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Free Study Guide-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Booknotes Summary
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTERS

The Protagonist, Macbeth

Macbeth is a classic tragic figure brought to ruin by his own greed, guilt, and fear. Shakespeare intensifies Macbeth's tragic nature by showing him to be a valiant hero in the beginning of the play. He is a courageous warrior and one of King Duncan's best generals. In the second scene of the play, Macbeth has just won his most important battle and saved Scotland from the Norwegian King. To honor his bravery, King Duncan gives Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor. This is one of the first steps to Macbeth's undoing, for he longs to be more than just a thane. His innate greed is first inflamed by three wicked witches who prophesy to Macbeth that he will become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland. When the first prophecy comes to pass, Macbeth immediately begins to long for greater power. He realizes that in order to seize the throne from the king, he will have to murder him. Being a basically kind man, he is horrified at his own thoughts and decides murder is beyond his capability. He decides to let fate take its course, and if he is meant to be king, it will happen. But the seed of greed has been planted, and Macbeth is a rash man.


In the fifth scene of the play, another side of the early Macbeth is developed. He is shown to be a loving husband who values his wife and calls her " his dearest partner in greatness," sharing what he is with her. They are obviously close, for he immediately writes a letter to Lady Macbeth and tells her about the prophecies of the three witches, for he wants to please her and give information about "what greatness is promised thee." It is Lady Macbeth who further inflames Macbeth's greed that was planted by the three evil witches. As soon as she reads Macbeth's letter, she decides King Duncan must be killed so her husband can become king and she can become queen. There is no hesitation or indecision about her lust for power. Her only fear is that Macbeth is "too full of the milk of human kindness" to plan a murder. Therefore, she will take matters into her own hands and manipulate her husband into acquiescence. She tells Macbeth that immediate action should be taken, for "the future is in the instant." She carefully lays the plans for her husband to murder Duncan on the very same night, as the king sleeps in their castle. Trusting the ability and judgment of his wife, Macbeth consents with some reluctance.

Macbeth struggles with his agreement to murder Duncan, for Macbeth sees the good in people, and Duncan is a worthy and humble king; Duncan is also a kinsman and a guest in his castle. Macbeth, who can be truthful with himself early in the play, acknowledges that it is only "vaulting ambition" that makes him consider the vile deed. As his wife suspected, he is really too kind by nature to carry through with murderous plans. He tells Lady Macbeth, "We will proceed no further in this business." She will not listen to her husband, but strikes out at his strong sense of vanity and pride in his manliness and calls him a fearful coward, in sharp contrast to the brave warrior he believes himself to be. Then a new trait of Macbeth, that haunts him through the rest of the play, is depicted. He is truly a fearful man: not afraid of murdering (he has murdered many on the battlefield), but afraid of being caught. The manipulative Lady Macbeth, who is more self- confident than her husband, believes they will not fail and convinces Macbeth that the plan must be completed. Macbeth is obviously not as strong-willed as his wife.

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