What are 5 major turning points in Macbeth's character in Macbeth, and in what scenes are they?

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When Macbeth first hears the prophecy that he will be king, he "start[s] and seem[s] to fear" the Weird Sisters' words, according to Banquo (1.3.43). He does not really know what to think, at first. We later learn from his wife's speech that he is "full o' th' milk of...

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When Macbeth first hears the prophecy that he will be king, he "start[s] and seem[s] to fear" the Weird Sisters' words, according to Banquo (1.3.43). He does not really know what to think, at first. We later learn from his wife's speech that he is "full o' th' milk of human kindness," and so it seems unlikely that he would jump right to the idea of murdering his friend, cousin, and king (1.5.17). However, when Duncan names his son, Malcolm, as heir to the throne, Macbeth's character begins to change. He says,

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 (1.4.57–60).

Now, he asks for darkness so that no one will be able to see his dark dreams of becoming king. He does not want his eye to see what his hand is doing, because he knows what his hand will do is wrong. He is clearly capable of contemplating murder now.

Macbeth, however, soon tells his wife, "We will proceed no further in this business" (1.7.34). He has been honored by Duncan lately, and he does not want to ruin the "Golden opinions" that people have of him so soon after he has acquired them (1.7.36). He seems to be feeling a number of concerns, including concerns for his own soul. When Lady Macbeth insults his masculinity, though, calling him a coward and something less than a man, Macbeth relents, saying, "I am settled and bend up / Each corporal agent to this terrible feat" (1.7.92–93).

Later, he is incredibly remorseful after he murders Duncan, fearful because he "could not . . . pronounce 'Amen'" and worrying that he will not be able to sleep peacefully anymore because he has "'murder[ed] sleep'" (2.2.42, 2.2.48). However, he seems to have no trouble whatsoever killing Duncan's equally innocent chamberlains. Murder comes more easily to him the second time, and Macbeth is able to kill the grooms without even consulting or being prodded by his wife.

Macbeth reaches another turning point when he decides to order the murder of Banquo and Fleance without consulting his wife. He actually lies to Lady Macbeth about it, telling her to "present [Banquo] eminence" at the banquet that night, though he knows full well that Banquo will be dead by then and so will not attend (3.2.35). Moreover, he has been "keep[ing] alone" of late, rather than taking pleasure in her company and advice, as he always seems to have done (3.2.10).

Macbeth experiences another turning point after he goes to speak with the Weird Sisters for a second time. He seeks them out to learn more about his fate, and though he now believes that he is untouchable, he decides to murder Macduff's wife and children. He says,

From this moment,
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand. And even now,
To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and
The castle of Macduff I will surprise (4.1.166–171).

He will no longer consider things so deeply. Macbeth vows that, from now on, as soon as he considers something, he will act on it. At this point, he has morally descended even further: he's gone from murdering grown men (e.g., Duncan, Banquo) to attempting to murder a young boy (Fleance), and now to murdering a defenseless woman and her several children (Macduff's family). He gets worse and worse.

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Obviously there are no hard and fast answers to this question and everyone is going to differ in their response. What you need to think about is how Macbeth's character develops - how we see him at his first introduction in Act I scene iii, and then what are the significant stages that lead him up to his tragic downfall at the end of the play. Where are those stepping stones in his character development? Here are my ideas:

1) Obviously Act I scene iii is key in our first introduction to the character of Macbeth. This is also a key scene because the witches give Macbeth their prophecies and we see how Macbeth reacts. Disturbingly, the text suggests that the withces have actually keyed into thoughts that Macbeth has already contemplated, and also introduce a key issue as to whether Macbeth himself needs to act to accomplish these prophesies.

2) Act I scene vii is another key point as we see Macbeth's conscience in his soliloquy, but also how he is bullied into committing the murder by Lady Macbeth. We see her cajole, mock and flatter him into committing the murder and this makes Macbeth "resolute" as he goes off to murder Duncan.

3) Act III scene i to me is important because, with Macbeth's organising of the murder of Banquo, we see a Macbeth who is able to commit acts of villainy without the involvement of his wife. Also, hiring murderers to do the deed for him instead of committing the murder himself raises his crime to new levels - he is orchestrating slaughter and violence from a distance, and showing greater savagery.

4) Act IV scene i and ii represents an escalation of what has been established through the murder of Banquo. Note how Act IV scene ii is deliberately designed to evoke the full horror of Macbeth's actions - Macduff's family become real, sympathetic people who we can empathise with and this makes Macbeth's crime all the more heinous. Macbeth is well and truly on the slide to damnation.

5) Act V scene v, one of Macbeth's last scenes, is particularly tragic in the way that Macbeth greets the news of his wife's death and also realises that his time is up. What makes it more poignant is the manner in which he reacts to these events. His determination to die fighting and not to give in adds much to the tragedy of the play - Macbeth has many noble qualities such as bravery and courage, and it is said how he has fallen.

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