ISC Class 12 Macbeth – Introduction to William Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s Life (1564-1616)
William Shakespeare was an English playwright, poet and actor. He is widely recognized as the greatest writer in the English language and the world greatest pre-eminent dramatist. He is called England’s national poet and the Bard of Avon Shakespeare was a prolific writer during the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages of British theatre (sometimes called the English Renaissance or the Early Modern Period) Shakespeare’s plays are his most enduring legacy but they are not all he wrote. Shakespeare’s poems also remain popular to this day.
His success as a playwright seems to have been almost phenomenal; by 1592 he was already regarded with envy by the older playwrights who had the advantage of a university education. Shakespeare, however, forged blithely a head, and acquired a patron, the Earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated some of his most popular poems, achieving a reputation reputation both as an actor and a playwright and becoming a part owner of Globe and Blackfriars theaters. Sharing the social and economic aspirations of his class, he hobnobbed with nobility, got himself a coat of arms, acquired a real estate in London, and bought the largest house in Stratford, where he settled down to a gentleman’s life in 1611.
Chart of Shakespeare’s Works:
An Introduction to the Play – Macbeth
Macbeth : A Play for the king
When Elizabeth I of England was dying, childless, she named James VI of Scotland as her successor. He became James I of England. In August 1606, while James was entertaining some people, Macbeth was staged for them. James knew the story because it was about his ancestors, Banquet and Fleance.
This story was in ‘The History of Scotland’ by Holinshed, but this play is much more than a dramatic re-writing of the historical facts. Shakespeare made many changes. In the true story, Banquet was Macbeth’s accomplice in the regicide; but since it would be tactless to suggest that James descended from such an ancestor. Shakespeare’s Banquo is innocent. James also believed that he had inherited the power of healing that Edward the Confessor possessed.
Therefore, to please him, Shakespeare included the description of this power in his play. Another inclusion was witchcraft because James was interested in it, too. But there is more to ‘Macbeth’ than this. There is a moral lesson in it. Murdering a king was considered to be the greatest of all crimes because kings were appointed by God, to rule as His deputies.
So rebellion against a king was rebellion against God. By murdering Duncan, Macbeth gains his crown; but he loses love, friendship, respect and his life. He is rightly punished. Thus, on one level, it is a murder story and on another level, it teaches us that crime does not pay.
Let us look at the character of Macbeth. Except for his inordinate ambition, he is noble in nature. Despite having full knowledge of right and wrong, he murders Duncan. Although he becomes a hardened criminal, yet he suffers from fears, created by himself.
There is another level-that is of rich poetry. The language is meaningful, picturesque and varied. When Macbeth says, that his blood-smeared hands will make “the multitudinous seas incarnadine” we get a picture of vastness. The two words are more Latin than English. Shakespeare used ghem first and showed his skill in the use of language.
Abridgement of Macbeth:
When Duncan the Meeknreigned king of Scotland, there lived a great thane, or lord, called Macbeth. This Macbeth was a near kinsman to the king, and in great esteem at court for his valour and conduct in the wars ; an example of which he had lately given, in defeating a rebel army assisted by the troops of Norway in terrible numbers.
The two Scottish generals, Macbeth and Banquo, returning victorious from his great battle, their way lay over a blasted health, where they were stopped by the strange appearance by three figures like women, except that they beards, and their withered skins and wild attire made them look nor like any earthly creatures. Macbeth first addressed them, when they seemingly offended, laid each one hervchoppy finger upon her skinnyblips, in token of silence; and the first of them saluted Macbeth with the title of thane of Glamis.
The general was not a little startled to find himself known by such creatures; but how much more, when the second of them followed up that salute by giving him the title of thane of Cawdor, to which honour he had no pretensions; and again the third bid him ‘All hail! King that shalt be hereafter! ’ Such a prophetic greeting might well amaze him, who knew that while the king’s sins lived he could not hope to succeed to the throne.
Then turning to Banquo, they pronounced him, in a sort of ridding terms, to be lesser than Macbeth and greater! Not so happy, but much happier! And prophesied that though he should never reign, yet his sons after him should be kings in Scotland. They then turned into air and vanished; by which the generals knew them to be the weird sisters, or witches.
While they stood pondering on the strangeness of the adventure, there arrived certain messengers from the king, who were empowered by him to confer upon Macbeth the dignity of thane of Cawdor; an event so miraculously corresponding with the prediction of the witches astonished Macbeth, and he stood wrapped in amazement, unable to make reply to the messengers; and in that point of time swelling hopes arose in his mind that the prediction of the third witch might in like manner have its accomplishment, and that he should one day reign king in Scotland.
