Discuss how Macbeth, the brave hero and warrior, becomes a villain in Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The renowned Shakespearean critic Harold Bloom contends that Macbeth does not belong in the category of villains because he does not delight in his wickedness. Instead, Macbeth's is a "tragedy of imagination" Bloom observes,

He [Macbeth] scarcely is conscious of an ambition, desire, or wish before he sees himself on the other side or shore, already having performed the crime that equivocally fulfills ambition.

For instance, in his desire to be king, Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to kill King Duncan and fulfill the witches' prophesy. But, in his soliloquy of Act I, Scene 7, Macbeth worries and engages in self-debate,

He's here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, ....
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off, (1.7.12-20)

In fact, Macbeth becomes guilt-ridden and suffers doubts--"Is this a dagger which I see before me?" In his desire to be king, Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to kill King Duncan and fulfill the witches' prophesy, but Macbeth agonizes in his soliloquy of Act I, Scene 7, he engages in guilty self-debate,


...Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off (1.7.12-20)

and later suffers fears from his acts of evil--

I am afraid to think what I have done;
Look on't again I dare not. (2.2.64-65)--

and even imagines that he sees the ghost of Banquo. Indeed, Macbeth delights not in his ambitious acts. With regret in Scene 3 of Act II, he bemoans,

Had I but died an hour before this chance,
I had lived a blessed time; for from this instant (2.3.99-100)

and as the drama progresses, the more intense the images of blood become, the deeper Macbeth sinks in his bloody acts, and the more horrified he becomes as he sleeps "in the affliction of these terrible dreams" (3.2.18). that are "stepped in so far" in blood.

In his desperation, and "vaulting ambition," Macbeth returns to the witches for advice and more predictions all the while his better nature fades from him. When he is told in Act IV that "none of woman born" shall harm him, and he will not be defeated until the woods of Great Birnam "come against him," he feels reassured; however, his fears are not yet allayed, and he asks the witches if Banquo's descendent will ever reign in his kingdom.  It is from this fear, then, and not enjoyment of evil, that Macbeth attempts the murder of Banquo's son Fleance.

Unlike a true villain, Macbeth truly takes no delight in his dastardly and bloody deeds. Instead, the man who truly loves his wife has succumbed to his great ambitions and his equally great fears, guilt, and imaginings and has become more a victim of his imagination than a villain.

 

 

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