches, when they start to make prophecies about Macbeth, initially calling him: Thane of Glamis which he inherited from his father. Next they say: All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor and then: All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter. This describes the past: Thane of Glamis, which he already is; the present: Thane of Cawdor, because he becomes it later in this scene; and the future with the prophecy of him becoming King.
Macbeth is obviously extremely interested, but Banquo is more hesitant. He sees these words as just things they say to build up Macbeths confidence and are not the truth. Instruments of Darkness.
Scene 4 begins with Macbeth saying The service and loyalty I owe, which makes him seem honourable, he then goes on to flatter Duncan by saying. In doing it pays itself. Your Highness part is to receive our duties, and our duties are to your throne and state, children and servants, which do but what they should be doing everything safe toward your love and honour. All this is an attempt to win over Duncan, as he has already won a battle for him and flattery he hopes the prophecy of his becoming King will become a truth. Duncan is clearly flattered and replies I have begun to plant thee and will labour to make thee full of growing. Since Duncan wants to give him more rewards, this will definitely raise the hope of Macbeth that he will become heir to the throne.
However, Macbeths dreams are shattered by what Duncan is to say next: Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter The Prince of Cumberland, meaning that Malcolm, not Macbeth, is to be the next King. The audience is as shocked by Macbeth at this sudden event after the earlier build up and would sympathise with Macbeth whose balloon has been popped and is crashing to the ground.
He is extremely angry and distraught at Duncan as after everything he has done for him. It was his greatest desire to become King of Scotland, a dream shattered by Duncan, who surely must pay for what he has done- or will Macbeth carry on being loyal to his King in hope of future rewards? Will the wait for the third prophecy come true? This is a difficult decision for the audience to make as Macbeth has been associated with evil earlier in the act, but also has, done good deeds for his King. The audience ponders on which way he will turn-towards good, or evil-and will anyone influence his decision?
In the next scene Shakespeare begins to answer the audiences questions as scene 5 is set in Macbeths castle, where Lady Macbeth is reading a letter from Macbeth describing the events. Macbeth describes his success saying that he knows more than mortal knowledge, adding that witches predicted he will be King, but does not tell her that he was not made Prince of Cumberland. He says that she must think about the news because he knows she is greedy and he is tempting her by telling her what happened. The audience will see that the only reason Macbeth wrote it was because he was angry and distraught.
Lady Macbeth is definitely tempted by this, determined that Macbeth will be King and she will be Queen. Yet she recognises that Macbeth is too nice to go about it the quickest way and that he will want to do it the right way. Her main plan is to win Macbeth over, so that he will kill Duncan and whoever else he must do to gain the crown, intending to manipulate and nag M
After seeing this scene the audience could perceive Macbeth still as a patriotic general who would do anything for his King while Lady Macbeth is evil and selfish, doing anything for her own benefit. However, Macbeth does seem very keen for her to know the greatness she will receive and could be tempting her, too.
As soon as Macbeth enters after she has read the letter, the wheels of her plan are set into motion as she greets Macbeth by saying Great Glamis, worthy Cawdor, Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter, Thy letter have transported me beyond this ignorant present, and I feel now the future in the instant. She says this to flatter Macbeth just like what he did to King Duncan, as Shakespeare reveals a role reversal between Macbeth and his wife, when he tells her that Duncan is going to be staying at their castle. Lady Macbeth starts testing Macbeth, so if to find what he is really thinking, as she asks When does he leave. He replies by saying that he will leave Tomorrow as he proposed the evilness of Lady Macbeth is shown as she says he will not see another day.
This will shock the audience because she does not say it very subtly so this would also shock Macbeth as he knows what his wife is like but he perhaps did not think she would say it that quickly. She talks about being King with the rewards and luxuries, using this as bait to tempt Macbeth, who does his best to ignore it, still unconvinced, by saying that they will talk about the matter later. However Lady Macbeth says Only look up clear, To alter favour ever is to fear Leave all the rest to me. This is an attack at Macbeth, but is also a type of encouragement in that she may have to resort to doing the deed herself. What would the audience think of Macbeth now? Still confused and unsure, or has his mind been made up for him?
Shakespeares makes it clear what Macbeth is thinking in a lengthy soliloquy. The first words show that Macbeth is not convinced by the idea of murdering the King, but he does look at both sides of the argument, so this shows the audience that he is seriously considering the crime. He discusses that he will have to do it quickly and recognises it as an assassination which going to go against everything he has ever fought for. But he also will ravage his mind, he is not presented as greedy, but it shows he human instincts for success.
Macbeth explains his doubts to Lady Macbeth and says he is happy with what he has, whereas Lady Macbeth uses emotional blackmail and claims she knows what he is exactly going to do. She also attacks his manhood, which turns him to her side, and she totally convinces him by twisting and manipulating everything. Finally they decide that they will do it but Macbeth is not totally on the good or evil side. The audience therefore will not know whether he will do the treasonous crime or not. Shakespeare leaves it in the balance: will he or wont he? This adds to the dramatic tension of the play, and leaves the audience as undecided as Macbeth himself.