Shakespeare's Macbeth Creating Sympathy For Macbeth
Creating Sympathy for Macbeth
The dark aura surrounding Shakespeare's Macbeth is well deserved, as is the darkness shrouding its title character. Although Macbeth is certainly a villainous, evil man based solely on his actions, a fuller examination of his character's portrayal leads to a more sympathetic view of him. The play does not portray Macbeth simply as a cold-blooded murderer, but rather as a tortured soul attempting to deal with the atrocities surrounding him.
Before any of the murderous activity occurs, Macbeth does not experience small, ambiguous premonitions, he is directly told by mysterious, dark figures things that are "ordained" to happen. Although these mysterious prophecies seem doubtful at first, after Macbeth is named Thane of Cawdor, the third prophecy, his ascending to the throne, no longer seems remote. The fact that Macbeth sees his ultimate goal, his childhood dream, as an attainable thing that he simply must reach out and take should serve to evoke some sympathy from the audience. "I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself / And falls on the other-" (I vii 25). Failing to act now would only be a show of Macbeth's cowardice and failings. Everyone has an ultimate goal; not everyone gets the chance to attempt to reach it, and fewer still actually achieve it. Examining the brutal, bloody, repeated stabbing of Duncan as Macbeth's one chance to finally realize his childhood dream of becoming king sheds a different light to the normal horror of his act.
Before the murders, Macbeth has no positive guidance to help deter him from the killings. His closest confidant, Lady Macbeth, is portrayed as a crazed, conniving, woman who willingly asks evil spirits to grant her power and help her with her murderous schemes. With a wife such as this, some of Macbeth's guilt would seem to fall on her, leaving him less than wholly responsible. Although it certainly does not excuse his actions, the fact that she planned the murders, encouraged him to lie and deceive the other nobles at the banquets, basically convinced him to carry the initial murder out, and repeatedly attempted to make him "forget" the act and move on, would seem to partially incriminate her. If Macbeth had a wife who was a stark contrast to him, one who abhorred murder and attempted to talk him out of it, then his crime would have seemed all the more horrendous since even his closes confidant advised him...
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Sample Answer Sympathy in Macbeth For me, a fascinating aspect of the play ‘Macbeth’ is the way Shakespeare maintains the audience sympathy for Macbeth, a ‘tyrant whose name blisters our tongues,’. By the end of the play Malcolm is justified when he says, ‘I think our country sinks beneath the yoke;/ It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash/ Is added to her wounds. ’ Yet, despite all of Macbeth’s tyrannous actions, somehow his tragic heroic status is intact at the end of the play.
For me this achievement represents the true genius of Shakespeare’s dramatic prowess. How this sympathy for Macbeth is achieved is complex. Firstly one should consider how key moments in the plot are managed, particularly the Introduction and the Conclusion. Secondly, one needs to recognise the importance of the loving relationship that exists between Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. Thirdly, the witches have an important role to play. They represent evil in the play and the contrast enables the audience to measure the extent of Macbeth’s villainy.
Finally, the soliloquies should be examined, as soliloquies give the audience a window into the true nature of a character. The opening scenes introduce Macbeth’s heroic qualities. He is praised for the heroics involved in gaining a victory. “brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name” He is praised for his ruthless and valiant nature, “unseamed him from the nave to the’ chops, / And fixed his head upon our battlements” He has shown remarkable courage in the face of, seemingly insurmountable, opposition, “doubly redoubled blows upon the foe”.
Duncan declares him to be Valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman! and elevates him to replace the Thane of Cawdor, “What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won. ” We admire Macbeth before we meet him. The closing scenes re-establish Macbeth’s heroic qualities. Lady Macbeth’s death is a low point when he ponders the futility of all life. The full tragedy is realised as he hits rock bottom. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/ To the last syllable of recorded time;/ And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle! / life is but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing. ” This is the moment when Macbeth fully realises the error of his ways enabling him to move forward as a tragic hero. His courage in the face of personal tragedy, “Blow wind, come wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back,” maintains our sympathy.
Cornered, “Bear like I must fight the course,” his fight withYoung Siward allows the audience to witness his soldierly qualities for ourselves. We cannot help but admire him. In the fight with Macduff, Macbeth’s humanity is revealed. He is too full of the milk of human kindness. He declares his remorse for his crimes against Macduff, “My soul is too much charged with blood of thine already” Even after the flaw in the third prophecy is revealed, Macbeth fights on, unwilling to submit to anyone. “I will not yield,/ To kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet,”.
In this way Shakespeare reminds us of his heroic qualities and our sympathy is maintained. The love relationship between ‘the Macbeths’ is a second way our sympathy is maintained. When Macbeth, in his letter, refers to Lady Macbeth as “my dearest partner in greatness” and later suggests that she remain “innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck” we see that their relationship is extraordinary in the cultural context of the time in which the play occurs; a time when loveless arranged marriages were common.
