The Great Chain of Being The Great Chain of Being was an idea that mapped out God's natural hierarchy to the world and all its living creatures. Minerals were at the bottom of the chain, below plants, insects, and other creatures. In the animal kingdom, mighty beasts like lions, bears, and wolves reigned supreme. But humans ranked above the rest of the flora and fauna. The king---who was apparently God-chosen, according to absolute doctrines like the Divine Right of Kings--was the most important human being. God, obviously, was at the very top of The Great Chain of Being. Since this holy chain was established by almighty and powerful God, it was considered sinful to disturb it and doing so would ultimately result in chaos. Order and cohesion on every level breaks down: nature, weather, animals, human relationships, political order, national order and so on until the rightful king is restored. The tragic Hero
The tragic hero is a stereotype found in all Shakespearean tragedy plays. He is Always highly placed in society prince, king, some other noble, powerful figure. He is highly regarded by his peers. Has many noble, honourable qualities full of potential. He has a single character flaw (in Macbeths case, ambition) This sigle flaw affects his choices / decisions and chaos eventually ensues.
The Tragic Hero is seen by the audience to suffer throughout the play. Ths helps us maintain our sympathy / pity for him right till the end. The Tragic Hero experiences a sort of coming to awareness or wisdom as a result of his suffering. Act 1 scene 1 Set in 11th century Scotland, the play opens during a thunderstorm on a desert place whilst Scotland is at war with enemies internal and external. We meet three witches instruments of darkness. Their first words demonstrate their intentions: they will make fair seem foul and foul
seem fair. Ie, they will distort and invert the natural moral order. Their evil purpose is to meet with Macbeth. They also refer to the evil spirits they serve GreymalkinPaddocketc They appear to have supernatural knowledge as they know when the battle will be concluded. They hover rather than walk through the fog and filthy air By presenting these elements right at the start Shakespeare establishes A bleak, dark mood full of evil, uncertainty and confusion. A number of key themes: supernatural evil / violence / false appearances / moral confusion Act 1 scene 2 The location is the kings camp near Forres. A wounded soldier gives the king a bloody and brutal account of the battle emphasising Macbeths warrior-like prowess against Macdonwald and then the king of Norway. Macbeth is soundly praised by the king for his savage performance in defence of the kingdom. He is to be
rewarded with the now-disgraced Thane of Cawdors title. So, Macbeth is presented to us as brave, loyal and highly respected by his peers and his King. However, his savagery on the battlefield indicates a propensity for violence. Act 1 scene 2 contd. So this scene adds to the mood / themes established earlier. Darkness, violence, deception and confusion / war and treachery. We get our first impresion of Macbeth though we dont yet meet him. Overwhelmingly positive with some reservations about the extent of his capacity for violence. Act 1 scene 3 This scene reveals the witches evil nature even more clearly. One has been killing swine, another pledges to persecute a sailor because his wife wouldnt share her chestnuts! She will wear him down in an
attempt to destroy him. This is also the approach the witches will take with Macbeth. Its important to remember that the witches cant actually kill this man. They can only affect the circumstances surrounding him in this case, the weather. This has important implications for Macbeth who, ultimately, retains his free will and makes his own choices despite the pressure of external circumstances. Note how Macbeths first words echo those of the witches! So fair and foul a day I have not seen. Its no coincidence and his connection with them will develop later in the play. The witches appear, make their predictions for both men, and vanish! And the men react very differently. Banquo is sceptical and unimpressed hes much more level headed than Macbeth in his evaluation, whereas Macbeth seems desparate to hear more and is so overcome that Banquo describes him as rapt withal. Act 1 scene 3 contd When Ross arrives bestowing upon Macbeth the title Thane of Cawdor the effect is instant and dramatic he is stunned! His faith in
