The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most renowned plays that tells the story of an overambitious general whose evil motives lead to his destruction. This Penlighten post analyzes the main characters of the play in detail.
Can You Believe It?
Performing ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ is believed to invoke a curse that is as old as the play. The curse is said to bring bad luck on its actors and other people involved. Also, the play’s title is never mentioned aloud in a theater, it is instead referred to as “ The Scottish Play“.
William Shakespeare, often called England’s national poet, or the “Bard of Avon”, is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.
Shakespeare produced most of his known works between 1590 and 1613, which includes about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses. Among his most notable works are Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Othello, The Tragedy of Macbeth, and Hamlet.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is his shortest tragedy, believed to have been written between 1603 and 1606. The plot is believed to have been inspired from the historical account of “King Macbeth of Scotland” by Raphael Holinshed, and Scottish philosopher Hector Boece.
Three Witches foretell Macbeth, a Scottish General, of his rise as the King of Scotland on his victorious return from a war. They also predict that the future kings will be descendants of Banquo, his fellow General. Driven by ambition to get to the throne, and after the persuasion of his wife, Macbeth decides to murder Duncan the King of Scotland; Banquo, the General; as well as his sons.
The next day, the King’s body is discovered by a nobleman called Macduff. He kills the guards, on whose daggers, Lady Macbeth has smeared Duncan’s blood. Macbeth becomes the King, and sends mercenaries to kill Banquo and his sons. He also kills Macduff’s innocent wife and son when he sees them as a threat. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth starts feeling guilty due to her and her husband’s actions, and commits suicide. Macbeth, due to this, is completely shaken, and is finally killed by Macduff when the two meet on the field of battle. Duncan’s son Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne, therefore becomes the King.
The List of Characters
♛ Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, later King of Scotland
♛ Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s wife
♛ Duncan, King of Scotland
♛ Malcolm, Duncan’s older son
♛ Donalbain, Duncan’s younger son
♛ Banquo, General in the Scottish Army
♛ Fleance, Banquo’s son
♛ Macduff, Nobleman of Scotland
♛ Lady Macduff, Macduff’s wife
♛ Macduff’s son
♛ Captain, Soldier in Duncan’s military who reports Macbeth’s success in the war against Macdonwald
♛ The Three Witches
♛ Porter, Macbeth’s servant
♛ Hecate, the Goddess of the Witches
♛ Banquo’s Ghost, Apparitions
♛ Seyton, An Officer in Macbeth’s army
♛ Siward, General in the English army
♛ Young Siward, Siward’s son in the English army with Malcolm
♛ Doctor and Gentlewoman
♛ Angus, Lennox, Ross, Menteith, and Caithness, Noblemen of Scotland who support Malcolm’s fight against Macbeth
Analysis of the Main Characters
Macbeth is the Thane of Glamis, later Thane of Cawdor, and then King of Scotland. In the beginning of the play, he comes off as a very brave soldier, since he is returning from a war that he has just won. However, as he interacts with the witches, his ambitious nature can be observed. He also is frustrated to hear the announcement of Malcolm’s succession to the throne, which indicates that he secretly wanted it for himself. He displays self-doubt, when he is confused whether or not to murder the King. When he almost aborts the murder, it can be seen that he is still kind. However, after being demeaned by his wife, he decides to kill the King and establishes himself into a stereotypical villain by Act III, Scene 2. He starts murdering all those who come pose a threat to the throne.
He regularly fluctuates between feelings of anger (when he commits the murders) and guilt (when he sees Banquo’s ghost). There is a constant conflict within him, since he is too ambitious to stop himself from committing the murders, but at the same time, too conscientious to be peaceful after committing the murders. His letter to Lady Macbeth shows a great deal of love towards his wife, since he writes to her truthfully. In the end of the play, he is engulfed with sadness due to his wife’s death. He refuses to fight Macduff, since he is already too guilty. However, when Macduff threatens to make him a public spectacle, he fights with dignity.
In short, Macbeth is cheated by the witches, and his ambitious nature forces him to change his virtues. In the end, he is depressed and completely guilty of his actions. Although he is punished for his misdeeds, he fights like a brave soldier, just like he had, in the beginning of the play.
