Discuss the character of Macbeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth as compared to a modern-day person. 

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is not too hard to see Shakespeare's title character in his play Macbeth through a modern-day lens.

Macbeth could be compared to any person who was once dedicated a way of thinking, a political party or even his/her government. At the play's beginning, Macbeth is heralded as a brave soldier, risking life and limb for his king and country, chasing down a traitor to Scotland. The Sergeant reports:

For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name—
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valor's minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave... (I.ii.18-22)

For any person who has once been so dedicated that changes and defects to the other side in a traitorous act, Macbeth would seem similar. Certainly there are those who have fought for their country and may have changed their attitudes about war, becoming advocates of peace. There are men in other countries that kill others in order to take over a ruling position. This is what Macbeth does: he kills Duncan with the intent to somehow become king.

A bell rings.


I go, and it is done: the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven, or to hell. (II.i.70-72)

Any man who has done something illegal at the behest of his wife or lover is very similar to Macbeth. Stories can be found in the news of a husband and wife, or lovers, that participate in a crime, one supporting and even encouraging the other. Lady Macbeth is extremely unhappy when she learns that Macbeth is thinking of letting Duncan live for if Macbeth changes his plan, she will never become queen. One way that she manipulates him is insulting him and calling him a coward:

Wouldst thou have that 
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life
And live a coward in thine own esteem (I.vii.45-47)

She also goes as far as to declare that his inability to adhere to his plan will be what she uses to evaluate his love for her. It is not long before the plot is moving forward again, with Lady Macbeth offering guidance and encouragement.

Certainly the news is full of reports of people who perpetrate a crime, acting as if they are invincible and untouchable. They steal millions from investors, take bribes from special interest groups or are in law enforcement and are found guilty of breaking the very laws they are paid to uphold. Macbeth is similar to these people in that he believes by the end of the play that he is untouchable and no one can stop him. 


Thou wast born of woman.
But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn,
Brandish'd by man that's of a woman born. (V.vii.15-17)

While in this case Macbeth believes he is safe because of the predictions of the witches, people often have a sense of being above the law or smarter than law enforcement, or both.

Anyone with a newspaper or computer can find situations that are extraordinarily similar to those in which Macbeth is involved.

One of the things that makes Shakespeare's plays so timeless is that Shakespeare's characters more often than not deal with problems that are faced by people today from all walks of life. While those facing these issues may not be kings, they are often individuals with a great deal of power. Macbeth was a good man long before he allowed his ambition to control him. More than likely, people in similar circumstances also may be those who never imagined that they would be involved in the crimes or underhanded dealings in which they find themselves embroiled.