Macbeth’s Change from War Hero to Evil Murderer
Pride is a very dangerous trait. It can take you over, make you feel self conscious, and eventually change you altogether. When put under pressure, pride will make a decision for you. In the book of Genesis in the Bible, Eve, along with the serpent, manipulates Adam to eat the fruit from the tree. She teases him and because of his pride he eats the apple and is thrown out of Heaven, just like in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. Macbeth is full of pride and as Lady Macbeth manipulates him and makes him feel pathetic, so his character slowly but surely changes from a War Hero into an Evil Murderer.
At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a magnificent war hero – a saviour. In the second scene we meet a Captain reporting from the battlefield, praising Macbeth; “For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name(…) Till he fac’d the slave, Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him till he unseam’d him from the nave to th’chaps and fix’d his head upon our battlement.” To which Duncan replies, “O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman.” Shakespeare has specifically chosen his words in this section to display Macbeth as he is at his best; a ruthless warrior who would stop at nothing to defend his country. Throughout this scene Shakespeare uses words like valiant, honour and noble to describe Macbeth, to exaggerate his victory, and the fact that everybody is looking up to him. At the end of the scene, the current Thane of Cawdor’s death is pronounced, and it is agreed that Macbeth has won this title.
On their return from battle, Macbeth and Banquo stumble across the three witches. Of course, the witches had planned this meeting however Macbeth and Banquo, unaware of this, were worried and started to ask questions due to the witches’ unearthly appearance. The witches all hail Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, then Thane of Cawdor, and finally they hail him as King hereafter. These are the witches’ prophesies of Macbeth’s life to come. As soon as he hears the Witches’ predictions, Ross and Angus enter the scene and tell Macbeth that he is to be the new Thane of Cawdor. This means that one of the Witches’ prophecies has already come true, and Macbeth’s dark thoughts begin. Aside from Banquo he starts imagining the things that he would have to do to become King; “My thought, whose murder yet but fantastical, shakes so my single state of man that is function” shows how Macbeth is shaken by the very thought of a murder – this is a huge contrast from the bloodthirsty war hero at the beginning. Macbeth continues to have dark thoughts when he says aside “The prince of Cumberland: that is a step on which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, for in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires”. From this point Macbeth is no longer the selfless, loyal and patriotic man he was because these thoughts have engulfed him so quickly that it would be impossible to get them out of his head.
Immediately Macbeth believes the witches. This is for many reasons; one being the fact that their prophecies are becoming true before his eyes, and the other being a psychological thing – he liked what he heard and therefore it all seems much more possible. For example, somebody goes to a fortune teller to hear what they want to hear – and if they hear it then it ‘becomes true’. In Shakespeare’s time there was a lot of superstition about witchcraft and supernatural powers. At that time people believed that witches represented a so called “dark side” in human nature. The witches are a metaphor for the evil conscience inside of Macbeth. The witches didn’t have the power to bring Macbeth down – they were just able to lead Macbeth into doing things which he shouldn’t do. When the witches prophesise that Macbeth will be King they only plant a seed in his mind, but through his many murderous and scandalous activities, throughout the play, he nourishes that seed with the purely selfish intention of securing his throne.
We meet Lady Macbeth in Scene 5, reading aloud Macbeth’s letter informing her of what he has just experienced. Like Eve, Lady Macbeth knows exactly what has to be done to be able to manipulate her husband. In order for Macbeth to take the throne, hence her becoming his Queen, she would have to persuade him to kill Duncan. She therefore she takes it upon herself to be the driving person. She asks the spirits to “unsex” her and fill her from the crown to the toe of direst cruelty and make her blood thick. She wants her pathway of remorse to be stopped up, and she asks, “And pall me in the dunnest smoke of hell, nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, to cry ‘Hold, hold’” She asks for all of these because she doesn’t want to be cowardly when it comes to Duncan the current King’s murder. The last sentence about heaven peeping through the blanket of the dark has many interpretations. It could be suggested that she wants the night to cover any sign of mysterious things going on, so that it is pitch black, and another interpretation is that she doesn’t want God to see what they are doing. If heaven peeped through the blanket of the dark to cry ‘Hold, hold’ it could be God calling out to stop what they are doing. Although they are committing this crime they don’t want to be punished for it. Again, this is just like in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve wanted the apple, but they didn’t want God to know that they had taken it, so they hid.