Lady Macbeth is the wife of Macbeth, a Scottish General. Considered as one of Shakespeare’s most powerful characters, Lady Macbeth has been portrayed as a cold and ambitious woman with cruel motives. When we first come across her, she is already plotting King Duncan’s murder. She is even more strong-willed and ambitious than her husband, and is fully aware of it. She continuously accuses her husband of lacking courage, and forces him to murder the King to fulfill her ambition of becoming the Queen.
However, her love for Macbeth can be seen through how she wants herself and her husband to benefit by the King’s murder. Her cunning character can be seen by how successfully she maintains her image of being the perfect hostess and successfully manages to invite the King to her castle. Her smartness can be seen by how she manages to manipulate Macbeth successfully when he has second thoughts about the murder.
She starts to go mad due to guilt and remorse, as seen in the scene where she tries to wipe off invisible blood stains while sleepwalking through the castle. Unable to cope with this, she kills herself, which shows her complete inability to deal with the consequences of her crimes.
THE THREE WITCHES
The Three Witches, also called “Weird Sisters”, are the most dangerous characters in the play, being both powerful as well as wicked. They play a very important role in the play, since it is due to their prophesies, that Macbeth’s thoughts are altered. They look like women; however, their beards make it difficult to define their gender. They are distinguished from the other characters in the play due to their unique way of speaking in couplets. Their characters seem to have been inspired from the three sisters in the Norse and Greek mythology who decide the fate of humans.
They have supernatural powers, which they very successfully use to manipulate Macbeth’s mind. However, it is up to the audience to decide whether the witches are simply evil spirits, trying to play with human lives, or they are just agents of fate who deliver the message of what is inevitable. Also, they do not urge Macbeth to commit the murders. They merely warn him and Banquo about the future, and leave it up to them to decide whether or not to fight for the throne. While Macbeth gives in to the temptation, Banquo lets it go.
Banquo is portrayed as a brave and noble General of Scotland. According to the Witches’ prophecy, his children are destined to inherit the Scottish throne. His character acts as a foil to Macbeth. The witches reveal their prophecies to both Banquo and Macbeth. Unlike Macbeth, Banquo chooses to wait for the future to unfold on its own. This shows that he is exactly opposite to Macbeth. He is given equal opportunity as Macbeth. However, being a man of integrity, he does not choose the wrong path.
While Macbeth chooses to believe the witches at once, Banquo is doubtful about their intentions since the beginning. He senses that the witches are evil, and are trying to toy with them. He also warns Macbeth that evil can only offer gifts that ultimately lead to one’s destruction. When he comes to know about King Duncan’s murder, he is shocked. Upon giving it a thought, their encounter with the Witches comes to his mind, and he suspects Macbeth of the murder. However, Banquo appears to be naïve, since he doesn’t see himself in danger.
When Macbeth realizes that Banquo will not support him in the King’s murder, he starts to see him as a threat, and murders him too.
Macduff, the Thane of Fife, plays two very important parts in the play. First, suspecting Macbeth of the King’s murder, and second, killing Macbeth for his unjust deeds, in the Final Act. He has been portrayed as a loyal and brave character. His loyalty towards his King, country, and family, is seen by how he fights against the injustice done to them.
Macduff is also smart enough to suspect the unusual behavior of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and flee Scotland to help Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne. However, the same action shows his impulsiveness too. He decides to go to England, without thinking even once that this might put his family in danger. When Macbeth destroys his family, Macduff holds it together, due to which, he manages to destroy Macbeth successfully. In short, he represents good in Macbeth’s world of darkness and betrayal.
King Duncan is the kind King of Scotland who is loved by his subjects, and has two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain. His love for his son is seen when he announces Malcolm’s succession to the throne.
He is an epitome of how a King should really be. Whether on the battlefield, or when greeting his hostess, Lady Macbeth. His speech is very formal and his tone is full of grace. However, the King has an unsuspecting nature, which is why he becomes a victim of Macbeth’s plot, and gets killed. It is because of his goodness that Macbeth feels guilty of murdering him.
The Tragedy of Macbeth, is a brilliant story of power, ambition, betrayal, guilt, and the inevitable victory of good over evil. It has, so far, inspired innumerable works of art, literature, as well as entertainment.