Short analyses of lines in Macbeth. Mainly as an excuse to post this picture.

Macbeth C&A’s:

Having momentarily freed himself from the influence of Lady Macbeth’s entreatments to murder Duncan, Macbeth attempts to sort out his conflicting feelings and decide upon a course of action. While thus engaged, Macbeth asks himself what Duncan has done to deserve a premature death and goes on to describe how, if he were to kill the king, “pity, like a naked newborn babe / … / Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye” (1.7.21-24). Through the personification of pity as a baby, an object whose connotation is one of helplessness and innocence, Shakespeare indicates Macbeth’s guilt at having grim intentions towards such a harmless subject as Duncan. This characterizes Macbeth as a man seemingly ruled by his morals (at least when left to his own devices) rather than by fear or other motivation as demonstrated by his change from balking at the murder of his king only because it presented potential danger to his own person to a moral obligation to his king and country. This is, so far, in keeping with what little else has been learned about Macbeth thus far: his performance in battle is a testament to the fact that he is not ruled by his fear and his resistance to his “fate” and his wife’s suggestions shows that he is largely motivated by morals. However, Macbeth remains a conflicted character, easily swayed, and at a loss to obey his own feelings.

Following Banquo’s departure at the beginning of Act III of Shakespeare’s Macbeth,  the play’s titular character soliloquizes about his growing fear of Banquo. Macbeth finds the reason for his apprehension in the Weïrd Sisters’ prophecy, claiming that “Upon [his] head [the witches] placed a fruitless crown / And put a barren scepter in [his] grip,” (3.1.66-67). Shakespeare uses the connotation of the word “barren” (childless or unable to bear children) to create a metaphor for Macbeth’s lack of an heir to carry on his newly formed line, a predicament placed on him by the prophesy which heralded Banquo’s, not Macbeth’s, children as kings. Such a situation completely denies Macbeth power—the object of his designs. Possessing progeny means having a method of perpetuating oneself, which, to Macbeth, constitutes ultimate power, as kingship for a mere lifetime cannot satisfy his new insatiable ambition. Banquo gains immortality through the granting of a legacy and moreover a royal one, while Macbeth gains nothing from ruling as king as his line will not continue: hence the second metaphor of the fruitless crown which bears him no benefit (even after the “labor” he underwent to secure the position represented by the crown). Furthermore, Macbeth does not blame himself for his plight as he indicates that these useless and unrewarding symbols of kingship were “placed” and “put” in his hands, supporting earlier evidence characterizing him as quick to complain and spot peril, but slow to act. This paranoia reflects also in Macbeth’s identification of Banquo as a threat because he wields the power of progeny, a paranoia which leads Macbeth to plan a second murder—a murder which signifies that his character has passed the point of no return as he designs to murder a father and son without the slightest compunction or indeed any moral objection.


My copy of Macbeth

After reading Macbeth in school, we were assigned to get together in groups of 3 and write our own mini-plays exploring a character. Thank goodness we could choose groups (friend 1, friend 2) because this project involved a) writing an analysis of the character b) writing a script (at least 75 lines in iambic pentameter, ours was about 150), and c) making a movie of your script. All in less than 2 weeks. Teachers are insane sometimes often.

Thankfully, my group got Macduff. For those who haven’t read the Scottish Play, Macduff  is a Scottish lord who (rightly) suspects Macbeth of regicide and ends up killing him. So he’s a cool character. With a lot of potential.

Now the assignment told us to “explore” his character. That’s what my English teacher calls “nerdy teacher language.” A little bit more probing revealed that as long as we could back up anything we said about Macduff’s character with interpreted evidence of the text, we could do anything. So we could interpret the evidence any way we liked as long as long as we made a strong argument. Already allows us a lot of freedom. So we start brainstorming.

Has anyone ever seen “All About Eve”? Well our eventual idea has a lot of similarities to the cyclical quality of that brilliant movie. I noticed this after we had the idea and got really excited about it and my friends asked me what on earth I was talking about.

Anyway. Our basic idea was that Macduff would follow the same path as Macbeth. Think about it. It does fit. Or it could.

Macbeth becomes a hero in battle and receives the titles and lands of Cawdor, a traitor to Duncan, King of Scotland. Macbeth hears a prophecy that he will become king. It eats and eats away at him. It drives him to kill his own king (and a bunch of other people) and set himself up as a dreadful and paranoid tyrant. He is murdered by Macduff and Macduff becomes a hero.

Though Macbeth did not kill the traitor Cawdor, he does receive his title and gains his fame in battle around the same time. In the play, Cawdor’s only importance is that his titles are given to Macbeth, something which the witches prophecy to Macbeth before he knows of it, lending the prophecy believability.  But the presence of traitor at the moment of Macbeth’s rise to heroism parallel’s Macduff’s case. Macduff who gains fame through the killing of the traitor Macbeth.

Really all we know of Macduff in the play is that he is insanely loyal to Scotland. Was not the same true of Macbeth prior to the prophecy? He that was so trusted by Duncan?

And so went our thinking. Macbeth and Macduff were at different stages in a progression from heroic loyalty to tyrannical treachery. In our mini-play we filled in the gaps of Macduff’s existence with his own prophecy (similar to Macbeth’s) that prophecied he would become king. Macduff declares his loyalty to Malcolm, but ponders the prophecy while he sleeps restless the night after killing Macbeth. Unable to sleep, he rises and still pondering the murder of Malcolm, has two visions, which purposefully mirror the hallucinations Macbeth had in the play, even (with our teacher’s permission) using some of the same lines. First he sees a group of lords around a table, Macbeth and Cawdor among them, and is beckoned to take a seat at the table among these traitors by a silent Malcolm, who casts his scepter at Macduff’s feet.

Macduff, of course, takes this as a sign that he should kill Malcolm and has the same dagger vision that Macbeth famously has.

And so, without further ado, Macduff:

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