From Macbeth, what could serve as quotes for my essay depicting Macbeth's changing attitude throughout the play?  For example, Macbeth was nice in the beginning towards Duncan then towards the...

From Macbeth, what could serve as quotes for my essay depicting Macbeth's changing attitude throughout the play?  For example, Macbeth was nice in the beginning towards Duncan then towards the end he is harsh towards Duncan because Macbeth finds out he has been named Thane of Cawdor.

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mrdavis's profile pic

mrdavis | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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A couple places to look would be to trace his attitude towards the people closest to him throughout the play.  How does he talk to Banquo in Act 1 compared to his actions in Act 3?  How does Macbeth talk to the witches (who represent an evil, perhaps demonic force) in Act 1 compared to how he talks to them in Act 4?  And perhaps most significant is how his relationship with Lady Macbeth changes from Act 1 to Act 5.  In Act 1 the thought of the two of them ruling together makes him ecstatic; however his attitude has changed drastically by time her hears of her death in Act 5.

Using his relationship with Duncan as an example of his attitude changing throughout the play is not a good approach simply because Macbeth's attitude toward Duncan changes so early in the play, and even the duplicity he employs in his conversations with Duncan is relatively brief in light of the entire play.  Moreover, it is the effects of that particular dynamic that affect his actions and mindset for the rest of the play. 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Shakespeare is quite deliberate in establishing that Macbeth is not simply a murderer.  Rather, it takes time to develop.  Behaviors of transgression are developed over a period of time, and noting this development is a major part of the characterization trajectory Shakespeare establishes.  

Some of the first impressions of Macbeth are ones where the brutal act of murder could not even be comprehended.  When first confronted with such a reality, Macbeth is startled: "My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,/ Shakes so my single state of man that function /Is smother'd in surmise."  In this quote, the very idea of taking Duncan's life, usurping power, is anathema to him.  Macbeth could not even consider it as a mere thought.

Part of the reason for this lies in how Macbeth sees Duncan on a personal level.  Macbeth's "function" is "smothered" because of loyalty towards Duncan:

Why do I yield to that suggestion 
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair, 
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, 
Against the use of nature?

This natural condition of loyalty and honoring the tradition of power is a significant part of Macbeth's character.  Shakespeare uses this to show how Macbeth respects order and tradition.  The structure of the world is intact when Macbeth shows deference to Duncan.   Macbeth's characterization is rooted in the natural order he acknowledges himself to be a part of. Macbeth acknowledges this order first as a "kinsman" and "subject" as well as "host." These conditions should lead him to "shut the door" as opposed to stabbing him with the dagger.  These inclusions show how Macbeth views Duncan, reflecting the development in his character to embrace murder.   

However, this rejection resolves into hardened action as the primary act develops:

I am settled, and bend up 
Each corporal agent to this terrible feat. 
Away, and mock the time with fairest show: 
False face must hide what the false heart doth know.

This changing attitude towards murder and power is a critical element in Macbeth's characterization.  Shakespeare uses this to show how relatively decent human beings can embrace depravity in a commonplace setting. Macbeth is not evil personified. He is a regular human being, an everyman of sorts.  Combined with the right elements, Shakespeare uses this change to show what can potentially lie in subterranean form amongst human beings. In Macbeth's change, Shakespeare shows how individuals can move from creatures that respect the natural order and structure to those who defile and subvert it.  These changes are reflected in Macbeth's dialogue, which at first shows reverence and gives way to destruction.

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