In the play Macbeth, how does Shakespeare establish the title character as noble hero in the two first acts of the play? Macbeth was written in the early sixteenth hundreds by William Shakespeare. It is a play about one mans shocking transformation from good to evil. Shakespeare shows this shocking change in character through the first two acts in which Macbeth was seen as a hero before he transformed into an evil tyrant.
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To show Macbeth’s transformation, Shakespeare first established Macbeth as a Scottish hero for the audience. In Act 1, Scene 2, Macbeth is described in battle as, “brave” in the Captain’s report. He was also such a strong fighter that his “brandished steel” (sword) “smoked” with the heat of his “bloody execution” (killing). Macbeth is also described as “valour’s minion” – very brave and heroic and at the end of the scene King Duncan makes the ‘noble’ Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. This description shows Macbeth was brave, noble and honourable at the start of the play.
Though clearly a valiant warrior, Macbeth quickly begins to succumb to temptation. Shakespeare explores how a hero may fall from grace. However, even in his descent into evil, Macbeth retains many noble characteristics. In Act 1, Scene 5, Lady Macbeth reads a letter from Macbeth. She then has a soliloquy in which she tells the audience she believes he is too kind to do what he has to do to become king. She says, ‘I fear thy nature,’ she is worried he is too nice and kind, ‘It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness.’ Lady Macbeth does admit that he is ‘not without ambition’ however ‘that wouldst though holily’ – Macbeth gets what he wants the right and honourable way.
Shakespeare also shows this contrast in Act 1, Scene 7 when Macbeth makes a soliloquy where he hesitates whether to kill or not to kill King Duncan. Macbeth hesitates to kill Duncan because the he is visiting him in ‘double trust’ and he is the King’s ‘host.’ Macbeth also describes killing Duncan as a ‘horrible deed’ thinks about the consequences where he says, ‘tears shall drown’ as everybody would be so upset with the death of Duncan because he was a good king. Shakespeare wrote Macbeth for King James who was in power at the time. He wanted it to include things that the king would enjoy. This is why the story is set in Scotland and the play explores themes of loyalty and kingship. This is also shows that Shakespeare was and still is a popular playwright because he wrote for the audience.
Macbeth also suggests in his soliloquy that he believes in karma. When Macbeth says, ‘bloody instructions return to plague the inventor’, it shows he believes what goes around come back around. Suggesting if he kills Duncan, someone would soon kill him. Macbeth doesn’t try to convince himself that Duncan is a bad person and accepts that killing him would be wrong. At the end of his soliloquy Macbeth decides not to kill Duncan. He feels his ‘deep and dark desires’ do not justify killing Duncan. This shows how Macbeth fully understood his scheme and its consequences.
However, after Macbeth has convinced himself not to kill Duncan Lady Macbeth enters. She challenges his manliness and calls his a coward. Macbeth backs down and agrees to kill the king. Macbeth says, ‘I dare do all that may become a man’, this shows he is proud and manly. He decided to kill the king, ‘I am settled,’ but still thinks murder is a ‘terrible feat’, a bad thing to do. He decides to wear a ‘false face’ and pretend to be good by hiding his ‘false heart’, his desire to kill the king.
Before the soliloquy Macbeth has many thoughts about killing Duncan. He is confused and hesitates to kill him. This then leads on to his soliloquy when he thinks deeply about what he desires to do. In Act 1, Scene 4 when Duncan names his son heir, Macbeth becomes angered by this but hides his ambition. He says that Malcolm is a ‘step’ (a problem) that will make him ‘fall down’ (not become king) or which he has to ‘o’erleap’ (solve).’ This metaphor shows Macbeth’s anger and jealousy towards Malcolm. There is a good example of dramatic irony in this scene as he is thinking about murdering Duncan. He says, ‘stars hide your fires,’ so nobody sees his ‘black and deep desires.’ Immediately after, Duncan calls Macbeth ‘valiant,’ full of ‘commendations’ and a ‘peerless kinsman.’ This dramatic irony because the audience know something that the character on stage does not; in this case, that Macbeth isn’t the loyal than Duncan thinks he is.
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In Act 2, Scene 1, Macbeth reveals his thoughts and feelings to the audience through a soliloquy when on his way to kill Duncan. He hallucinates that there is a dagger before him, ‘Is this a dagger in which I see before me’. He draws a knife, recognizes his act is evil and asks the earth to stay quiet. This soliloquy shows Macbeth has doubts about the acts he is going to commit and has a ‘heat-oppressed brain,’ suggesting he is stressed. Macbeth is honest with himself about what he is about to do and acknowledges the act is a bloody one; his brain creates ‘gouts of blood on the dagger.’
Shakespeare borrowed from a number of earlier authors when writing his plays. Once again Shakespeare heavily borrowed from the Holinshed’s version of Macbeth were in the murder plot of King Duncan’s death most of Macbeth’s friends help him to kill the King. However, Shakespeare made significant changes in the revised version of the play as it is only Macbeth and his wife that have a part to play in the death of Duncan. Shakespeare made these changes to what he borrowed to better fit the story to the dramatic needs of the play. Finally in Act 2, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth murder King Duncan. Macbeth suffers doubt at first, but after his masculinity is challenged he agrees to the murder. Both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are jumpy afterwards, and Macbeth shows signs of guilt, he says, ‘As they had seen me with these hangman hands,’ (blood-covered hands). Pathetic fallacy is also used in this scene as the natural world reacted to the actions of Macbeth. In Act 2, Scene 2, ‘An owl shrieks.’ Also Katy is sad and the weather is rainy and gloomy. Duncan is killed and the wind screams.
In conclusion, Shakespeare establishes Macbeth as a noble hero in the first two acts through the use of soliloquies, rewards and other characters opinions. Macbeth was rewarded in Act 1, Scene 2 when he is made Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan and is described as ‘brave’ and ‘noble.’ Macbeth performs many soliloquies throughout the play in which he reveals his inner thoughts and feelings. They tell the audience that although Macbeth acknowledges killing the king would be wrong he is highly ambitious and this and the influence of Lady Macbeth lead him into committing murder. Macbeth unlike other tyrants, knew that killing Duncan would be wrong. Macbeth is shown not to be weak as he does not hide from the truth that killing Duncan was immoral. He also shows signs of guilt which suggests he may have regretted killing Duncan as he believed it was not the right way in getting what he wanted. This arguably shows Macbeth was somewhat still honest and true to himself after the murder as he understood the consequences of his actions. Shakespeare shows in the play Macbeth how ambitions and aspirations can sometimes lead the best of people into evil and selfishness. He shows that ambition can be such a powerful passion, that however high we reach we are never satisfied.
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