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Macbeth Essay, Research Paper

In Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, the protagonist, Macbeth, changes his personality as the plot evolves. As the story proceeds, the reader/audience watches Macbeth neglect his conscience to do evil things. He does them for the sake of being “manly” and to achieve his goal of greater political power. Through Macbeth’s actions, the play wrestles with this idea of manhood. Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, define manliness as the ability to achieve anything, while having no fear or inhibitions. When Macbeth causes the murder of several people, he takes on a Machiavellian mindset to support his actions. In The Prince, Machiavelli famous quotation states that ” the end justifies the means.” However, Shakespeare puts a twist on the meaning of the quote. The final outcome of the play is that Macbeth is murdered and he is never really happy with the way he achieved his power. Macbeth is never fully prepared for where his conscience will lead him, and because of that he lets his guard down and lets the outside world influence him. When Macbeth loses control of himself, if causes the people around him to question his confidence and it causes him to question his own manhood.Shakespeare wants the reader/audience to believe that Macbeth is a strong man that has power and is not afraid to do anything. He first introduces the reader/audience to Macbeth by presenting his excellent reputation and preparing the reader/audience for a hero. During Act 1, scene 2, several nobles, or thanes, and the King of that time, Duncan, discuss Macbeth. They praise his victory in battle for having killed a man on the opposing Norwegian side.For brave, Macbeth (well he deserves that name) 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. 1.2.18-25 The captain glorifies this murder, suggesting that Macbeth’s manliness made him so brave as to kill an enemy. This implication reflects society’s ideals of what it means to be a man. Society clearly affects Macbeth when he later kills people in order to increase his power. However, the society applauds killing in war, not killing a citizen of one’s own country. The reader/audience is lead to believe that Macbeth is a man, not a coward. He shies away from any wrong doing, even if it is to increase his power. As a society we applaud doing the right thing, however, Lady Macbeth cares more about her husbands title than the law that she might be breaking. After the battle, Macbeth is promoted from Thane of Glamis to a position of greater power as Thane of Cawdor. Yet he is unsatisfied, and strives to become King. Prompted by Lady Macbeth, he resolves to murder Duncan at a dinner celebrating his new title. He achieved this title as Thane of Cawdor by killing the traitor Maconwald, so considers his “end” to rule Scotland, and his “means” murder. Before Macbeth kills Duncan, his conscience torments him. In fact, he probably would not have gone through with his plan if Lady Macbeth had not questioned his manhood. When Macbeth confides to his wife that he will not murder the King, she says, “What beast was’t, then, / That made you break this enterprise to me? / When you durst do it, then you were a man.” (1.7.53-56) In order to satisfy this expectation of him as courageous and determined, Macbeth secretly kills Duncan and becomes King. After he kills Duncan, his conscience gets the better of him. He hallucinates and hears voices telling him he can’t sleep. Lady Macbeth takes control and puts her husband back in check. The next morning when Macbeth wakes up, he ignores his conscience, and represses it.

Macbeth loses his inhibitions after the success of Duncan’s assassination. He is empowered by the ease and convenience of the murder, and no longer doubts it as a way to achieve power. When Banquo, a noble, suspects that Macbeth has killed Duncan, Macbeth immediately hires three murderers to kill him and his son Fleance. Though Lady Macbeth practically forces her husband to kill Duncan, he conceals these new plans from her. When she learns that Banquo threatens his power, Macbeth says, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest Chuck, /Till thou applaud the deed.” (3.3.51-52.) This quotation shows that Macbeth is independent of his Lady’s opinion now that he is less afraid to execute people. When Macbeth murders Duncan, he relies on Lady Macbeth for support. After his kills Duncan, he goes on a rampage about not being able to sleep because of the murder he has just committed. His wife calms him down and gives him instructions to follow on what to do. By the time he is ready to commit a second murder, he feels the need to prove himself to his wife and keep his plans secret. He no longer has the fear of getting caught, therefore does not need his wife to make a plan that is foolproof. Though Macbeth is confident in his decision for Banquo’s death, his conscience haunts him, literally. A mental ghost appears at a feast in the form of the deceased Banquo, and Macbeth publicly acknowledges it. Embarrassed by his lunatic ravings at the ghost, whom no one else sees, Lady Macbeth takes him aside and asks, ” Are you a man?” (3.4.70) Her notion of a “man” suggests one without regret or conscience, who hides his emotions. The ghost symbolizes Macbeth’s guilt after his murderous deeds. He demonstrates fear when speaking to the dead Banquo, thus fails to be a “man.” From act I to act III, Macbeth’s conscience changes in form but always distresses him. He is at first presented as the epitome of manliness, but as the reader/audience becomes familiar with his personality, he is shown to be weak. He acts on impulse to kill Duncan, but goes against his own will in doing so. If he were truly a man, he would have the strength to make the best of his esteemed title, Thane of Cawdor, and not feel the need to possess greater power and obtain it by way of murder. Instead, he becomes obsessed with a vision of false manliness. Macbeth’s brutal and dishonest methods of gaining power leave him a dissatisfied and unworthy King. He gains power by doing things that are deceitful, such as murdering innocent people because of his need for greater political power. In this play, Shakespeare teaches us that if we always strive to be something better by harming others, it is impossible to be truly great.

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