What causes the reader to sympathise with Macbeth even after his murders? Provide specific reference to the soliloquies of MacbethThis is for a question in class

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Mad and murderous though he is, Shakespeare's Macbeth shows certain admirable traits.  In the exposition to Macbeth, the reader learns that Macbeth is "brave," "valiant," and a "worthy gentleman."  Even the king, Duncan, calls him "noble Macbeth."  While Macbeth would like to believe the predictions of the witches, he initially decides against murder: 

If chance may have me king, why chance may crown me,

Without my stir (1.3.143-144)

And, in his first soliloquy before the murder of this King Duncan, Macbeth exhibits misgivings of conscience as he recognises the virtue in Duncan.  Thus, Macbeth is fully aware of the moral values involved as no evil man would be.

...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.  Besides, this Duncan

Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been

So clear in his great office, that his virtues

Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against

The deep damnation of his taking-off; (1.7.12-20)

After this soliloquy, Macbeth tells his wife that he will not commit the deadly deed:  "We will proceed no further in this business" (1.7.31); however, Lady Macbeth ridicules him and questions his manhood.  Here, as he is forced into the murderous act by Lady Macbeth's superior rhetoric--

What beast was't then

That made you break this enterprise to me/

When you durst do it, then you were a man;

And to be more than what you were, you would

Be so much more the man (1.1.48-54)

--and by the supernatural forces, Macbeth arouses the sympathy of the reader since he still is aware of the moral implications and is troubled by a guilty conscience, and feels he must wear a "false face."

That Macbeth yet feels pangs of conscience is evidenced in his next soliloquy in which he sees the bloody dagger before him, leading him to the bloody business.  He suffers great anxiety as he realises the horror of the deed he is about to commit.  Again, the reader pities Macbeth somewhat as his conscience cries out from him in warning to Duncan:

I go and it is done:  the bell invites me,

Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell

That summons thee to heaven, or to hell. (2.1.70-73)

Certainly, after Lady Macbeth dies, and Macbeth is left to consider all that he has done with no one with whom to share his new position, Macbeth again is tortured with a sense of the futility of his desperate actions.  He arouses again the pity of the reader as he reflects upon the insignificance of one person's life.  That Macbeth, who originally possessed "the milk of human kindness," has committed such deeds so that he can be king, only to have Lady Macbeth who forced him to do so die such an untimely death is, indeed, worthy of the readers sympathy:

It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.    (5.5.28-30)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve answered 318,910 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question