By Tony Pham
Macbeth is a Shakespearian tragedy first performed during the Elizabethan Era in 1606. This play explores many important themes and ideas which are conveyed using a range of language devices. Macbeth also examines ideas about morality, such as how morality of an individual can be determined by the way in which they use power and explore the effect of morality on ambition. Masculinity is harnessed as a tool throughout the play to push not only the corrupted Macbeth to murder but forces the honourable Macduff into acting against one another.
Mankind becoming corrupted by the temptation of power and ambition is common theme the play which is the downfall of the protagonist Macbeth. Upon being tempted with the chance of becoming king, Macbeth caves into his temptations for power. Shakespeare uses symbolism in Act 2 Scene 1 to portray Macbeth’s subconscious desire for power by showing Macbeth picture a blood-soaked dagger, symbolising his instincts for murder. His desire for power also pushes him to believe that the crimes he has committed are justified by fate as he believes daily mundane occurrences are signals such as the bell ringing at midnight. As demonstrated from the quote, “Mine eyes have the fools of o’th’ other senses, or else worth all the rest.” Since Macbeth’s rise to power has been drenched with blood due to his obsession with power, he now fears for his wellbeing. Shakespeare displays Macbeth’s determination to keep absolute power by discussing his plans to keep the throne with his wife and by using allusion to their previous conversation with the quote “We have scorched the snake, not killed it,” Making the quote satirical as Macbeth is persuading Lady Macbeth to act, Shakespeare also uses symbolism and allusions to previous scenes in his play, Shakespeare has conveyed with his audience the how power corrupts ambitious men.
Ethics and morality play an important role by creating contrast between characters, especially through the interactions between protagonist, Macbeth and antagonist, Macduff. Early on, Macbeth is shown to be ambitious, with a lack of moral compass and gravitation towards power. Despite his initial outward display of remorse for murdering King Duncan, it is depicted from his ironic descriptions of Duncan’s death that Macbeth is conscious of the consequences of his actions and subconsciously enjoys the violence that must accompany his rise in power. “The wine of life has been poured out, and only the dregs remain”, this line is ironic as Macbeth proceeds to explain that the king’s death was caused by the drunken guards. Contrasting vastly with Macduff who is constructed as a morally centred person, contrasting vastly with the Macbeth’s inner unrested personality. Contrasting these characters, allows the audience to pose questions about how ethics and morality plays a part in this play and whether giving Macbeth the prophecy forced Macbeth down the dark path or whether Macbeth would have done this himself of he had not. The audience is left questioning if Macbeth could have redeemed himself and become the ethical and morally centred person that the audience was being lead to believe at the beginning of the play. Macbeth raises this question towards his audience in Act 3 Scene 4, “I am in blood Stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” By distinctly contrasting the characters, the play allows the audience to question whether it is possible to shape a person to become morally centred after committing sinful and ethically incorrect choices.
Gender and masculinity are continuously utilised as a goading tool to motivate characters into acting based on gender notions at the time. Act 1 Scene 7 depicts the heated discussion between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is seen mocking Macbeth’s courage which is juxtaposing an earlier scene where Macbeth was constructed as a fearless and honourable man. Scene 7 also illustrates Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s views on what defines a man. Lady Macbeth sees a man as a person who upholds their promises and thus uphold honour. Macbeth’s view on masculinity is that they must be ambitious and act upon impulses and shown by his rash plots to execute Banquo. These views contrast with Macduff’s who believes a man is a person who acts upon emotion and honour to do what is morally right. This is evident when Macduff replies to Malcom, “But I must also feel it as a man.” This shows that Macduff is the most honourable person and is portraying the true definition of a man which is to welcome emotion to motivate a person to do what is morally correct. The play also gives audiences insight into what is considered unexpected in a relationship by reversing the roles in how women were expected to act. As the play progresses, it becomes clear that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are acting on animal-like impulses demonstrated the quote, “Look like th’ innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.” This summarises how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth pretend to be gracious hosts while plotting the demise of the king. Lady Macbeth also makes it evident that one of Macbeth’s character flaws is his pride which is a driving force of the consequences that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are forced to deal with, therefore making Lady Macbeth the dominant partner in the relationship. She consistently taunts and goads Macbeth, pushing him commit crimes to prove he is the more ‘masculine’ person in the relationship. Shakespeare shows how gender and masculinity to motivate characters into acting against one another by using various techniques such as metaphors and juxtaposition.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth explores important ideas as it raises questions about Mankind’s desire of power, allowing audiences to sympathise with its ambitious characters despite the lengths they go through to gain power. These questions include ideas about, ambition, morals, gender stereotypes and the role of masculinity which, are explored through a variety of language techniques, still play an impactful role in our society today.