Turning to Banquo, he said; ‘Do you not hope that your children shall be kings, when what the witches promised to me has so wonderfully come to pass?’ ‘That hope’, answered the general, ‘might enkindle you to aim at the throne; but often times these ministers of darkness tell us truths in little things, to betray us into deeds of greatest consequence. But the wicked suggestions of the witches had sunk too deep into the industry of Macbeth to allow him to attend to the warnings of the good Banquo. From that time he bent all his thoughts how to compass the throne of Scotland.
Macbeth had a wife, to whom he communicated the strange prediction of the weird sisters, and it’s partial accomplishments. She was a bad, ambitious woman, and so as her husband and herself could arrive at greatness, she cared not much by what means. She purred on the reluctant purpose of Macbeth, who who felt compunction at the thoughts of blood, and did not cease to represent the murder of the king as a step absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of the flattering prophecy.
It happened at this time that the king, who out of his royal condescension would oftentimes visit his principal nobility upon gracious terms, came to Macbeth’s house, attended by his two sons, Malcolm, and Donalbain, and a numerous train of thanks and attendants, the more to honour Macbeth for the triumphal success of his wars.
The castle of Macbeth was pleasantly situated, and the air about it was sweet and wholesome, which appeared by the nests which the martlet, or swallow, had built under all the jutting friezes and buttresses of the building, wherever it found a place of advantage; for where those birds most breed and haunt, the air is observed to be delicate.
The king entered well-pleased with the place, and not less so with the attentions and respect of his honoured hostess, lady Macbeth, who had the art of covering treacherous purposes with smes; and could look like the innocent flower, while she was indeed the serpent under it.
The king being tired with his journey, went early to bed, and in his state-room two grooms of his chamber (as was the custom) slept beside him. He had been unusually pleased with his reception, and had made presents before he retired to his principal officers; and among the rest, had sent a rich diamond to lady Macbeth, greeting her by the name of his most kind hostess.
Now was the middle of night, when over half the world nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse men’s minds asleep, and none but the wolf and the murderer is abroad. This was the time when Lady Macbeth waked to plot the murder of the king.
She would not have undertaken a deed so abhorrent to her sex, but that she feared her husband’s nature, that it was too full of the milk of human kindness, to do a contrived murder. She knew him to be ambitious, but withal to be scrupulous, and not yet prepared for that height of crime which commonly in the end accompanies inordinate ambition.
She had won him to consent to the murder, but she doubted his resolution; and she feared that the natural tenderness of his disposition (more humane than her own) would come between, and defeat the purpose. So with her own hands armed with a dagger, she approached the king’s bed; having take care to ply the grooms of his chamber so with wine, that they slept antoxicated, and careless of their charge. There lay Duncan in a sound sleep after the fatigues of his journey; and as she viewed him earnestly, there was something in his face, as he slept, which resembled her own father; and she had not the courage to proceed.
She returned to confer with her husband. His resolution had begun to stagger. He considered that there were strong reasons against the deed. In the first place, he was not only a subject, but a near kinsman to the king; and he had been his host and entertainer that day, whose duty, by he laws of hospitality, it was to shut the door against his murderers, not bear the knife himself. Then he considered how just and merciful a king this Duncan had been, how clear of offence to his subjects, how loving to his nobility, and in particular to him; that such kings are the peculiar care of Heaven, and their subjects doubly bound to revenge then- deaths.
Besides, by the favors of the king, Macbeth stood high in the opinion of all sorts of men, and how would those honours be stained by the reputation of so foul amurder! In these conflicts of the mind lady Macbeth found her husband in lining to the better part, and resolving to proceed no further.
But she being a woman not easily shaken from her evil purpose, began to pour in at his earswords which infused a portion of her own spirit into his mind, assigning reason upon reason why he should not shrink from what he had undertaken, how easy the deed was, how soon it would be over; and how the action of one short night would give to all nights and days to come sovereign sway and Royalton!
Then she threw contempt on his change of purpose, and accused of fickleness and cowardice; and declared that she had given such, and knew how tender it was to love the baby that milked her; but she would, while it was smiling in her face, have plucked it from her breast, and dashed it’s brains out, if she had so sworn to do it, as he had sworn to perform that murder. Then she added, how practicable it was to lay the guilt of the deed upon the drunken sleepy groom. And with the valour of her tongue she so chastised his sluggish resolutions, that he once more summoned up courage to the bloody business.
So, taking the dagger in his hand, he softly stole in the dark to the room when Duncan lay; and as he went, he thought he saw another dagger in the air, with the handle towards him, and on thr blade and the point of it drops of blood; but when he tried to grasp at it, it was nothing but air, a mere phantasm proceeding from his own hot and oppressed brain and the business he had in hand.
