ISC Class 12 Macbeth – Characterisation by Shakespeare
Macbeth is a brave soldier, a cousin of King Duncan of Scotland. He is also a brave ambitious General and a man of action. He suppresses the revolt of the treacherous Macdonwald, the Thane of Cawdor and the King of Norway. Shakespeare concentrates on Macbeth’s courage in order to contrasting later with his terror and anguish. He is given many epithet like Valour’s minion’, “Bellona’s bridegroom’ and the King, himself calls him a ‘peerless kinsman’.
He is the first character introduced in the play and at the end of the play he is referred to as the dead butcher by Malcolm. All actions in the play revolve around him, so the play after him. His first engagement in the battle is represented as having been won by his personal powers and generalship.
In Act 1 Scene 2, for example both the sergeant and Duncan praise Macbeth for his courage stressing that he carved out his passage” until he was face to face with the enemy General. He is courageous during the new threat posed by the army of the rebel forces reinforced with terrible numbers by the King of Norway, assisted by the most disloyal traitor, The Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth accepts her challenge.
According to his wife, Macbeth is full of milk of human kindness’ and she sets on to attack this aspect of his character. There is evil within him as he echoes the words of the witches. So fair and foul a day, I have never seen. He is a valiant but he fights Luke a frenzied man. This evil in him comes to the fore with every advance he makes in his bloody career. Halfway, through the play, he gains the title of “tyrant” and “butcher”.
Ambition is the key note of character. He is too ambitious to get the kingship for himself as well as for his progeny. The inordinate ambition turns him from a noble hero to a usurper and murderer of the worst kind. Lady Macbeth uses psychology to tempt her husband to kill Duncan; she dares him to do all that may become a man. Macbeth emerges victorious in the battle. Whenever the prospect of action appears, Macbeth’s courage never fails him. Even after his degradation, he is fears. During the apparition of a bloody child he says,
Then live, Macduff, what need I fear of thee?
But yet I’ll make assurance double sure
And take a bond of fate; thou shalt not live
And sleep in spite of thunder
Macbeth shows his courage till the end against all odds.
They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly
But bear-like I must fight the course
Macbeth’s ambition, in collusion with other circumstances brings about his ruin. Lady Macbeth is aware of her husband’s ambitious nature.
Thou would be great,
Art flot without ambition, but without
Tite illness should attend it.
His ambition is stimulated by circumstances – by his remarkable success and by being conscious of her own powers. The witches choose Macbeth to be the victim of their deceit because of the over whelming ambition in him. His reaction to their prophecies. his rapt behaviour, his brooding over the prophecy leading to the thought of murdering Duncan are prompted by ambition.
His vaulting ambition turns him into a tyrant. He grows bold and bloody. He dies not hesitate to kill the innocent wife and children of Macduff. Macbeth’s passion for power is so strong that no inward misery could persuade him to relinquish the fruits of crime, or to advance from remorse to repentance.
There is another side to the witches prophecy. According to them Banquo would father a dynasty of kings. Macbeth could not bear this. He decodes to have Banquo and Fleance murdered. But as luck would have it Fleance escapes. The ambition to be the founder of a dynasty of kings goods him to hurry along the career of crime. The nobles and the people are antagonised. Ultimately he meets his doom at the hands of Macduff.
Macbeth is endowed with the gift of imagination which often torments him with honid images. His imagination, controlled neither by moral considerations nor by education made him a ready victim to the tempting voices of superstitions. His poetic imagination makes him have hallucinations. It makes him see the dagger and the ghost. of Banquo. It also tells him that he would sleep no more.
His imagination is easily thrilled by the unknown and the supernatural. What terrifies him is always the image of his guilty heart or bloody deed. The imagination is his finest part. It is his imagination which makes visualise his guilt. It is believed that neither his ambition nor the prophecy of the witches would have made Macbeth critics the murder without the chastisement of his wife’s tongue. Macbeth’s inner suffering continues to be prompted by his fertile imagination throughout the play. In his soliloquy Act II. Scene 2 with his hands that have killed Duncan he says —
No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine
Making the green one red.
