Explain briefly the antagonist and protagonist of Macbeth.Give relevant examples to support your answers.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The protagonist of a literary work is the main character.  As such Macbeth of Shakespeare's play is a protagonist, albeit not a good man.  Still, he is the character who drives the plot of the drama. The antagonists are any character whom Macbeth opposes or with whom he comes into conflict. Thus, Macbeth conflicts with Duncan, Banquo, Lennox, Macduff, Ross, Mentieth, Simward, and all noble Scotsmen.  Of course, Malcolm III must be included in this list, and even the three sisters whom Macbeth encounters in Act I since they make predictions that work against Macbeth.  For instance, they tell Macbeth in the first act that he will be Thane of Cawdor, but they also tell Banquo that his sons will be king. Later, in Act III Banquo asks Macbeth if the witches can fulfill their prophesies for him, which prove to be antagonistic, why cannot his prophesies be also fulfilled:

As the weird women promised and I fear

Thou play'dst most foully for't:  yet it was said

It [being king] should not stand in thy posterity

But that myself should be root and father

Of many kings,. If there came truth from them--

Why, by the verities on thee made good,

May they not be my oracles as well

And set me up in hope?  But, hush, no more. (3.1.1-10)

This statement, of course, is Banquo's undoing as he, thus, becomes antagonistic to Macbeth in wishing his sons to be king.  In another example, when Malcolm speaks of returning Scotland to its people, he also intends to dethrone Macbeth.  This action again sets the witches as antagonists since they have predicted that no man born of woman will kill Macbeth; however Macolm is not "born of [any]women"; he has been surgically removed from his mother's womb.  Worried about Malcomb, Macbeth attempts to destroy him.

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