Shakespeare the literary giant of all times wrote his masterpieces with theater in mind. All his plays have become famous and he never stuck to any specific kind of genre in his writing. So we have tragedies, comedies and lyrical plays and more. Macbeth is considered as one of his darkest plays and is set in Scotland. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are the main players and King Duncan, Banquo, Malcolm, Macduff also have important roles. Then there are the minor characters like Ross, Fleance, Lady Macduff, Donalbain. Yet the three most powerful characters are the three witches who appear briefly for three scenes. In the first scene they set the ball rolling and the next time they appear they foretell the death of Macbeth.
The play is said to have been written 1603 and 1607. The first account of it being staged is said to be 1611. It has been staged so many times all over the world in so many languages. Many films and plays have been inspired by the theme of this play. Ambition is the theme and the ways and means used to fulfill the ambition are the most sinister ones and it is for this reason it is called the darkest tragedy of Shakespeare.
The play opens with the three witches, which is like an introduction scene for them. Then it shifts to the military camp of King Duncan of Scotland. The captain praises the courage and battle waged by Macbeth and the King is very pleased with it. He decides to make Macbeth the Thane of Cawdor. As Macbeth and his friend Banquo returns from the battle field they are confronted by the three witches who call Macbeth the Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is confused for he was the Thane of Glamis but not of Cawdor. They go on to say that Macbeth will become the king and that Banquo’s children will rule the kingdom.
Role Of Lady Macbeth
Both of them are perplexed but leave the scene wondering how it would happen and if the witches are to be believed at all. When they are nearing the kingdom Ross greets them with the news that Macbeth is made the Thane of Cawdor. The king also announces that Malcolm, his son would be his heir to the throne. Then starts the dark mind play of Macbeth. He now wants to be the king but is not sure how to go about it. He sends a letter to his wife telling her the prophecy of the witches and that the king was soon coming to stay in their castle.
It is Lady Macbeth who contrives to kill the King and put the guilt on the chamberlains on duty. The chamberlains would be put to sleep with wine. Macbeth is not as strong as his wife and wants to retract his plan. But his wife calls him cowardly and finally the act is done and when it is discovered by Macduff, Macbeth kills the chamberlains in a fit of fury; the real reason was to kill truth. Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan’s children flee the country. All believe that Malcolm and Donalbain might have arranged this murder.
Soon Macbeth is made the king but he is still uneasy because the witches had said that Banquo’s sons would rule the country and now he arranges to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. Banquo is killed but Felance flees. Macbeth decides to meet the witches again and they give two prophecies. One, ‘none born of woman shall harm Macbeth’ and the other that he is safe till ‘Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane Hill’. Macbeth knows for sure that this is not going to happen and goes back a happy man. He again plans murder of Macduff and his family. The family is killed first and this news reaches Macduff soon.
Meanwhile Malcolm and Macduff meet and they know Macbeth is the person behind all deaths and soon wage a war with Macbeth with the help of the English King Edward. The soldiers surround Macbeth’s castle under the camouflage of trees and as they moved it seemed that ‘ Birnam Wood was moving to Dunsinane Hill’. Macbeth is not too perturbed because he knows that there can be no man on earth who is not born of a woman. Macduff was not delivered normally but his mother’s womb was cut open and he was born. And it is Macduff who kills Macbeth and takes his head as the prize of the war. Malcolm is then crowned the king of Scotland.
Ambition - The Main Theme
Lady Macbeth plans the killing of King Duncan but is shocked when Macbeth kills the chamberlain, Banquo and Macduff’s family and she becomes mentally deranged. She sleepwalks and is always found washing her hand which she says has blood stains. She dies before the war. Macbeth is considered as one of the weakest villains of Shakespeare. He is introduced as a hero and when the negative shades come into him, the warrior in him cannot accept the evil in him and he cringes. Initially it is his wife who whips him back to villainy and then on he commits more dark crimes. But he is scared of his actions unlike other villains of Shakespeare; Iago in Othello, Edmund in King Lear and Richard in Richard III. All these three villains had conquered self-doubt and guilt. Macbeth imagines his hand is stained with blood and tries to wash it off.
It is the ambition of Lady Macbeth to become the queen that makes the theme strong. There was a time when Macbeth did not want to murder the king. If he had his way or if his wife was less ambitious the crime would not have been committed. It is not to say that Macbeth was less ambitious. When he heard that Malcolm was the heir his sinister plans were cropping in his mind which shows that he was really ambitious. He was not brave enough to carry on his ambitious plans without any faltering. He did not murder out of any ill feelings; it was his ambition that got the better of the otherwise brave warrior. The seed to this ambition was sown by the three witches but why would they desire the death of Macbeth is always a mystery.