English 11 Honors
March 18, 2013
Analysis of Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Macbeth by William Shakespeare is set in year 1000 in Scotland. This dark, pagan atmosphere suits the thunder and lightning and the meeting of the three witches. Their use of the contradiction “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (I, 1, 12) immediately introduces the concept of contradiction, that things are not always what they seem. In scene 2 the mood quickly shifts. In the camp, a bleeding captain tells King Duncan of Scotland about Macbeth’s bravery on the battlefield. Duncan said he will reward Macbeth with the title Thane of Cawdor and sends his messenger Ross to inform him. Scene 3 then features the witches and their purpose to manipulate Macbeth.
Then the witches meet with Banquo and Macbeth on the heath. The witches tell Banquo that he
will be father of kings and that Macbeth is “Thane of Glamis”, “Thane of Cawdor”, and “king hereafter”. Macbeth is anxious and ready to hear more, while Banquo is tranquil and reserved. Macbeth contemplates killing Duncan in order to become “king hereafter”. In scene 4, Macbeth convinces himself that the only way to become king is to kill Duncan. Unfortunately, Macbeth lacks the ruthlessness to kill Duncan, so Lady Macbeth, his wife, steps in. She calls upon supernatural powers stating, “unsex me here, /And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty” (I, 5, 48-50). In scene 7, Lady Macbeth channels some of her newfound cruelty and blind ambition to a reluctant Macbeth who at first is uneasy about killing Duncan, but then decides to go through with the murder stating, “I am settled and bend up/ Each corporal agent to this terrible feat” (I, 7, 92-93). Obviously, his vacillation is over.
Later on, in scene 1 of act 2, Banquo’s statement that he is uneasy and unable to sleep, foreshadows Duncan’s murder which is to happen soon after. At the end of scene 1, Macbeth utters his famous dagger soliloquy where he sees an imaginary bloody knife used to kill Duncan. The image of blood and violence is introduced. Macbeth is now a psychologically damaged man whose conscience haunts him with the thought of committing murder and treason. The scene that follows talks about Macbeth’s killing of Duncan and portrays his agitation once he commits the crime. Also, the washing of hands by Macbeth foreshadows future events involving Lady Macbeth. Metaphorically, Macbeth is washing away his sins and guilt. These events lead into scene 3, which starts out with comic relief, as a drunken porter stands at the gate of Inverness (Macbeth’s castle). This funny little speech that the porter