This play is far more interesting and complex than King Lear and Othello. The plot is far more richer and the number of fascinating characters involved are far more than either of the other two tragedies.
Macbeth and Banquo , the victorious generals are returning after quelling a rebellion for the King of Scotland .The play starts off with the three witches spouting off prophesies to Macbeth and Banquo, about Macbeth becoming the Thane of Cawdor and eventually the king of Scotland and Banquo’s descendants will become kings. This single event is the catalyst for what is to come .
Banquo says the following verse to Macbeth as a warning
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.
Macbeth does indeed become the Thane of Cawdor and following the confirmation of the first prophecy, he is seduced into committing the most dastardly acts to make the second prophecy come true , i.e murdering the king of Scotland who is also his cousin and become the king in his stead .
Lady Macbeth is a fascinating woman . She is the perfect wife in some sense , she encourages her husband in his ambitions and even steadies his conscience at difficult times
Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’
In some ways she is the wife that most husbands aspire for and yet having said that, she is also completely callous and prays that she be more ruthless . She even accuses Macbeth of having a breast full of the ‘milk of human kindness’ when he has seconds thoughts about murder his cousin and guest, the king. She would have nothing stand in the way of their ambition .
In the beginning ,Macbeth seems to have a moral compass but the prophecy of the future seduces him completely and utterly. He begins by not only murdering the king but murders his bodyguards after planting evidence of the murder on them. The sons of the king flees to safety and become suspect. At this point as the kinsman, he assumes the throne . After this Macbeth decides to clean house i.e kill Banquo who has witnessed the prophecies and has started suspecting him ,kill Banquo’s son who is prophesied to become the king . In Casino Royale ,when James Bond says that the second time is easier , he could have been echoing Macbeth’s sentiments. However Banquo’s son does escape though poor Banquo is murdered on his way to the banquet that Macbeth has thrown for the celebrations.
At the celebratory banquet and when he arrives , Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo at the table after which he starts raving and upsets his guests who cannot see the ghost . This is our first insight of the fear and paranoia that plagues Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and will eventually consume them.
Macbeth approaches the witches , this is the famous scene where the witches repeat
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
And there is a dialogue that would have made the oracle of Delphi proud. Macbeth is informed that he will only be killed of one not of a woman born and he will be vanquished only when Great Birnam wood moves to high Dunsinane hill. Here he also finds out that he needs to be aware of Macbeth
As the end approaches , we see that Macduff instructs his soldiers to cut down branches of Great Birnam wood so the spies would not have a good number and moves to high Dunsinane hill . Before he kills Macbeth, he informs him that he was ripped from his mother’s womb.
There is a dialogue between three witches and Hecate , the queen of witches who takes them to task for seducing Macbeth with visions of the future , this is the second time that Shakespeare tells us that it is better for us not to know what is in store for us . It is clear that even the prophesies that were foretold for Macbeth , he was unable to heed the warnings because he was unable to understand them . This is an interesting theme that keeps repeating in books throughout , on the one hand there is the concept of predestination which states that whatever is foretold will come to pass and then there is the concept that we are unable to grasp the future until it comes to pass. Long ago , I had read that unless we actually experience something , the knowledge remains abstract , if the knowledge remains abstract then it is impossible for us to understand and act upon it.
As all Shakespeare plays go , this one is full of delicious nuggets of poetry
Bloody instructions which, being taught return to plague the inventor
There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make ‘s love known?
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Macbeth starts off gloriously returning triumphant and victorious . It reminded me of Othello , Othello returning from his triumphs and getting married . It is a useful trick for a tragedy , start off on a high note so you can lead your audience off that emotional precipice come time for curtains. It is a wonderful story , the verse is magical , the characters mesmerizing , the plot brilliant . It certainly has not lose any of its charm 400 years later.