What are Macbeth's primary character traits? Please include quotes as evidence.

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

At the beginning of the play, we learn that Macbeth is courageous and unrelenting, as evidenced in the following quote from a sergeant who reports on the battle in Act l, Scene 2:

...but all's too weak:
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

Macbeth is ruthless, as illustrated later in the same speech:

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.

This ruthlessness is further illustrated when Macbeth kills his king, has Banquo assassinated, and has Macduff's entire family wiped out.

Macbeth is gullible because he readily believes the witches' prophecies and does not question the veracity of their predictions. This is best illustrated by the fact that they tell him, through apparitions, that he will be invincible and will not be defeated until Birnam wood marches up Dunsinane Hill. 

Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.

Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.

It is this gullibility which later leads to his downfall, for Birnam wood does indeed march up Dunsinane hill in the form of soldiers who camouflaged themselves with boughs from the trees. Furthermore, he learns, at his peril, that Macduff was not naturally born but was from his mother's womb 'untimely ripped' -- born by a caesarean section.

Macbeth is bloodthirsty. This is a fact which he acknowledges in Act 3, Scene 4:

I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er:

Macbeth is ambitious, but wishes to achieve his goal by illegitimate means as he indicates after being told that he had been awarded the title, thane of Cawdor, as predicted by the witches:

Act l, Scene 3:

[Aside] Glamis, and thane of Cawdor!
The greatest is behind.

Act l, Scene 4:

[Aside] The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires:
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be,
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.

Macbeth is also guilt-ridden, as illustrated by the fact that he can't sleep and is tormented by Banquo's ghost:

Act lll, Scene 2:

Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams
That shake us nightly: better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace,
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstasy

Act III, Scene 4:

Thou canst not say I did it: never shake
Thy gory locks at me.

Finally, Macbeth is sly and devious, as depicted when he kills Duncan's guards to implicate them and to prevent himself from being incriminated:

Act ll, Scene 3:

O, yet I do repent me of my fury,
That I did kill them.

When he is asked why he killed the guards, he answers, in part:

Here lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood;
And his gash'd stabs look'd like a breach in nature
For ruin's wasteful entrance: there, the murderers,
Steep'd in the colours of their trade, their daggers
Unmannerly breech'd with gore: who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make 's love known?

In the end, it is Macbeth's own malice, supported by many of the above traits, which leads to his tragic destruction.

auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Shakespeare's Macbeth is a play which explores the darker side of human nature, to be sure.  The list of Macbeth's character traits which you've already begun is a good one and covers mostly the negative aspects of this murdering usurper king.  That's as it should be, since those elements are the focus of this story.  But dark things always look darker next to light, so let's examine a few more positive characteristics which Macbeth also clearly possessed.  You started with his having a conscience, which is true. We also have evidence that Macbeth loved his wife, "his dearest partner in greatness."  Though he proved otherwise later in the play, at the beginning of the story he loved and was loyal to his cousin and king, Duncan.  The same is true for his fellow soldier, Banquo, until Macbeth grows desperate to maintain his ill-gotten power.  I would encourage you to use both sets of characteristics in anything you write about Macbeth, as the positive traits at the beginning serve as a stark contrast to his darker traits.

kana94's profile pic

kana94 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

traits of macbeth

  • noble and brave at the beginning
  • arrogant
  • respectful
  • loves his wife dearly(she only loves him for power)
  • murderer
  • a dedicanted person
  • sick with power
  • deceiver

my own opinion(hes a dumb ass who loves someone whos to good for him and had to dump her ass the moment she insisted for him to kill the king.)

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