It was his superstition that led him to believe in the promises of the apparitions. He was convinced that he was invincible because no man born of woman would eliminate him. Furthermore, he would not be defeated until the Birnam Wood would come to Dunsinane. However, the event proved how equivocal and misleading the prediction of the witches were.
Macbeth confided in his wife. He shared his joys with her — sent her a letter describing the witches’ prophesies. Accepts her guidance and advice and consulted concerning his plans. Even he keeps to himself when planning the murder of Banquo and Fleance so that she will not have to share the strain. His nobility is visible in his character throughout the play.
Though he yields to the evil forces his submission to them takes place always after a conflict with his conscience. After murdering Duncan, he is overwhelmed by fear of the consequences of the murder; he cannot return to the place of murder;
I’ll go no more
I am afraid to think what I have done
Look on’t again I dare not.
Despite his being a brave, heroic soldier, Macbeth is weak of will and is easily carried away by the suggestions and persuasion of others, and acts against his own better judgment. He suffers from a sense of insecurity and fear of retaliation. He is afraid of Banquo for he knows his secret. So Banquo is murdered. But thr murder brings him no peace. Macduff is still alive, but out of his reach. So he wreaks vengeance on his wife and child. Still there is no sleep, no peace. He thinks that he is still ‘young in deed’ and so his fears are the initial fears of a novice.
Macbeth follows the advice of the witches and travelsthe bloody path of crime. He descends lower and lower into the very depths of hell. He becomes a tyrant. But he fights like a hero and dies like a soldier. He fights like a cornered animal. He knows that his life is useless and so worth living.
Actually his life became pointless when he murdered Duncan, when he ceased Tobe a loyal subject. In the banquet scene, Macbeth is led by terror caused by his guilty conscience. The sight of Banquo’s ghost blows away caution from Macbeth and reveals the crimes he has committed. He feels that a friendless man like him who has no honour or love is like a dead leaf. This deep pessimism is revealed when he is told of his wife’s death.
Rather than passively waiting to die. Macbeth had cut off traitor’s head. at the end, his own head is cut off as a symbol that evil has been destroyed.
Lady Macbeth has been referred to as the fourth witch and she is called the fiend-like Queen by Malcolm. She is the moving force behind Macbeth’s deeds. She chastised Macbeth by the valour of her tongue. overcomes his hesitation and drives him to commit the murder to enable him to become the king. i.e the throne of Scotland. She is ruthless, shows iron will to overcome all the obstacles in the way. Had she not been like this. Duncan would never have been murdered.
When Lady Macbeth makes her first appearance in the play. she is seen reading the letter from her husband. In the letter he calls her as his dearest partner of greatness. and informs her of his success in the battle, the prediction of the witches and their partial fulfillment. She is aware of his weaknesses and uses her strong will to keep him from slipping away from the course he has planned for himself.
Hie thee hither
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear.
And chastise with the valour of my longue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
To have thee crown’d withal
Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband with remarkable effectiveness overriding all his objections when he hesitates to murder, she repeatedly questions his manhood util he feels that he must commit murder to prove himself. Lady Macbeth remarkable strength of will persists through the murder of the king – it is she who steadies her husband’s nerves immediately after the crime has been perpetrated. She calls upon the superior powers to unsex her, to take away all womanly nature and to fill her from top to bottom with direct cruelty. She seems to be a monster. But as the action develops, it becomes clear that in reality she is a woman with usual feminine weaknesses.
Afterwards, however, Lady Macbeth begins a slow slide into madness – just as ambition affects her more strongly than Macbeth before the crime, so does guilt plague her more strongly afterwards. By the close of the play, she has been reduced to sleepwalking through the castle, desperately trying to wash away an invisible bloodstain.
In spite of her apparent cruel nature, Lady Macbeth has many feminine qualities. She is a devoted wife and a gracious hostess. As a mother she knows how tender ’tis to love the baby that milked her. She is a loving wife. Her motive for the crime was her love for her husband whom she would like to get the throne so that he might achieve his highest ambition. Macbeth is aware of her feminine qualities. So in Act III, Scene 2, he does not disclose to her his plans to murder Banquo and Fleance. He tells her.
Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck. Her fainting spell and the sleep-walking scene bear ample witness to her feminine qualities. Lady Macbeth shows her will power in planning and execution of the scheme to make her husband thr king. With the strength of her will, she influences her husband, guides his action and helps him out of difficult situations. Her will power is shown during her first appearance in the play, when she reacts to her husband’s letter. Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be What thou art promis’d She does not have the brooding imagination like that of Macbeth.
She is determined for the action. She urges Macbeth to murder Duncan with a singleness of purpose. She takes upon herself the direction of affairs, and arranges all the details of the murder. She makes the grooms drunk and suggests that the crime must be ascribed to them.
She tells her husband to was the blood off his hands and then, seeing he has brought out the daggers, she herself takes them back to the chamber. When she returns to hear the knocking at the gate, she has the presence of mind. She decides that they must put on their night clothes so that it will seem that they have been in bed;
She tells him :
Get on your night-gown, lest occasion calls us.
And show us to be watchers – Be not lost
So poorly in your thoughts …………..
Lady Macbeth is very resourceful in a crisis situation. Unlike her husband, she does not depend on her imagination but shows her presence of mind to solve a problem. Lady Macbeth has a leading role in the play. After the murder, she recedes to the background. She has behaved in an unnatural way which stifled her conscience and strained her nerves.
She had no emotional relief by expressing outwardly her remorse. In the sleep-walking scene, her mind cannot bear the strain of revealing her true which she had tried to conceal. Disillusionment and despair prey upon her more. Lady Macbeth’s iron will and ruthless determination make her look fiendish.
She instigated her husband to kill the old and gentle king who was their ends. Banquo is basically jonest, while guest for the night. But she also has femininity and, therefore, she takes wines to make herself bold. She succeeds in repressing her womanliness only for some time but when the deed has been done, she gradually breaks down and ultimately becomes pathetic in the sleep-walking scene.
Lady Macbeth has no imagination, therefore she neither understands her husband’s nature nor the consequences of the crime. As soon as the hideousness of their crime comes to her, she begins to sink. She is disillusioned and so full of despair. She becomes a broken and frustrated woman. At the close of the play, we learn that she has probably committed suicide. The strain of keeping up appearances has been too much for her. Lady Macbeth is the most fascinating female character of Shakespeare.
Banquo is a thane in Duncan’s army, and at first a friend of Macbeth. Banquo, like Macbeth, is a brave general and heroic general and heroic warrior. Duncan considers both of them equally worthy of love and regard. But here the similarity ends. Banquo is basically honest, whole there is a germ of evil in Macbeth. He is not startled when it is predicted that his sons will be the future kings of Scotland. He is far more suspicious of the witches than Macbeth is.
Banquo is ambitious but dies not adopt crooked means to realise his ambition. He is essentially a noble man but the prophecy of the witches affects him to corrupt his nature. He knows of the prophecy, suspects Macbeth but does not disclose the secret.
Rather, he accepts Macbeth’s accession, goes to Scone for his coronation and even accepts the theory that the princes have murdered their father. This is so because he has yielded to evil. He fears that Macbeth has “played most foully” for the throne, but still does not speak a word against him.
In Act III murderers kill Banquo at Macbeth’s command and try to kill his young son Fleance, who manages to get away. Soon after his death Banquo redeem his oath. He is also a frank, honest, straightforward man. However his dying words “oh slave! are a condemnation of Macbeth as he realises in his last moment that he has been betrayed by his friend.
As he does, he calls his son, running away from the murderers, to avenge his murder. Banquo throughout the play was well known for his friendship with Macbeth rather than his courageous efforts during the battle he had won alongside Macbeth.
Macduff is a loyal Thane in Duncan’s service (Thane of Fife) and the one not born of woman. Unlike the treasonous Macbeth, Macduff is completely loyal to Duncan and his son Malcolm. He is the most selfless person who is known for his nobility, loyalty and patriotism. He is respected among his countrymen and remains the good Macduff through out the action of the play.
He is hated and feared by Macbeth because Macbeth is aware of his superior nobility and high morality. He suspects Macbeth from the very beginning and so disobeys his command to be present at Scone. He does not attend the banquet hosted by the tyrant.
