MACBETH · SHAKESPEARE

LOOK LIKE TH’ INNOCENT FLOWER, BUT BE THE SERPENT UNDER ‘T

Ah, Macbeth. Loved by high schools worldwide – but not mine. When everybody else was reading this play, I was falling in love with Richard III and Henry IV. No matter, though, because I finally got my chance to start it this past week.

Shakespeare has written plenty of fantastic murderers – Richard III and Iago come to mind. Macbeth, however, is too weak a character to join their ranks.

MACBETH
[Aside.] This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success
Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make seated heart knock at my ribs
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is but what is not.

Macbeth’s language here is very reminiscent of the strange ramblings of the three witches, but what is important is that we see here what Macbeth’s true issue is. Unlike other iconic murderers from Shakespeare, he is very indecisive and undergoes a mental battle just at the thought of murdering Duncan. Although this is the first we hear of his murderous tendencies, Macbeth still comes off a little unhinged here because, well, why would murder even cross your mind? In any case, Macbeth’s constant flip-flopping makes him a shabby murderer, especially when you compare him to Shakespeare’s other bloodthirsty characters.

Unlike her husband, Lady Macbeth presents herself as having a steely exterior. Both she and her husband have ambition, but at this point, only Lady Macbeth seems to have no moral issues with doing what she thinks needs to be done.

LADY MACBETH
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false
And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou’d’st have, great Glamis,
That which cries “Thus thou must do,” if thou have it,
And that which rather thou dost fear to do,
Than wishest should be undone. Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear
And chastise with the valor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have crowned thee withal.

Here, Lady Macbeth feminizes her husband a bit – soon, we’ll realize that this is a habit of hers. She does not believe her husband has what it takes to seize the crown and, to be quite frank, I agree with her. However, she also comes across as unhinged, doesn’t she?

According to my professor, some scholars see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as being very passionately in love with one another. At this point (mind you, I’m just now starting act four), I think I could safely argue that Macbeth loves his wife. He constantly goes out of his way to prove himself to her, and is very easily manipulated by his words. One could argue that he does this out of love. You could, I suppose, also argue that he does this because he is retaliating to having his buttons pushed – we could take love out of the equation quite easily.

But does Lady Macbeth love her husband? I’m not sure. I think this is one of those things that could depend on the direction of the play. I want to know: what is her body language? What tone of voice does she use when speaking to her husband? Does she chastise him coldly, or in the hushed whispers of a concerned wife only looking out for her husband?

If we read the text plainly, Lady Macbeth does not appear to love her husband at all. As I said, she is power hungry and ambitious – I’m not sure I would describe her as a loving wife by any means.

But who knows? All in all, Macbeth has been a wild experience for me so far. I understand why people find this play intriguing – Macbeth in himself has so many personality traits that are fun to pick apart, from his self-doubting nature to his utter lack of self-control. I will say, however, that although this is not my favorite play of Shakespeare’s, I do think it is a good entry point for those looking to get into his work. The play is relatively easy to follow, the dramatis personae isn’t pages long, and I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t be drawn in by the promise of murder and guilt tearing characters apart.

Well, except me, I guess.

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