Getting rid of this fear, he entered the king’s room, whom he despatched with one stroke of his dagger. Just as he had done the murder, one of the grooms, who slept in the chamber, laughed in his sleep, and the other cried ‘Murder,’ which woke them both, but they said a short prayer, one of them said; “God bless us’! and the other answered ‘Amen’; and addtessed themselves to sleep again. Macbeth, who stood listening to them, tried to say “Amen’, when the fellow said ‘God bless us”! but, though he had most need of a blessing, the word stuck in his throat, and he could not pronounce it.
Again he thought he heard a voice which cried; ‘Sleep no more: Macbeth doth murder sleep, the innocent sleep, that nourishes life’. Still it cried ‘Sleep no more’, to all the house. ‘Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.
With such horrible imaginations Macbeth returned to his listening wife, who began to think he had failed of his purpose, and that the deed was somehow frustrated. He came in so distracted a state, that she reproached him with his want of firmness, and sent him to wash his hands of the blood which stained them, while she took the dagger, with purpose to stain the cheeks of the grooms with blood, to make it seem their guilt.
Morning came, and with it the discovery of the murder, which could not be concealed; and though Macbeth and his lady made great show of grief, and the proofs against the grooms (the dagger being produced against them and their faces smeared with blood) were sufficiently strong, yet the entire suspicion fell upon Macbeth, whose inducements to such a deed were adopteduch more forcible than such poor silly grooms could be supposed to have; and Dunan’s two sons fled.
Malcolm, the eldest, sought for refuge in the English Court; and the youngest, Donalbain, made his escape to Ireland. The king’s sons, who should have succeeded him, having thus vacated the throne, Macbeth as next heir was crowned king, and thus the prediction of the weird sisters was literally accomplished.
Though placed so high, Macbeth and his queen could not forget the prophecy of the weird sisters, that, though Macbeth should be the king, yet nor his children, but the children of Banquo, should be kings after him. The thought of this, and that they had defiled their hands with blood, and done so great crimes, only to place the posterity of Banquo upon the throne, so ranked with them, that they determined to put to death both Banquo and his son, 5o make void the predictions of the weird sisters, which in their own case had been so remarkably brought to pass.
For this purpose they made a great supper, to which they invited all the chief Thanes; and among the rest, with marks of particular respect, Banquo and his son Fleance were invited. The way by which Banquo was to pass to the palace at night was beset by murderers appointed by Macbeth, who stabbed Banquo, but in the scuffle, Fleance escaped. From that Fleance descended a race of monarchs who afterwards filled the Scottish throne, ending with James the Sixth of Scotland and the First of England, under whom the crowns of England and Scotland were united.
At supper, the queen, whose manners were in the highest degree affable and royal, played the hostess with a gratefulness and attention which conciliated everyone present, and Macbeth discourses freely with his thanes and nobles saying, that all that was honorable in the country was under his roof, if he had but his good friend Banquo present, whom yet he hoped he should rather have to chide for neglect, than to lament for any mischance. Just at these words the ghost of Banquo, whom he had caused to be murdered, entered the room and placed himself on the chair which Macbeth was about to occupy.
Though Macbeth was a bold man, and one that could have faced the devil without trembling, at this horrible sight his his cheeks turned white with fear, and he stood quite unmanned with his eyes fixed upon the ghost. His queen and ail the nobles, who saw nothing, but perceived him gazing (as they thought), upon an empty chair, took it for a fit distraction, and reproached him, whispering that it was but the same fancy which made him see dagger in the air, when he was about to kill Dunan.
But Macbeth continued to see the ghost, and gave no heed to all they could say, while he addressed it with distracted words, yet so significant, that his queen, fearing the dreadful secret would be disclosed, in great haste dismissed the guests, excusing the infirmity of Macbeth as a disorder he was often troubled them not more than the escape of Fleance, whom now they looked upon as father to a line of kings who should keep their posterity out of the throne. With these miserable thoughts they found no peace, and Macbeth determined once more to seek out the weird sisters, and know from them the worst.
He sought them in a cave upon the heath, where they, who knew by foresight of his coming, were engaged in preparing their dreadful charms, by which they conjured up infernal spirits to reveal to futurity. Their horrid ingredients were toads, bats and serpents, the eye of a newt, and the tongue of a dog, the leg of a lizard, and the wing of the night-owl, the scale of a dragon, the tooth of a wolf, the maw of the ravenous salt-sea, the mummy of a witch, the root of the poisonous hemlock (this to have effect must be digged in the dark), the gall of a goat, and the liver of a Jew, with the slips of the yew tree that roots itself in Graves, and the finger of a dead child; all these were set on, to boil in a great kettle, or cauldron, which, as fast as it grew too hit, was cooled with a baboons blood: to these they poured in the blood of a sow that had eaten her young, and they threw into the flame the grease that had sweater from a murderer’s gibbet. By these charms they bound the infernal spirits to answer their questions.