the witches is confirmed! Once more shocked into silence, he considers whether the prophecy to become king is good or evil. He weighs up the two possibilities. He is conflicted. In his aside we see that he is troubled by thoughts of murder. These thoughts horrify him to be sure, but they are his thoughts. This may not be the first time the idea of murder has occurred to him. He is ambitious indeed! But he is so conflicted by the struggle between his ambition and his conscience that he almost has a panic attack. why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs against the use of nature At this point his conscience seems to win as he concludes if chance will have me king why chance may crown me without my stir Act 1 scene 4 The location is Forres the royal palace. Duncan warmly recieves Macbeth and Banquo. Note Macbeths response is rather more formal than one might expect between kinsmen. This may indicate Macbeths internal discomfort speaking
words of loyalty and honour to the man he is thinking of murdering will be difficult. Duncan then names Malcolm as heir to the throne. This is important because Macbeth realises it is an obstacle to his ambitions. that is a step on which I must fall down or else oer leap, for in my way it lies/ Shakepeare presents the audience with further evidence of Ms ambition. Duncan will honour Macbeth with a visit to his castle Inverness / Macbeth rides ahead to deliver the news to his wife personally. Of key inportance here are the kings comment about false appearances and Macbeths false loyalty. The Thane of Cawdor was a man in whom Duncan placed an absolute trust. He was, however, completely fooled by him. He observes that in truth, its impossible to really know whats going on in a persons mind from their outward demeanour. Theres no art to find the minds construction in the face. Ironically, it will be no better with the new thane of Cawdor. Act 1 scene 4 contd.
Notice too the contrast between Duncans celebratory tone and Macbeths dark thoughts. Macbeth returns to the thought of murdering Duncan, first suggested in scene 3, calling on the stars to hide their fires so that his deep and dark desires will be hidden from view. So, this scene further illustrates Macbeths ambitious nature. Act 1 scene 5 We meet Lady Macbeth reading her husbands letter. Sharing the information like this indicates the trust and closeness between the couple. Her determination for her husband is even greater at this point than his! Although Macbeth never mentions it, she immediately assumes murdering Duncan is the way to proceed. She reveals herself as ruthlessly ambitious for her husband. She also reveals some crucial information to the audience about her husbands character. Essentially, he is ambitious, but moral. He is too fullof the milk o human kindness to catch the nearest way. He is not without ambition, but he lacks the ruthlessness that goes with it. Having read
the letter she is now determined that what the witches have said, will come true. She intends to convince him to carry out the murder. But to ensure she has the single-mindedness to do this she seeks the help of evil spirits asking them to remove anything feminine or caring in her nature. She wants to be completely ruthless. Its all rather shocking! Act 1 scene 5 contd. Note the imagery she uses when told of Duncans impending visit she imagines..hoarse ravens croaking.Duncans fatal entrance into the castle.all very sinister and dark. She calls on the evil spirits to fill her with absolute cruelty in order to carry out her purpose. Macbeth arrives and, true to her word, Lady M begins to work on him immediately with the valour of (her) tongue. He must, she tells him, look like the innocent flower but be the serpent undert. and put this nights great business into my dispatch. Once again, Macbeth is reluctant we will speak further he tells her. But she persists and tells him to leave all the rest to me. Note how this scene moves the action forward and also adds to the themes
introduced earlier.. The murder of the king moves a step closer Themes of supernatural evil, loyalty / betrayal, false appearances, images of darkness and evil deeds. Note also that at this stage Lady M takes the lead Act 1 scene 6 Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain and Banquo arrive at Macbeths castle. Note that the language here contrast sharply with the previous scene. Duncan and Banquo regard the castle as pleasantly located, the air sweetly and nimbly reccommends itself unto our gentle senses. The many housemartins nesting in the masonary are supposed to indicate that the air is delicate. How different from the croaking raven and the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements from scene 5! Lady Macbeth, true to her word, warmly welcomes the king. She certainly looks like the innocent flower whilst being the serpent