Lady Macbeth knows that her husband is “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way”. Her loving determination to support his ambition, “pour my spirits in thine ear, / And chastise with the valour of my tongue / All that impedes thee from the golden round / Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem / To have thee crowned withal”, is worthy of our sympathy. It is easy to get a poor first impression of Lady Macbeth, (“Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here / And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full / Of direst cruelty! “Stop up the access and passage to remorse, / That no compunctious visitings of nature / Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between / Th’effect and it! ”), as she seems to have more in common with the witches than other women. This is Shakespeare’s intention as her tough outer shell hides her vulnerability until later in the play. As Macbeth’s actions: regicide, the murder of the guards, the killing of Banquo and the attempted killing of Fleance, erode our sympathy for him the ncreasing vulnerability of Lady Macbeth restores our sympathy; “had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done the deed myself” indicates that she possesses the vulnerability of her sex, When she faints after Macbeth’s account of the murder scene we see that she is a sensitive woman and “How now my lord, why do you keep alone”, indicates that their relationship is failing. All of these moments combine to generate sympathy for Macbeth.
When Macbeth descends into absolute tyranny, “For mine own good / All causes shall give way: I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as to go o’er: / Strange things I have in head that will to hand, / Which must be acted ere they will be scann’d”, a tyranny that culminates in the symbolic murder of Lady Macduff and her household, Lady Macbeth is depicted sleepwalking. In this way the audience is reminded of their loving relationship and his compassion for her suffering re-establishes audience sympathy for Macbeth despite his actions.
It is in the moment of Lady Macbeth’s death that Macbeth realises the error of his actions, “She should have died hereafter… ” In this way the love relationship is used to maintain our sympathy for Macbeth. The witches assist Shakespeare in sustaining audience sympathy for Macbeth. From the outset, the witches represent the face of evil in the play. The outcome of the battle is a matter of indifference to these witches “When the battle’s lost and won” The witches introduce the audience to the idea that appearances can be deceptive. Fair is foul and foul is fair” These evil witches are spiteful in their actions and revel in the havoc they wreck on their victims. Banquo warns Macbeth “But ‘tis strange:/And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, /The instruments of darkness tell us truths, /Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s/In deepest consequence”. Clearly, Macbeth’s ambition makes him vulnerable to the scheming of these witches. Hecate, the Goddess of the witches scolds the three weird sisters. They have been “saucy and overbold”. She points out that Macbeth is not evil, “Loves for his own ends, not for you. Hecate predicts the outcome and instructs the witches on how to draw Macbeth on. “He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear / His hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace, and fear: / And you all know security / Is mortals’ chiefest enemy. Hecate reduces the witches to little more than spiteful girls, building a case that it is Macbeth who brings about his own downfall. When the witches are spell-making Macbeth’s approach is heralded by the words, “Something wicked this way comes” This is true and significant as the witches do not call him evil.
It is sensible to have evil present in a play where the central character is easily mistaken for evil; by contrast to the witches Macbeth’s goodness is never lost. The soliloquies are effective in maintaining audience sympathy for Macbeth. “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. ” He is appalled by the ugly thoughts that the prophecies provoke and seems to dismiss the witches preferring instead to rely on chance, “If chance will have me King, why, / chance may crown me, / without my stir. In this way Macbeth gains the sympathy of an audience that understands his temptation. When Duncan goes on to name Malcolm as his heir, the audience can appreciate Macbeth is not pleased to hear this news, as Malcolm becomes another obstacle placed between him and the crown. “The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step / On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap’/ For in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires; / let not light see my black and deep desires: / The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be / Which the eye fears, when it is done to see. It is in soliloquy that Lady Macbeth informs us that Macbeth is, is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way. Macbeth’s procrastination, “If it were done when ‘tis done ….. ” reveals his conscience; he realises that the treason he contemplates is dreadful. He believes that pity and horror will follow Duncan’s death. The conflicted nature of Macbeth’s thoughts adds to the sympathy of the audience. The dagger Macbeth sees before him establishes for the audience his troubled mind. This happens again at the Banquet with the ghost of Banquo.
The murder of Duncan is done in horror and without the faintest desire or sense of glory-done, one may almost say, as if it were an appalling duty. The instant it is finished, its futility is revealed to Macbeth as clearly as its vileness had been revealed beforehand. In this way, by killing Duncan off-stage, Shakespeare manages to maintain sympathy for Macbeth. When Macbeth states, “To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus” we can sympathise because as Hecate later states “Security is mortal’s chiefest enemy”. He is determined to control his destiny in spite of prophecy.
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Here the audience sympathises with the loss of honour Macbeth has brought upon himself as he bids to hold onto power. Near the end of the play, Macbeth learns that his allies are leaving him and there are ten thousand soldiers approaching and yet admirably he stands resolute. He realizes that he will never succeed in regaining the respect of his peers, “I have lived long enough: my way of life/ Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf;/ And that which should accompany old age,/ As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,/ I must not look to have; but, in their stead,/ Curses, not loud but deep, mouth honour.. Here Macbeth names all the aspects of respect he took for granted at the start of the play. As an audience, we can sympathize with all that Macbeth has lost. The personal tragedy endured by Macbeth, in the death of Lady Macbeth is expressed in soliloquy, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” He goes on to acknowledge that life “is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing. ” We sympathize with Macbeth in his greatest moment of loss.
Author: Cari Minns
Shakespeare Maintains Sympathy for Macbeth
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