How is Macbeth presented?

Macbeth is initially presented as a noble figure, but his flaws and paranoia gradually transform him into a villain. Audience members watch this once heroic man succumb to ambition and wickedness until he meets his well-deserved demise.

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The character Macbeth is first presented as a good man who has won renown in battle and is loyal to his king. However, after he meets the three witches, who seemingly present a prophecy that Macbeth will become king of Scotland, this begins to change. 

As Macbeth considers the possibility...

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The character Macbeth is first presented as a good man who has won renown in battle and is loyal to his king. However, after he meets the three witches, who seemingly present a prophecy that Macbeth will become king of Scotland, this begins to change. 

As Macbeth considers the possibility that he should take action in becoming king, namely by killing King Duncan, his good nature is thrown into conflict with his newfound ambition. With the encouragement of his wife, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth gives in to his ambition and kills the king. The good man in Macbeth is horrified by what he has done, even as he ascends to the throne.  

The tension between who he was and who he is to become plays out over the rest of the play. After having his friend Banquo killed in order to solidify the crown for his possible heirs, Macbeth begins to be haunted by visions of his dead friend. At this point, Macbeth the king becomes more authoritarian, as well as more detached from his subjects, including his wife. 

By the last act of the play, the good man that Macbeth was before has been fully consumed by Macbeth the tyrant. His primary focus is to preserve his reign at any cost. Even learning of the death of Lady Macbeth does nothing to dissuade him from his objective. In the end, Macbeth becomes ruthless and cruel, a man driven mad by ambition and the horror of what he did to fulfill that ambition. It is only his death that releases Macbeth from the fallen man he became. 

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Macbeth is presented as a multi-layered figure, a tragic character whose heroism erodes as ambition and fear overtake any noble qualities he once possessed. His fall is great, from the good impression he in his first appearance to his final moments as a frenzied tyrant taking a futile last stand.

The audience's first impression of Macbeth is colored with heroic valor. Before he even appears onstage, a sergeant sings his praises:

For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name—
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour's minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave;
Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chaps,
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.

From the very beginning, Macbeth is linked to violence, however, this is violence sanctified by both his patriotic goals and its place on the battlefield. Ironically, this noble battle foreshadows Macbeth's own death at the hands of Macduff once he becomes the tyrannical threat to Scotland's peace. Still, here he is praised as "valiant" and "worthy" by King Duncan and presented as an ideal warrior: loyal, brave, and decisive in combat.

This noble image of Macbeth begins to fade almost as soon as he makes an appearance onstage. When confronted with the witches' prophecies, Macbeth is intrigued rather than repulsed, revealing his hidden ambition for power. However, this intrigue is complicated by Macbeth's strong sense of doubt: he comprehends the psychological weight of committing a murder, which is wholly distinct from what he does on the battlefield. Once Lady Macbeth learns of the prophecy and starts wearing away Macbeth's moral resistance, Macbeth appears more indecisive and far less noble, easily moved to regicide by his lust for power and anxiety about his own manhood.

While Macbeth is often considered a tragic hero, like Hamlet or Othello, he is far more villainous than either, ordering the assassinations of those who pose the least bit of threat to his power, including innocents and his own former friends. As king, he loses the qualities that once made him a great warrior, which only reappear right before he dies in combat at the end. Ultimately, Macbeth is presented as a heroic figure whose succumbing to temptation turns him into a tyrant.

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