Violence In Macbeth

Explain how violence plays an important role in Macbeth.

Explain how violence plays an important role in Macbeth.

Expert Answers
kristenfusaro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Violence in Macbeth is highlighted by the theme broached by the witches: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." Violence is either viewed as valorous, or cognitively detrimental.

Macbeth is a soldier, who is awarded the Thane of Cawdor because of his bravery shown in war; this form of violence is awarded and demonstrates manliness. On the contrary, when contemplating whether to kill King Duncan or not, Macbeth deliberates his role as Duncan's "kinsman and his subject", understanding his position is to protect the king, "Not bear the knife [him]self."

As mentioned earlier in the post, even the animals demonstrate violence. This form of personification, called pathetic fallacy, has the horses go mad and "the owl scream and the crickets cry," along with numerous other references to animals behaving oddly. The connection between Duncan's murder and violence illuminates the Karmic perspective that mother Earth is in sync with what is right and just; the Earth's violence is in response to violence.

Of course, there is Lady Macbeth, who preaches violence at the beginning of the play by assuring and guaranteeing her promises to bash out the brains of her baby, but is later emotionally struck by violence as she is tormented in her sleep. While not traditionally "violent," the psychological approach that Shakespeare uses on Lady Macbeth may be a violence far worse than being slashed.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, violence is a way of life, it's the status quo.  The weather is violent, the witches speak of violence, the captain who reports on the battle is referred to as the "bloody" man, Macbeth's killing of Macdonwald is related in graphic detail, as is his death via his bloody head carried on stage by Macduff.  Banquo is murdered, Macduff's family is slaughtered, Macbeth fears he'll never get rid of Duncan's blood on his hands, and his wife doesn't. 

Macbeth kills Duncan in order to get the throne, and he is next in line for the throne--once Duncan is dead and his two sons flee-- presumably, because he is the most violent, or at least because he is the best at being violent. 

When Cawdor betrays King Duncan, he is violently executed. 

You get the picture.  Violence and blood are everywhere in the play.  It's how things are done in the play.  In the end, Malcolm's army defeats Macbeth's in battle (kind of, at least--many of Macbeth's men leave or give up the fight), and Macduff defeats Macbeth.  Violence throws Scotland into chaos, and violence cleanses it. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since the play is set in Scotland, and Scotland has a history of having had the most fearsome of warriors--and still they are the greatest soldiers of today--it is not surprising that violence plays such a role in Shakespeare's Macbeth.  With their bellicose history, there is an awe attached to one who displays prowess on the battlefield:

For brave Macbeth--well he deserves that name--

Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel,

Which smoked with bloody execution,

Like valors' minion carved out his passage

Till he faced the slave...(1.2.18-22)

There is a natural awe and respect for a certain amount of brutality, which is deemed courage. [In Inverness today, the winner of a bar brawl is rewarded with a free drink; the loser must leave]. "Brave" Macbeth, tragically, lets "virtue turn to vice" in this one of Shakespeare's plays.


Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous posts were quite strong.  I think violence in the play represents that particular point where Macbeth crosses over into a setting of moral and ethical nihilism.  If we think about what the violence in the drama symbolizes, it seems to me that it is a point where words and thoughts translate to action, where function overcomes surmising.  The idea being conveyed is that it is one thing to possess ideas and thoughts about immorality, but to translate them into action becomes an entirely different condition.  The fact that Macbeth harbors thoughts and beliefs about what should happen is one thing, but for him to bring them into reality is where a line has been crossed.  Shakespeare uses violence to symbolize that demarcation, a border or line that should be respected and not be crossed.  Doing so results in a state of consciousness where degeneration and devolution ends up becoming the norm.

shaketeach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Middle Ages were a violent period of history for the British Isles.  Viking raiders plagued Great Britian and Ireland.

The play opens on a battle field with thunder and lightening, a violent storm of nature.  In the second scene of the play, battle reports are given by the bloody soldier and Ross who tells of the treason of the Thane of Cawdor who has sided with the invading Norweigians.

Peace doesn't last very long.  Macbeth uses violence to gain the throne.  He then uses violence to keep the throne.  It is only fitting that he dies violently.

What better way to teach the lesson of power, the desire for power, and what lengths mankind is capable of going to achieve power, than show it through a play like Macbeth where violence rules until the end of the play when the natural order is restored?

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I always find it interesting to think about the role of violence in this play, simply because it start with violence which everyone finds perfectly reasonable.  Macbeth is a soldier, of course, and before we meet him we learn he has "unseam'd" a foe "from nave to chaps."  That's pretty gruesome stuff, and probably not necessary, in actuality.  Excessive.  Yet Macbeth is praised and honored for his valor in battle. I agree with akannan--this play is a study in crossing the line, and it seems to me he does so even before the witches and their predictions. 

harry7459 | Student

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play renowned for its violence. As the play begins, bloodshed is already described on a battlefield. During this time, the captain had graphically described how Macbeth had sliced an enemy soldier in half, beheading the man and claiming his head as a prize. At the start of the play Macbeth is depicted to be a very loyal, honest and a noble person. As the play carries on, however, it shows Macbeth is actually a power hungry man who is willing to do whatever it takes to obtain the throne. This obsession comes mainly from the three witches' prophecies and Lady Macbeth's eagerness for her husband to become king. This fuelled Macbeth’s ambition to kill the king, which is one of the most important scenes where violence is exposed. Following the murder of King Duncan, Macbeth slowly regrets his deeds and drives him to become suspicious of everyone around him. In turn, this madness drove him to hire murderers to dispose Banquo. He soon started to lose his sanity after seeing Banquo's ghost and had visited the witches. Because of this, Macbeth's immediate response to Macduff's opposition was to kill his benefactors, to the point where he would slay Macduff's family in cold blood. Towards the end of the play, Macbeth was slain by Malcolm, as prophesied by the witches.

kc4u | Student

Violence in Macbeth is an out an out political issue. If we see Macbeth's actions in political terms, it is from the role of a Middle Ages feudal retainer that Macbeth wants to become the king of Scotland. The play is thus also about the passing of a social order of feudalism. Violence is the modus of the social transition in the play.

Macbeth is about different kinds of violence. If Macbeth's killing of Duncan is a law-breaking violence, it also turns him into the king, the veritable incarnation of law. After becoming the king, his killings of Macduff's family is a law-maintaining violence in the sense that in his eyes and so it is made out to be, Macduff is a traitor. At the end of the play, when Macbeth is beheaded as a tyrant, that is supposed to be the law-making violence, restoring political order to Scotland.

So, Macbeth, the play is in a way about the political ambivalence of violence.