His behavior is is in sharp contrast to that of Banquo. When Macbeth kills Duncan’s chamberlains. Macduff instinctively begins to suspect foul play and so sternly asks him: Wherefore did you so? Macbeth is annoyed with him and his doubts and fears are confirmed when the witches tell him
Beware The Thaize of Fife
Macduff is loyal and patriotic. When he is convinced of Macbeth’s treachery, he sets himself up as an uncompromising enemy to the usurper. Macduff flees to England not out of fear but to help the rightful king of Scotland to free his country of tyranny, leaving his family at the mercy of Macbeth.
He had never imagined that Macbeth would be so cruel to butcher even innocent women and children. This calamity along with his sense of patriotism fires him with a desire for revenge. He convinces Malcolm of his loyalty by the sincerity of his grief when he feels he can no longer condone Malcolm’s confession of faults. Malcolm cannot help being touched by the sincerity with which Macduff expresses his love for his country.
Macduff is a man of action. His secret departure to England and his preoccupation with enlisting aid for the purpose of overthrowing Macbeth points to the immense store of energy in him. Fie is a man of few words. He is shocked and stunned at the news of the mass murder. The reader feels for him deeply. Macduff gives the order for battle. He fights with Macbeth and becomes the most telling cause for the latter’s despair. when he meets Macbeth on the field of battle, he wastes no time in giving empty threats:
I have no words. My voice is in my sword; thou bloodied villain Than terms can give thee out. His actions have origin in his emotions. His emotional nature does not allow him to lose his humanity. In Act IV scene 3, when he is told of the massacre of his wife and children, deep grief interrupts his desire for revenge and reveals a tenderness beneath his violence. It is throug’ him that poetic justice has been meted out to the hero – turned villain.
Banquo keeps his suspicion of Macbeth to himself while Macduff expresses his suspicion and becomes an enemy of Macbeth. Banquo attended the coronation ceremony and the banquet given by Macbeth. Macduff was conspicuous by his absence at both the functions. His absence at banquet made Macbeth turn his anger directly upon Macduff. Banquo is passive against Macbeth’s crimes and is indirectly disloyal to Dunan. Macduff remains loyal to his king and his heirs.
Macduff explains the nature of his birth; a Caesarean operation. This destroys Macbeth’s last hope. Macduff takes over the role played by Macbeth at the start of the play, when he had cut off Macdonwald’s head. He is the trusted man of action. It is through him that poetic justice has been meted out to Macbeth. His intense burning patriotism is above all reproach.
His country is a greater stake to him than his wife and children whom he loves nonetheless as much as anybody can love his wife and children. He loved to see his country free again and his share in the liberation of his country is not an inconsiderable one, for he brings Malcolm from England and kills Macbeth with his own hands, having thus the satisfaction of avenging his family.
Duncan is a dignified, gentle and benevolent king. He is the father of two youthful sons Malcolm and Donalbain, and the victim of well-plotted regicide in a power grab by his trusted captain Macbeth. Macbeth is aware of Duncan’s virtues and understands the enmity of his proposed murder of him :
Hath born his facuties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angles, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking off.
He is always ready to recognise merit in others and reward those who have shown great courage and heroism in winning the battle against the rebels. Duncan praises Macbeth highly and rewards him with the thaneship of Cawdor. He further shows his appreciation of his services by becoming his guest for the night. Duncan has the qualities of a good king.
He has holiness, generosity and sense of justice. He orders the execution of the Thane of Cawdor for his treachery and rewards Macbeth by declaring him to be the new Thane of Cawdor. It is saintly which makes his murder so very heinous and revolting. Duncan keeps his royal dignity and behaves like an ideal guest in Macbeth’s castle.
Give me your hand-
Conducted to mine host; we love him highly
And shall continue our graces towards him,
By your leave, hostess
Duncan’s concern for his people is seen in his first appearance in the play. The reports of his general’s valour do not make him blind to the needs of the bleeding captain. So he commands; Go, get him surgeons,
Dunan is generously in showering praise and rewarding people. He recognises merit in others and rewards the generals who have shown great courage in putting down the revolt of Macdonwald, and in repelling the attack of the king of Norway. Duncan’s welcome to Macbeth and Banquo in Act I, Scene 4, shows his generosity and his awareness of royal responsibility. His decision visit castle as a guest is a proof of his genuine appreciation for Macbeth.
