Dan Sandman

49: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

In Books, Fiction, Horror, Literature, Plays on 04/12/2015 at 12:00 pm

Macbeth by William ShakespeareUnusually, the play begins with the three weird sisters, whose language is immediately unsettling. Nothing is to be trusted, even language itself is full of deceit: e.g. ‘Fair is foul’ and ‘the battle’s lost and won’. Before Macbeth enters the stage, King Duncan steeps praise upon his ‘valiant cousin’, later promoting Macbeth to the position of Thane of Cawdor. But like the Thane whom he usurps, and the language used by the sisters, Macbeth is not what he seems. We will know this soon after Macbeth and Banquo’s supernatural encounter, by listening to his soliloquies, which reveal his ‘vaulting ambition’. Even ahead of his Lady’s further encouragement towards ‘dreadful action’, Macbeth is thinking in terms of an ‘o’erleap’ of Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland. Just as Macbeth has supplanted the treacherous Cawdor, he will himself usurp the King and plot against Duncan’s rightful heirs. But whereas Cawdor was killed honourably in battle, Duncan will be dishonourably murdered by Macbeth’s dagger, attacked whilst asleep in the bed chamber of his host and hostess’s abode.

Lady Macbeth’s role is to secure Macbeth’s murderous action, which has already been set in motion by the weird sisters prophetic implanting of the idea itself. To achieve this, the Lady summons up her inner masculinity, ready to ‘unsex’ herself and to ‘bash’ the heads of her unborn children to become Queen. The Lady’s disturbed thoughts will eventually unravel into madness, although here at the beginning of the play she is still able to find ambitious reasons for murder within her thoughts and conversations. It is the cold ambition of ‘unkindness’ that she wishes to implant into her husbands power-hungry mind. Lady Macbeth becomes the co-plotter of this terrible deed, putting forward her dreadful plan to drug the guards wine so they are drunk asleep. According to the Lady’s premeditated direction, Macbeth will commit the murder itself, whilst she offers practical assistance; later going back to plant the daggers on the drowsy guards, whose clothes she will stain with the dead King’s blood.

As the play continues, and Macbeth has his comrade Banquo assassinated; at a publicly held banquet, the Lady attempts to control her husband’s shock and horror when Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost. At this point of the action, Lady Macbeth appears the more sane of the two murderous co-plotters, attempting to explain her husband’s unusual behaviour as she clears the guests from the room. But by the time her husband is encouraged to commit a series of further murders by the the weird sisters, the Lady’s ability to cover up the crimes we the audience have seen committed will begin to diminish. Following the horrible slaughter of a rival family, Macbeth and his Lady begin to separate into two different forms of madness. Whereas cold blooded Macbeth has ‘almost forgot the taste of fears’, his Lady descends into a sleepwalking fear of her past actions, with the realization that ‘What’s done cannot be undone.’

In the end, Lady Macbeth is the more pitiable of the two.

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