It was demanded of Macbeth, whether he would have his doubts resolved by them, or by their masters, the spirits. He nothing daunted by the dreadful ceremonies which he saw, boldly answered; ‘Where are they? Let me see them’. And they called the spirits, which were three. And the first arose in the likeness of an armed head, and he called Macbeth by name, and bid him beware of the thane of Fife; for which caution Macbeth thanked him; for Macbeth had entertained a jealousy of Macduff, the thane of Fife.
And the second spirit arose the likeness of a bloody child, and he called Macbeth by name, and bid him have no fear, but laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born should have power to hurt him; and he advised him to be bloody, bold and resolute. “Then live, Macduff!” cried the king; What need I fear of thee? But yet I will make assurance doubly sure. Thou shalt not live; that I may tell pale-hearted Fear it lies, and sleep in spite of thunder’.
That spirit being dismissed, a third arose in the form of a child crowned, with a tree in his hand. He called Macbeth by name, and comforted him against conspiracies, saying, that he should never be vanquished, until the wood of Bimam to Dunsinane Hill should come against him. “Sweet bodements ! Good !” cried Macbeth; “Who can unfixed the forest, and move it from its earth-bound roots? I see I shall live the usual period of man’s life, and not be cut off by a violent death. Nut my heart not be cut off by a violent death.
But my heart throbs to know one thing. Tell me, if your art cam tell so much, if Banquo’s issue shall ever reign in this kingdom?’ Here the cauldron sank into the ground, and a noise of music was heard, and eight shadows, like kings, passed by Macbeth, and Banquo last, who bore a glass which showed the figures of many more, and pointed to them; by which Macbeth knew that these were the posterity of Banquo, who should reign after him in Scotland; and the witches, with a sound of soft music, and with dancing, making a show of duty and welcome to Macbeth, vanished. And from this time the thoughts of Macbeth were all bloody and dreadful.
The first thing he heard when he got out of the witches’ cave, was that Macduff, thane of Fife, had fled to England, to join the army which was forming against him under Malcolm, the eldest son of the late king, with intent to displace Macbeth, and set Malcolm, the right heir, upon the throne. Macbeth, stung with rage set upon the castle of Macduff, and put his wife and children, whom the thane had left behind, to the sword, and extended the slaughter to all who claimed the least relationship to Macduff.
These and such-like deeds alienated the minds solved. When the besieging army marched through the wood of Birnam, Malcolm, like a skilful general, instructed his soldiers to hew down everyone a bough and bear it before him, by way of concealing the true numbers of his host. This marching of soldiers with boughs had at a distance the appearance which had frightened the messenger. Thus were the words of the spirit brought to pass, in a sense different from that in which Macbeth had understood them, and one great of his confidence was gone.
And now a severe skirmishing took place, in which Macbeth, though feebly supported by those who called themselves his friends, but in reality hated the tyrant and inclined to the party of Malcolm and Macduff, yet fought with the extreme of rage and valour, cutting to pieces all who were opposed to him, till he came to where Macduff was fighting.
Seeing Macduff, and remembering the caution of the spirit who had counselled him to avoid Macduff, above all men, he would have turned, but Macduff, who had been seeking him through the whole fight, opened opposed his turning, and a fierce contest ensued; Macduff giving him many foul reproaches for the murder of his wife and children Macbeth, whose soul was charged enough with blood of that family already, would still have declined the combat: but Macduff still urged him to it, calling him tyrant, murderer, he’ll-hound, and villain.
Then Macbeth remembered the words of the spirits, how none of woman born should hurt him; and smiling confidently he said to Macduff: “Thou losest thy labour, Macduff. As easily thou mayest impress the air with thy sword, as make me vulnerable. I bear a charmed life, which must not yield to one of woman born’.
‘Despair thy charm, ‘said Macduff,’ and let that lying spirit whom thou hast served, tell thee, that Macduff was never born of woman, never as the ordinary manner of men is to be born, but was untimely taken from his mother.
‘Accursed be the tongue which tells me so”, said the trembling Macbeth, who felt his last hold of confidence give way; ‘and let never man in future believe the lying equivocation of witches and juggling spirits, who deceive us in words which have double senses, and while they keep their promise literally, disappoint our hopes with a different meaning. I will not fight with thee’. “Then live!” said the scornful Macduff; ‘We will have a show of thee, as men show monsters, and a painted board, on which shall be written, ‘Here men may see the tyrant!’
‘Never,’ said Macbeth, whose courage returned with despair; ‘I will not live to kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet, and to be baited with the curses of the rabble. Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, and thou opposed to me, who was never born of woman, yet will I try the last.’
With these frantic words he threw himself upon Macduff, who, after a severe struggle, in the end of overcame him, and cutting off his head, made a present of it to the young and lawful king. Malcom; who took upon him the gover which, by the machinations of the usurper, he had so long been deprived of, and ascended the throne of Duncan the Meek, amid the acclamation of the nobles and the people.