Some Tricky Questions from SHAKESPEARE'S "MACBETH"

Macbeth's psychological state : Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a study of the evil that is in every human heart, and of one man’s downfall as he willfully gives way to its temptations. To answer such tricky question,  Shakespeare depicts the tragedy of a man torn between an amoral will and a powerfully moral intellect.Returning from battle, Macbeth is greeted by three witches, who tell him that he will one day become king. As a reward for his military successes, he then receives the title of Thane of Cawdor from King Duncan, confirming part of the witches’ prophecy. Once Macbeth arrives back at his estate, Lady Macbeth spurs her husband’s ambition forward, and together they hatch a plan to kill the king and thereby hasten Macbeth’s accession to the throne. In Act 2, Scene ii, Lady Macbeth is waiting while her husband carries out the murder. When he enters in disarray, the murder weapons still in his bloodstained hands, she takes it upon herself to frame Duncan’s grooms for the killing, and to ensure that her husband’s guilt is concealed. Again, Macbeth knows his actions are wrong but enacts his fearful deeds anyway, led on in part by the excitement of his own wrongdoing.

"Thou wouldst be great;
    Art not without ambition, but without
    The illness should attend it,"
In interpreting Macbeth's murder of Duncan, there have been psychoanalytic interpretations that include emasculation, incestuous, or even  Oedipal fears. Certainly, the spirits that seem to make Macbeth potent,  actually make him impotent, according to critic Copp Eli Kahn.  This  paradoxical motif runs the entirety of "Macbeth," and is evident in Macbeth's  defeat of Macdonwald and his murder of Duncan as perverting the natural order  of inheritance.

"There's no art / To find the mind's construction in the face.": Shakespeare must have conceived of Macbeth as a personality caught up between the old and the new world-views and ethos—the conventional one and the Renaissance one. The former defined man’s place on earth in terms of the biblical world-view presented in the first chapter of the Bible Genesis, which necessarily linked it to the concept of Great Chain of Being, and accordingly dictated the codes of conduct. The later yet to come out fully, on the other, was trying to supplant the old ones with the new and pseudo-scientific one, which was slowly but surely encouraging man to think beyond the traditional framework towards the direction of fullest use of the human potentials. The audience/readers feel sympathetic to Macbeth, not because he possesses the high stature of a tragic hero described by Aristotle. They understand that he is a villain and criminal, but at the same time they also share his “vaulting ambition”, which collides head-on with the ethical parameters in the play. 

Sustained Evil and Violence-is balanced by its study of the mind of its main character Macbeth: The play has been presented not only against this backdrop, but also against another situation, which much attention has not been paid to. Actually the play starts at the crucial juncture of Scottish history: the king Duncan has grown old and feeble and sensing this, the rebels and the king of Norway the kingdom attacked. Macbeth along with others must have been conscious of this opportunity as ambitious persons always look forward to. Much has been said and written about his association with the Witches, and even if we ignore them, we hear an echo of the Witches’ words from him on his first appearance on the stage:

“So foul and fair day I have never seen”
We may presume that the grand success in the battles with Duncan’s enemy whetted his ambition before his actual meeting with the Witches. And when he learns from them that “”, he gets greatly moved. His excitement at the “strange intelligence” from the Witches begins to transform into a potent ambition very soon at the fulfilment of the two prophecies as he is greeted by Ross:
“Glamis, and thane of Cawdor!
The Greatest is behind.”
Right from this moment Macbeth begins to feel a split in his personality created by the great pulls of morality on the one hand, and terrible anticipation of the royal reality:
“...why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair...”
Of course, Macbeth demonstrates his good sense when he comments on the prospect of his kingship:
“...Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.”

Here it must be pointed out that the king does not act prudently in throwing out the proposal of holding communal feast at Macbeth’s castle in such a fluid condition in which a faithful man like the Thane of Cawdor betrayed his trust. This creates an unthinkable opportunity, which Macbeth must have thought a satanic one, if not providential, to seize upon, and his ambition begins to take the shape of a potent plan even before the hot-headed intervention of Lady Macbeth. In securing the Scottish throne, Macbeth deadens his moral intelligence to the point where he becomes capable of increasingly murderous  behavior, although he never becomes the monster the moral world sees. At all times he feels the pull of his humanity. Yet for Macbeth there is no redemption, only the sharp descent into a bleak pessimism.

Conclusion: Moral Effects:  As Macbeth gets alienated from nature and faces the ordeal of the absence of divine grace, he does not learns from the prick of conscience. On the contrary he goes on to affirm his authority in a wrong way, and here again his authority gets snubbed by the intervention of Banquo’s ghost. It must be pointed out here that right from the Banquet Scene, Lady Macbeth’s powers also begin disintegrate and she cannot provide the same amount of support. However, while Lady Macbeth slowly shrinks from the external reality and recoils in her own personality, the opposite happens with Macbeth, who undergoes a total transformation of personality and becomes more and more dependent on the Witches. He becomes a tyrannical, treacherous and suspicious ruler. He emerges as a confirmed villain when he gets the wife and the child of Macduff killed. All these killings cannot be ascribed to the impact of the prophecies of the Witches.

REF:1. Shakespearean Tragedy, by A. C. Bradley

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