Trace the three stages in the development of the character of Macbeth in Macbeth.
Macbeth begins a heroic warrior, degenerates to almost pure evil, but manages to show flashes of some of his former greatness before he dies.
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These stages in Macbeth's development relate to his being one of Shakespeare's tragic heroes. As the play begins, he is one of King Duncan's generals, noted for his fierce courage. In his battle against Duncan's enemies, he fights so furiously and valiantly that Duncan rewards him by making him the Thane of Cawdor.
Macbeth's ambition is aroused by the witches' prophecies, and once he becomes Thane of Cawdor, he sets out to gain the throne of Scotland. In order to achieve his political ambitions, he murders a sleeping King Duncan and his attendants. Once he has become King of Scotland, Macbeth orders the subsequent murders of Banquo, Banquo's son Fleance, and Macduff's entire family, including his wife and young son. Of these, only Fleance escapes with his life. These are not the acts of a heroic warrior. These are the acts of a bloodthirsty tyrant, which is what Macbeth has become.
In the play's conclusion, even though he is outnumbered and defeated, Macbeth chooses to die in battle rather than endure the humiliation of surrender. As he faces Macduff, he declares, "Lay on, Macduff; /And damned be him that first cries 'Hold, enough!'" Thus the last view of Macbeth is one of courage in battle, a glimpse of his former self.
The character of Macbeth may show three different stages in the course of the play's action, but these stages are quite overlapping & not exclusive of one another.
In act1 sc.2, Macbeth is characterised in absentia as an exemplary embodiment of noble courage, 'Bellona's bridegroom'. The bleeding seargent reports to king Duncan how he put the merciless rebel, Macdonwald, to instantaneous death & thereafter fought with his fellow-general, Banquo, by his side, to lead Scotland to victory in the battle against the army of Norway assisted by the treacherous thane of Cawdor. Duncan immediately rewards his valiant cousin with the title of Cawdor, after announcing capital punishment for the traitor. But in act1 sc.3, when the witches meet Macbeth & Banquo on the heath to proclaim their prophecies, Macbeth's amazement & responses, especially his inner workings in a number of asides, suggest how there is a pre-existing seed of evil ambition in the deeper core of his mind which now finds a congenial soil to germinate. Even at the earliest stage, there is an element of 'foul' in so 'fair' Macbeth.
This great general of Duncan, rewarded & greatly admired by all, succumbs to his 'vaulting ambition' to kill Duncan under the chastisement of Lady Macbeth. But his long soliloquy in the beginning of act1 sc.7 & his mad ravings just after the killing definitely indicate a self-divided mind, tortured by moral scruples & imaginative conscience, although his ambition has got the better of his conscience. But thereafter, constantly under threat, real as much as imagined, he feels insecure and to ensure his own safety and security, moves from murder to murder. Banquo is killed, though his son escapes the murderers. In Macduff's absence, his whole family is most soullessly disposed to death. But his solioloquy before calling on the murderers for Banquo & Fleance, and his reflections in closing section of the banquet scene still reveal that Macbeth is far from pure or unrepentent evil. There is some 'fair' underlying the pronounced 'foul' in Macbeth.
Macbeth illustrates the Renaissance problematic of evil as co-existent with good. The hero-turned villain again assumes some greatness even in his defeat & death in the 5th act of Shakespeare's play. When he responds to the news of Lady Macbeth's death in act1 sc.5( She should have died hereafter/.....To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow..), or the way he fights Macduff to death knowing his destiny full well, we feel that Macbeth has significantly retrieved some of his former greatness.
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