The importance of royal blood that is the inheritance of the divine right to rule, is emphasized when in the final scene, Duncan’s son Malcolm takes the title of king with the words, by the grace of God/ we will perform.
Malcolm is the legal heir to the throne of Scotland. Being practical, he can make quick decisions. It is he who decides that he and his younger brother Donalbain should separate after their father’s murder. It is a wise decision. Malcolm is realistic which is obvious in his handling of Macduff.
He is not to be easily deceived. Then he appears as a shrewd young man when he gently but persistently tries to convert Macduff’s grief into positive revenge. In the beginning of the play Duncan nominated him as his successor.
This fact hastened the resolve of Macbeth to get rid of Duncan and occupy his throne. Malcolm is cautious and practical. When his father is murdered, he is quick to suspect the murderer, and at once decides on leaving for England. He knows fully well that he as well as his brother will share the fate of their father, if they waste a minute in Macbeth’s residence.
This murderous shaft that’s shot
Hath not yet lighted; and our safest way
Is to avoid the aim
If anything, Malcolm is particularly shrewd and intelligent; so he is able to escape all the wiles of Macbeth, for it appears that Macbeth’s custody he declares to Macduff;
By many of these trains hath sought to win me
Into his power, and modest wisdom plucks me From over-credulous haste Here is the reason why he cannot at first trust Macduff, and why he tries him by self-disparagement, but at last Macduff ‘s passionate wail for the fate of his country wins his confidence and it is then only that he declares that he has none of the vices which a little while ago he has imputed to himself.
Natural goodness alone is not sufficient for a king: he must be realistic. In his handling of Macduff Malcolm shows himself as a realist. Malcolm is not really deceived. He uses his resourcefulness. When, for the good of Scotland, he gently but persistently tries to convert Macduff’s grief into positive revenge, we see Malcolm as a wise, able and shrewd young man.
Malcolm is an intelligent soldier. He orders his soldiers to camouflage themselves with the boughs from Birnam Wood; he thereby fulfils the prophecy and so shakes Macbeth’s confidence in the witches. Malcolm forms a contrast to his father who has been trustful and unsuspecting.
Malcolm is so suspicious that he distrust Macduff and only satisfies himself of the noble Thane’s loyalty after having spoken of his own detracting in detail. Malcolm symbolises basic goodness in man. His religious spirit spirit helps him to keep away from the superstition in the play. While talking to Macduff in Act IV, Scene 3, he describes his religious fervor.
After the victory is won, Malcolm confers new honours on his thanes and kinsmen, and promises to recall those who are in exile and bring to book that accomplices of Macbeth. He has been portrayed as an ideal king in contrast to the tyrannical Macbeth. His coronation restores peace and legitimate kingship to Scotland. His last words in the play show yhe destruction of evil and disorder, and restoration of order, harmony and peace by young and rightful king of the country.
Ross And Angus
Ross and Angus are minor characters. They are known as chorus or mechanical characters, who give general information or comment or things in the play. It is through their comments that the audience comes to know the impact of the tyranny of Macbeth on the people of Scotland.
We know through them that Macbeth is hated, the people have no love for him and in case of Malcolm’s return they would gladly welcome him. They are two honest Thanes of Scotland. They create a larger life of Scotland. It is through their comments that we learn of Macbeth’s tyranny and it’s impact on the common people.
They make their appearance at the beginning and end of the play. They bring the news of victory to Duncan which has been won by Macbeth and they also convey the news to to Macbeth that Duncan has conferred the title of the Thane of Cawdor upon him. They also accompany Duncan to Inverness.
Ross gives in his talk with the oldman, an account of the portents which were witnessed during the night of Duncan’s murder. His account and the oldman’s remarks contribute to the atmosphere of terror in the play. It is Ross again who informs Malcolm and Macduff of the distressing conditions prevailing in Scotland.
He also breaks to Macduff the painful news of the slaughter of his family under Macbeth’s orders. This news makes Macduff more determined to avenge himself upon that man. It also Ross who breaks to Old Siward the tragic news of the death of his son in the battlefield.