In the 17th century play ‘Macbeth’, by William Shakespeare, it can be seen that the characters Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s plunge into despair results from their guilt and ambition. Although they succeed in their plans to become King and Queen, their success is restricted due to their guilty consciences and the deterioration of their psychological state. This is illustrated through the prominent scene of Act II, scene I (lines 33-64), where Macbeth begins to hallucinate, marking the start of the unravelling of his conscience. In Act I, scene v (lines 39-55), Lady Macbeth asks to not feel remorse, and to be made evil, a crucial point in the play, marking the stage where her morals and conscience also begin to break apart. Through these significant scenes, Shakespeare explores the concepts of ambition, guilt and gender, seen through the characterisation of the characters. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s evolution of character can be explored throughout the play, and this examination ultimately leads to the point where they plunge into despair as a result of their guilt and ambition.
Macbeth’s downfall arises from his ambition and guilt effecting his psychological state and conscience. This concept is revealed in Act II, scene I, where he begins to hallucinate. ‘Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going, and such an instrument I was to use’, shows that Macbeth believes that fate is directing him to commit the murder. Through this, Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as trying to convince himself that it is not his fault, and is blaming his actions on the appearance of the dagger. Another example of this can be seen in line 63, ‘I go, and it is done. The bell invites me,’ where Macbeth blames his actions on the bell, which is telling him to do it. The use of personification is effective in enforcing this idea as it shows that an external cause is willing him to commit the murder. We can see that Macbeth’s conscience, at this point, still remains as he still believes that it is not his fault that he is committing the murder; he cannot bring himself to admit to his crime and face the guilt. It can be seen that he is in a constant battle with his conscience during this scene and throughout the play.
Within the same soliloquy we can see the beginning of the shift in character, where Shakespeare alters the speech of Macbeth to resemble the witches. This transformation begins in line 49, where he develops a riddled, mysterious way of speaking, ‘Now o’er the one half-world, Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse the curtained sleep. Witchcraft celebrates Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither murder, Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf, whose howl’s his watch. Thus with his stealthy pace, With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design, moves like a ghost.’ This suggests that Macbeth is beginning to become an otherworldly creature, with the inhumane thoughts that start to cloud his mind, foreshadowing the later events, where he becomes an unrelenting, evil character. This extract also shows another example of where Macbeth blames something else, the wolf who has aroused murder. The act of murder has been personified, to represent Macbeth and his innate ambitions being awoken. He refers to murder ‘moving like a ghost’, which symbolises that the murder and the guilt will haunt him, whilst additionally foreshadowing the later events of seeing Banquo’s ghost at the feast, haunting him. His psychological state has been effected significantly, depicted through his attempts at trying to cover up his guilt, and the evolution of his character to the witches.
After line 61, Shakespeare utilises stage directions to cut through the soliloquy; ‘A bell rings’. In the Elizabethan era, the ringing of bells symbolises death or danger, and in this case, foreshadows the death