Explain how  three character/personality traits of Shakespeare’s Macbeth are significant and intrinsic to plot development.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of Macbeth's most significant personality traits is loyalty.  This trait is seen throughout the drama's exposition.  It plays an imperative role in the development of the plot.  Macbeth's loyalty as a soldier is one that compels him to display reticence about the idea of murder.  In the First Act, Lady Macbeth notices this in his character: "Yet do I fear thy nature;/ It is too full o' the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way."  Lady Macbeth's initial description of her husband as loyal is what establishes the initial conflict within the drama's plot.  His reticence towards action is reflective of his loyalty, unable to do wrong to his leader.  In Act II, Macbeth is plagued by his trait of loyalty, causing him to feel terrible about what he had done:  

Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep," the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast-

Macbeth's loyalty is a significant aspect of his characterization.  It helps cause the external and internal conflict that drives the plot within the first two Acts.  

Another one of Macbeth's traits imperative to the plot is his ambition. Macbeth's ambition advances the narrative. Macbeth might be loyal, but he also possesses a healthy dose of ambition. It is Shakespeare's genius to depict a complex characterization where both paradoxical traits can exist within the individual, causing a multi- faceted reality to emerge.  Once Macbeth overcomes his initial reticence caused by loyalty, he recognizes the fierce need of the moment to continue.  In Act III, Macbeth understands that his ambition can only be satiated with murder, when understanding what he needs to do to Banquo.  The embrace of the "bloody and invisible" hand reveals that Macbeth has embraced his own ambition, regardless of the measures he must take.  Later in Act III, Macbeth is able to recognize that his ambition knows no ends:  "For mine own good All causes shall give way. I am in blood Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er."  Ambition is the character trait that advances the plot, moving Macbeth to a point vastly different than he was when the drama started.  Such fluidity in character is critical to the advancement of the plot.

Macbeth is shown to be an austere character.  He stoically faces reality, without shying away from reality.  While other characters might seek a way out, Macbeth does not.  He is austere both in his approach and the resolute nature with which he faces reality in Act V, Scene iii:

I have liv'd long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, 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, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.

Macbeth ends the drama as very stoic, facing a reality that has both been of his doing and beyond him. Macbeth does not show weakness or cowardice, even when the situation might beg it. His austerity reflects both strength and despair, reflective of what politics can do to the individual.  Macbeth's austerity becomes a critical part of his characterization, a dominant trait that ends the plot's narrative.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another character trait strongly exhibited by Macbeth is his belief in the supernatural, a belief that mirrors the superstitions of the Elizabethan audience. Macbeth's belief in the predictions of the three witches is, then, on what he predicates his actions. 

If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me,
Without my stir. (1.3)

So eagerly does Macbeth embrace the control of the supernatural world that he first thinks that he may not have to do anything to become king. Later, he equates reality and fantasy, perceiving daggers before him and the ghost of Banquo. Still, he embraces this equation of the natural with the preternatural in his "valuting ambition" and continues, but not before visiting the weird sisters again in Act IV to learn more of the future. When he finds the strange creatures, he asks if Banquo's descendants will rule Scotland, so the three witches present Macbeth with a vision of Banquo, who is followed by eight kings. Then, as this vision disappears, Macbeth is told that he cannot be harmed by any man born of a woman; and, the final vision tells him that he will not be defeated until "Great Birnam wood [moves] to high Dunsinane hill" (4.1).

It becomes Macbeth's nemesis that he believes in the superficial meanings of the three sisters and misses the more extended meanings. His fear of being overcome and dethroned causes him to order Macduff's family murdered as well as to perceive the Birnam forest move when this illusion is created by Malcolm and Macduff's armies. Macbeth acknowledges his defeat:

They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,
But bearlike I must fight the course. What's he
That was not born of woman?  Such a one
Am I to fear, or none. (5.7)

Finally, he and Macduff, who was cut from his mother's womb, confront one another. Macduff declares that his murdered wife and children's ghosts will still haunt him as he conquers Macbeth, decapitating him.  Macbeth's "foul" acts, which he has convinced himself are "fair," have caused him to upset the Elizabethan Chain of Being by killing King Duncan and by believing in the preternatural world of evil spirits.