Macbeth, written by English playwright William Shakespeare, is a fictional play set during a deep Christian era, which focuses heavily on the life of Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman. Consistently throughout the play, a number of critical issues and themes are explored and reiterated with the clever use of language techniques and setting. On analysis of the patterns these themes and issues present, the responder is able to recognise a number of insights into the complex structure of human life and emotion.
Furthermore, through investigation of Shakespeare’s time and audience, we can further understand the context of these insights and how they relate to present day. Ambition is essentially a positive human emotion, however it maintains the ability to manipulate personal decision and influence cause of action. Throughout the play, the power and control of ambition is notably the most crucial element in the development of the plot, and provides a fundamental insight into the manner human emotions operate.
To begin Macbeth is initially portrayed as a noble and decent character before meeting the three witches. He is considered loyal to his king and is highly respected amongst his soldiers, “For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name—”. Shakespeare characterises this dignified Macbeth through the use of powerful emotive language such as “worthy gentle men” and “valiant cousin”. However, upon meeting the witches and hearing the utterance of their prophecy “All hail king thereafter”, ambition begins to consume him, initiating his mental downfall.
Shakespeare emphasises the effect of ambition over Macbeth when he contrasts the once heroic character as “deceitful, false, avaricious and malicious”. Not only to we see the controlling effect of ambition on Macbeth, but rather it is his wife who begins wild dreams of limitless control as ambition reveals a darker side of human nature. Lady Macbeth, constricted by this dark desire for power, aggressively persuades Macbeth into murdering King Duncan. We see Macbeth use ambition as a justification to himself when he declares “Vaulting ambition, which o’er leaps itself and falls on the other “.
Shakespeare’s inclusion of the term “vaulting ambition” demonstrates and emphasises the influence ambition can dictate over human action. Such wild ambition is presented in Macbeth’s soliloquy and metaphor “Life’s but a walking shadow”, which implies its inevitable and detrimental nature. Macbeth allows the responder to identify the manipulative nature and control ambition can hold over human emotion. It is through Shakespeare’s clever characterisation and use of language techniques that we can analyse the natural process of human emotion and how ambition can act as a catalyst for irrational human behaviour.
As such, we establish a key insight into the impact of ambition on human emotion and the destructive and unethical behaviour that can result. In Macbeth, the Elizabethan world view and perception of natural order greatly influences the complex mechanics of the play. Shakespeare writes in a time where God’s order was assigned to all aspects of life, from kings to nobles, husband to wife, and men to women. If the natural order was altered, God would become displeased and society and nature would distort until order was inevitably returned to its natural state.
The subversion of nature is presented consistently throughout Macbeth; in the tyranny and vicious nature of Macbeth, and also in the ambiguous and abnormal gender profile demonstrated by Lady Macbeth. The corruption of the natural order in Scotland commences upon Macbeth’s act of regicide and unjust ascension to kingship. Shakespeare effectively communicates the impact of such unnatural events through the use of powerful natural imagery. Subsequent to Macbeth’s murder of Duncan, Dunsinane is engulfed in a violent weather of storms and ferocious winds.
Lenox describes the evening as, “The night has been unruly. Where we lay, Our chimneys were blown down and, as they say, Lamentings heard i’ th’ air” This use of symbolic imagery portrays how Scotland has been overwhelmed by sin. Lady Macbeth further provokes the unsettling of natural order when she begins to plot against the King. At this time, we see her gender ambiguity provoked when she exclaims “unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty”.
Macbeth become more passive as she begins to assume a more masculine role, and therefore, is subverting the Elizabeth natural order by denying her femininity. In the Elizabethan era, such an unstable and disturbed world was toxic. Inevitably we see the death of Macbeth and his wife as they succumb to the consequence of their actions. Order is finally restored to the land following Malcolm’s proper ascension to the throne, highlighting the significance of correct order and hierarchy to the Elizabethan Era.
Shakespeare’s crucial involvement of natural order and God’s will is a powerful inclusion in the play. Through the use of powerful imagery and contrast, Shakespeare allows us to develop an insight into the importance of maintaining correct social order and the consequences of challenging it. In Macbeth, a number of key characters make decisions that result in harsh consequences. Shakespeare allows us to identify the connection between sinful actions and the subsequent guilt and consequence. Within the play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are both totally consumed by guilt.
Upon committing regicide, Shakespeare highlights the overriding guilt of their actions through the use of symbolic imagery. The image of blood is consistently repeated throughout the play and symbolises the unrelenting guilt staining the couple “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? ” This is further demonstrated in Act 5 Scene 1, where Lady Macbeth’s mental depreciation and thriving guilt is highlighted when she is presented with the illusion of bloodstained hands as she sleep walks in the night, “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Shakespeare also utilises setting well in many of the scenes to represent the evil pervading within the play and around the couple. Images of darkness and night help create this evil setting for the sin committed by Macbeth and his wife, “let not light see my black and deep desires”. Macbeth allows us to establish an understanding of the consequences of a person’s action and the subsequent guilt that follows. Accordingly, we are provided with an insight into the role of choices in human emotion and how a regrettable decision can bring with it not only cruel consequence, but unforgiving guilt.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth explores several critical issues pertaining to the process of human life and society. Macbeth reflects on human attitudes and reinforces the challenges of human behaviour. The play reiterates the consequences that are linked to sinful action and the guilt that follows, the importance of order and structure in society, and the impact of ambition as a catalyst for irrational human behaviour. These issues provide us with key insights into the complex mechanics and structure of human emotion and society, enhancing our understanding of the play as a whole.
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