In Macbeth, what is Macbeth like at the beginning of the play?

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At the start of the play, Macbeth is every bit the hero. Noble, brave, and unswervingly loyal to his king, Macbeth is renowned throughout the kingdom as the greatest warrior in the whole of Scotland. More than anyone else, he was responsible for the crushing defeat that the Scottish forces...

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At the start of the play, Macbeth is every bit the hero. Noble, brave, and unswervingly loyal to his king, Macbeth is renowned throughout the kingdom as the greatest warrior in the whole of Scotland. More than anyone else, he was responsible for the crushing defeat that the Scottish forces have just inflicted upon the Norwegian enemy. And King Duncan is so grateful for Macbeth's heroic exploits that he awards him with the title of Thane of Cawdor. A just reward, one might think, for a display of such remarkable courage.

And yet there's an ominous element of foreshadowing here. The previous Thane of Cawdor betrayed Duncan by going over to the other side. And in due course, Macbeth will betray Duncan, despite everything he's ever done for him, by brutally murdering him. That an ostensibly loyal and noble warrior should stoop to such base treachery is truly shocking indeed.

The contrast between the Macbeth that we see at the start of the play and the bloody, murdering tyrant that he becomes after killing Duncan really could not be greater. That Macbeth undergoes such a profound transformation is what makes him such a complex, fascinating character. On the one hand, he acts like a bloodthirsty tyrant, yet at the same time, he is never entirely comfortable in his new role as king. This would suggest that Macbeth's transformation, though undoubtedly remarkable, is nonetheless far from complete.

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At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a valiant, loyal soldier, who courageously risks his life on the battlefield to lead Scotland's troops to victory. In act 1, scene 2, the Captain elaborates on Macbeth's fearless performance in battle by saying,

"But all’s too weak, For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name—Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, Which smoked with bloody execution, Like valor’s minion carved out his passage Till he faced the slave; Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him, Till he unseamed him from the nave to th' chops, And fixed his head upon our battlements." (1.2.15-23)

King Duncan is impressed with Macbeth and refers to him as a "valiant cousin" and "worthy gentleman." Ross then enters the scene and gives King Duncan an account of how Macbeth defeated the King of Norway and the former Thane of Cawdor. However, Macbeth's ambition is revealed after hearing the prophecies and learning that King Duncan has given him the title Thane of Cawdor. Despite Macbeth's ambitious nature, he is portrayed as a relatively loyal, courageous soldier, who is worthy of earning the title Thane of Cawdor at the beginning of the play. As the play progresses, Macbeth's wife convinces him to assassinate King Duncan, which changes Macbeth's life for the worse and leads to more bloodshed and turmoil. 

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When Macbeth starts, there is a terrible storm and the audience wonders what may be in store. The witches present the first scene and it is apparent that the storm foreshadows far worse to come; in fact, the witches chant "fair is foul and foul is fair" in Act I, scene i (line 10). After the witches disappear, and before meeting Macbeth, the audience learns from Duncan and his men that Macbeth is "brave" and "worthy."

When Macbeth enters, his first comment is that he has not seen "so foul and fair a day" (I.iii.38) meaning that the weather is appalling but at least he and Banquo have had success on the battlefield. The two men are bemused by the witches who reappear, especially when they talk of the likelihood that Macbeth will be awarded the title of Thane of Cawdor and even go as far as to say that he will be king.

It is apparent that Macbeth is unsettled by the witches' talk and it is not long before the very title that the witches spoke of (Thane of Cawdor) is presented to a shocked Macbeth who immediately believes that there may be truth in the witches' words and he may be king after all, although Banquo does warn him not to put too much store in the promises and claims of the "instruments of darkness (124). So, Macbeth's transformation from decorated and valiant soldier has already started and his "earnest of success" (132) creates an internal conflict which starts to eat away at his very soul.  

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Macbeth was a powerful warrior and a loyal subject of the king. However, since he changes so much and so quickly in response to the prophecy, we can also suspect his character is malleable.

Greg

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At the beginning of the play Macbeth has won recognition for his bravery in battle and his defeat of the King of Norway and the rebellious Macdonwald. He is described as brave and fearless, and he is yet to become ambition. In fact, when the witches first give him his prophesy he is confused rather than extatic. THis of course quickly change as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth become more and more ambitious, power being their ultimate goal.

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