lurking underneath. The short scene is full of dramatic ironywe, the audience know that Macbeth and his wife are contemplating murdering the king however, Duncan is blissfully unaware of what waits for him. Act 1 scene 7 This first major soliloquoy presents us with Macbeths internal struggle. He begins by considering the reasons why he should not kill Duncan, there are 5 He risks punishment in this life and the next. His methods treachery and foul play will serve as an example to others and will eventually end up being used against him. He is Duncans cousin! And his subject! strong both against the deed. He is Duncans host! who should against his murderer shut the door not bear the knife itself. Duncan has conducted himself virtuously and fairly. He concludes that he has no motive to kill the king apart from vaulting ambition. This soliloquoy is so important because it reveals Macbeth as supremely self-aware. We see his internal struggle a struggle between ambition and conscience a struggle we want him to win. And he appears tountil
Lady M begins once more to chastise (him) with the valour of (her) tongue. Act 1 scene 7 We feel for Macbeth as his wife undermines his shaky resolve. She accuses him of cowardice as a warrior this would be hard to take. She tells him that when he dared to do it he was a man..attacking his masculinity. She questions his love for her. His resolve to murder Duncan has become green and pale. She tells him that she considers his love to be just the same. Again, given the closeness of their relationship this would be very hard to take. Its as though shes accusing him of a personal betrayalas though shes questioning his commitment to her. Finally, she demonstrates her commitment to him by telling how she would murder her own child had she sworn as he had done. The overall effect of all this is to convince him to change his mind to commit to the murder of the king.and he does. She has a plan all worked out showing once more how she has taken the lead in this bloody business.
Act 1 scene 7 What is most important is that Macbeth, despite his clear understanding of the immorality of the act, changes his mind. Initially he tells his wife that they will proceed no further in this business. But she taunts and manipulates him until he changes his mind. He knows its wrong evil treacherous, he knows he risks terrible consequensces yet he agrees. Through Macbeth, Shakespeare is revealing to his audience the heart of human weakness knowing something is wrong but doing it anyway. We sympathise with Macbeth because in a way his struggle is ours. Of particular note are Macbeths final words in this scene. False face must hide what false heart doth know. He is aware and acknowledges that his heart has now become false. It is a terrible admission for a man with such honourable qualities. Key quotations
Scene 1 Fair is foul and foul is fair / hover through the fog and filty air Scene 2 Brave Macbeth well he deserves that name (s) His brandished steel which smoked with bloody execution.(s) Till he unseamed him from the nave to the chops and fixed his head upon our battlements.(s) Valiant cousin, worthy gentleman.(D) Scene 3 So fair and foul a day I have not seen (M) All hail Macbeth that shalt be king hereafter (w)
Thou shalt get kings though thou be none.(w) What, can the devil speak true? (b) To win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths / win us with honest trifles to betray us in deepest consequence. (b) My thought whose murder is yet but fantastical shakes so my single state of man that function is smothered in surmise and nothing is but what is not. (M) If chance will have me king why, chance may crown me without my stir. (M) Key quotations contd Scene 4 Theres no art to find the minds construction in the face. (D) The prince of cumberland. That is a step on which I must fall down or else oer leap for in my way it lies (M) Stars hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires. (m)
Scene 5 I fear your nature. It is too full o the milk of human kindness to catch the neares way. (LM) What thou wouldst highly, that wouldst thou holily (LM) Hie thee hither that I my pour my spirits in thine ear and chastise thee with the valour of my tongue / all that impedes thee from the golden round. (LM) Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe, top full of direst cruelty. (LM) Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent undert (LM) Leave all the rest to me. (LM) Scene 6 This castle hath a pleasant seat. The air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentle senses. (D) Key quotations contd
Scene 7 I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent but only vaulting ambition which ore leaps itself and falls on the other. (M) We will proceed no further in this business. (M) Art thou afeared to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire. (LM) I dare do all that may become a man, who dares do more is none. (M) When in swinish sleep, their drenched natures lie as in a death, what cannot you and I perform upon the unguarded Duncan? (LM) Bring forth men children only, for thy undaunted mettle should compose nothing but males. (M) Away and mock the time with fairest show / false face must hide what false heart doth know. (M)
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