Macbeth was reluctant to kill the King because of his own sense of right and wrong. He knew deep down that it shouldn’t be done because he is a loyal and trusted hero and for him to do it would go against everything that he should be working for in protecting his country. He wished that he had the same ruthless mind as he did in battle because it would have been so much easier for him. As soon as he had a shadow of doubt, Lady Macbeth was there to persuade him into believing it is for the best to kill Duncan. There are many ways in which she manipulates him into thinking that he is not worth anything and that he has to prove himself to her. She starts by saying he is a coward, and not a man. She puts his confidence down and then she moves on to how he is making her feel. She tells him that he doesn’t love her enough to kill Duncan, and if he really loved her then he would do as she asked. She also reminded him that she would be breaking a promise to her. Although they play off each other throughout the play, and there is much maliciousness about their relationship, I think that there is love deep inside and Macbeth doesn’t want to let her down. He therefore continues with the plan to kill Duncan, and does so at the beginning of Act 2.
After the murder Macbeth and Lady Macbeth return to the courtyard to wash off the blood. Here, Macbeth complains that the blood won’t come off his hands. Lady Macbeth says, “My hands are of your colour, but I shame to wear a heart so white”. This is an important quote because relating to Macbeth’s pride, this is the ultimate put-down. She, a woman would be shamed to wear a heart so white – to be such a coward – so how could Macbeth be so weak and look so cowardly? She plans on being the strong one and not to give in to the cowardice which has taken over Macbeth. This is really Lady Macbeth giving him a ‘telling off’ for being so childish, and not taking it like a man.
Soon after the murder has been committed Macbeth starts seeing things, and because of these visions he ends up going mad. He sees the dagger which he used to kill Duncan, and he thinks that it could be witchcraft but it’s actually just his mind playing tricks on him. Throughout the play his condition continues to deteriorate. Inside Lady Macbeth’s hard exterior soon breaks, and she also becomes mad. This is when Macbeth is able to regain control. Many around the castle start to realise that it is him who committed the crime, and therefore he has to resort to more immoral doings; some because he is not in his right mind. His decisions are misinformed and all the time he is becoming more and more evil. The play unfolds, and it is found out that Macbeth murdered Duncan and many others in trying to disguise it. The witches’ prophesise that Macbeth will not be killed by a man born of woman, so he is confident that he will not be killed for his wrong doings. It turns out that Macduff was ripped untimely from his mother’s womb, and therefore he kills Macbeth. At the end of the play, Malcolm describes Macbeth as a “dead butcher” and Lady Macbeth his “fiend-like Queen”. This can be interpreted at quite literally a dead butcher, because he is now dead and because he butchered so many people – it was his profession. But it could be portraying how he was when he was alive, because he used to be a man who would butcher other soldiers in battle back when he was the war hero but the he ended up with this old person dead, and a new man emerging as a murderer.
Macbeth’s character was too full of pride for his own good, and Lady Macbeth was too manipulative. Just as in Adam and Eve; Adam was too much of a coward and Eve was very persuasive. Along with all of the many messages behind the story of Macbeth, Shakespeare uses this underlying religious metaphor to teach us about selfishness, and the risks of pride. Pride is the key to unlocking the reason behind Macbeth’s huge character shift. We can see this by simply looking at the definition. The definition of pride is: Pride is the cultivation, preservation or exalting of self. It is a protecting of self. Pride is commitment to self. It is building up ourselves in our own eyes or in the eyes of others. Pride is an excessive belief in one’s superiority, worth, merit. Pride is a root cause of many sins.