How has Shakespeare has created contradictory representations of Macbeth in the play, Macbeth?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some times, Macbeth is quite courageous; other times, he is cowardly.  The first description we hear of Macbeth is from the captain who calls him "brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name)" and discusses the way he slashed his way through the battle in order to "unseam [his enemy] from the nave to th' chops" (1.2.18, 1.2.24).  He places himself in grave danger to defend the kingdom and the king against traitors and invaders.  However, later in the play, he hires murderers to kill his friend Banquo when he feels too threatened by Banquo's prophecy and noble nature.  He is too cowardly to do the job himself, lying to the murderers to get them to do it for him; then he absolutely panics when Banquo's ghost appears, and he totally loses his cool. 

Likewise, Macbeth is, at times, in possession of a sound conscience; other times, he is totally unscrupulous.  After he weighs all of the reasons he has not to kill Duncan, he decides that "We will proceed no further in this business" (1.7.34).  He actually tries to make the right decision here, and we really feel for him when his wife berates and insults him as a result.  We might even continue to feel badly for him after Duncan's murder when he panics and feels absolutely terrible.  However, toward the end of the play, when he becomes angry at Macduff, he has Macduff's innocent wife, children, and even his servants slaughtered savagely.  He becomes utterly corrupt, so corrupt that he will kill children.