Question: Describe at least one character or individual in the text. Explain how the character or individual helped you understand an important message.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare is a play written about a noble warrior who is corrupted into becoming a wicked king. Shakespeare uses his characters to help the reader understand important messages throughout the play. An example of this is the important message around the consequences of unchecked ambition, a major theme in the play, which Shakespeare helps the reader to understand through Lady Macbeth and Macbeth.
The first character that Shakespeare uses to help the reader understand the important message of how dangerous unchecked ambition can be is Macbeth. Macbeth was the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, one of his titles was won through Macbeth’s loyalty and friendship with King Duncan. Duncan gives Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor after the previous Thane’s betrayal by saying, “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won.” Macbeth was a noble and loyal warrior who was recognised by the King. This, however, did not last very long. A major turning point in the plot was the murder of King Duncan by Macbeth. Although Macbeth was initially a loyal and noble servant of the King he was overcome with ambition and sought to become King himself, which led to him killing Duncan. Macbeth himself recognises his ambition as a major flaw which was unchecked by his morality by saying “No spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition.” Macbeth’s vaulting ambition went unchallenged by his morals, which led to Macbeth’s betrayal of King Duncan, whom Macbeth was loyal to and fond of. Shakespeare uses Macbeth to show the reader the great danger of ambition that is let loose without restraint, which is a very important message in the play. The corruption of Macbeth’s character and his horrible deeds help the reader understand this message about how easily people can lose themselves in their ambition and the great seducing effect of power, without morals to hold them back. It leads to the breakdown of relationships and negative consequences for everyone who becomes a target of that ambition. Apart from warning the reader about the dangers of immorality and ambition, Shakespeare could have had another reason for helping the reader understand this powerful message. Macbeth was speculated to have been written in 1606, shortly after the attempted assassination of King James the 1st. During that time, William Shakespeare was under some suspicion regarding possible involvement in this plot. It is thought that the message that Shakespeare brings up about the cruel immoral nature of regicide could very well have been an attempt at persuading the people at the time of his undeniable innocence by spreading his view on such a horrifying matter.
Another character that Shakespeare uses to help the reader understand the important message about the danger of unchecked ambition is Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth was the wife of Macbeth. She was an ambitious woman who sought power through any means, manipulation, murder, and betrayal. Lady Macbeth believed that her feminine qualities opposed her desire for power and cruelty so she called, “come ye spirits that tend on mortal thought; unsex me here” to ask the spirits to take away her femininity. This shows that Lady Macbeth was always aware of her cruel nature and truly wished to indulge her ambitious desires, even if it was through Macbeth. Lady Macbeth used the same belief that femininity opposed the ambitious and cruel associations of masculinity to manipulate Macbeth into following his ambitious nature by saying, “When you durst do it, then you were a man; And to be more than what you were, you could be so much more the man.” Lady Macbeth tells him that in order to be more of a man, he must give in to his ambition and cruelty and kill Duncan. Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth and her corrupt nature to help us understand the message of how dangerous unchecked ambition can be by showing us the corrupting effect that it had on, not just Lady Macbeth, but also Macbeth, and how it started a chain of violence, death, and murder. Lady Macbeth’s ambition without moral restraint led to many unfortunate and tragic events, for example, the murder of King Duncan, and her own death by suicide. During this time it was believed that men had to be ambitious, and sometimes cruel, in order to appear masculine, which is one reason why Macbeth was led to follow his nature and become a victim of his unchecked ambition. Even in today’s society gender stereotypes and perceived roles can still impact people negatively. Suicide rates among men are still much higher than among women. Although the reasons aren’t that simple it is true that more women are diagnosed with depression, which means that women are more likely to seek help. This is widely believed to be because boys are encouraged to bottle up because of gender stereotypes like “men don’t cry.” Just like Macbeth many men today are negatively affected by stereotypes, and many women like Lady Macbeth still fight against the stereotype that women can’t be ambitious.
In conclusion, Macbeth by William Shakespeare is a powerful and thought-provoking text, that fills readers with powerful feelings of disappointment towards the acts of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and horror towards the portrayal of the immorality that can come from ambition if let loose without regard for consequences and others. Shakespeare does an excellent job of showing that deviation from evil is natural for humans, but evil also originates in the human heart, and when people like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth fail to deviate from the evil in their hearts it can lead to horrifying tragedy not just for themselves, but for many others who become targets of their unchallenged and cruel nature.