In Macbeth, how does Shakespeare present Macbeth in Act One? 

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thielgrad04 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout Act I of the play, we are introduced to the character of Macbeth as a person of integrity (honesty, sincerity, compassion, bravery). In Scenes I-VII, several of the characters show us that they hold Macbeth in high regard:  


Scene I

Sergeant: 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.

 

Scene II

King Duncan: O valiant cousin! worthy gentleman!

 

It is during, or soon after, Macbeth’s meeting with the three witches that Macbeth’s persona begins to shift to the darker side. Thoughts of murdering King Duncan in order to become the next King of Scotland begin to swirl around in his head, however, the thought of actually acting on his thoughts terrifies him.

 

Scene III

Macbeth: I am thane of Cawdor:
If good, 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? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings:
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is
But what is not.

 

Macbeth believes that if he is to become king, then it is fate that will make it so, and all he must do is bide his time. 

 

Macbeth: If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me,
Without my stir. 

Banquo: Worthy Macbeth, we stay upon your leisure.

King Duncan compliments Macbeth over and over on his defeat of Macdonwald; this is how much King Duncan respects and trusts Macbeth:

Scene IV

Duncan: O worthiest cousin!
The sin of my ingratitude even now
Was heavy on me: thou art so far before
That swiftest wing of recompense is slow
To overtake thee. Would thou hadst less deserved,
That the proportion both of thanks and payment
Might have been mine! only I have left to say,
More is thy due than more than all can pay.

Macbeth’s response is to shrug it off, to act as if it were just natural for any man to do as he had, and therefore, acknowledge that no compliments are necessary. This shows Macbeth as a modest and humble man.

Things begin to change after King Duncan announces while visiting Macbeth’s castle that his own son Malcolm will become the next heir to the throne. This means, that if Macbeth is to be king, he will now have to wait until not only Duncan's reign, but also Malcolm’s reign to end. Macbeth is not likely to be alive by that time, and if he is, he’ll be much older. He begins to wrestle with his thoughts between remaining loyal and committing murder. His greed for the throne and all it offers is beginning to get the best of Macbeth:

SceneVII

Macbeth: If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well

It were done quickly: if the assassination

Could trammel up the consequence, and catch

With his surcease success; 

He's here in double trust;

First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,

Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,

Who should against his murderer shut the door,

Not bear the knife myself.

He appears to have decided to remain loyal to the king. When Lady Macbeth questions him, his response is:

Macbeth: We will proceed no further in this business:

Unfortunately, because of a festering greed and his wife's talking down to him, Macbeth’s resolve begins to crumble, his greed gets the better of him, and he comes to a decision:

Macbeth: 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.

Though Macbeth has not taken any criminal actions by the end of Act I, we can see how quickly his persona and his thoughts have changed in such a short time and how easily influenced he was by his status and people around him. Though his friends still see him as valiant and worthy, Macbeth has begun to act anything but.