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English Literature

Narratives

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Richard III by William Shakespeare

World War One Poetry

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Introduction to

The dramatic quality in Macbeth

The order of sins are always strategically ordered :

In Act I scene 2, Duncan is told about Macbeth’s valorous qualities and Cawdor’s sins.

In act I scene 3, the witches call Macbeth successively “Thane of Glamis”, “Thane of Cawdor” and “King”.

It creates dramatic irony: we know something about the character that he still ignores. Moreover, the technique of using a prophecy, that is to say a prolepsis tends to add tension and suspense.

Violence is present throughout the whole play and is part of Shakespeare’s tradition of gore, like in all his revenge tragedy. It does not bother Shakespeare to show murders, blood or violence on stage, like in Titus Andronicus or Troilus and Cressida.

When a war is shown on stage, it is to embody disorder and a certain amount of chaos. The actors are then entering and exiting, fighting, and falling down. But the more violent scene for the audience remains the child murder. It was the deepest evil for the Elizabethans.

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Political questions in

Political questions in Macbeth

Political questions are typical of the Renaissance: it is due to the inheritance of rulers by divine right.

Malcolm, the oldest of Duncan”s sons, is declared heir to the throne and Prince of Cumberland. Like Richard III, Macbeth wants to disrupt the natural order of things.

At the end of Macbeth, just like in Richard III, the natural order is restored (“Hail, King of Scotland”) and the divine right is respected.

The feudal social organization is based on duty, loyalty, and allegiance to the King. All these virtues are violated by Macbeth.

Like disorder, treason is unnatural. A traitor is an unnatural subject. In II, 2 Macduff discovers the dead King and describes the deed as the “most sacrilegious murder” and the murderer as “a new Gorgon“. Killing a rightful monarch is an offense to order.

In II, 4, 5 we see that what happens on earth is closely linked to what happens in the “skies”. The events on earth (“sublunary”) are so horrible that an eclipse occurs, meaning that the sun dares not happen. The murder of a King is unnatural, horrible, and impossible to name.

The whole play is based on the contrast between true royalty and tyranny. Duncan is the good King and Macbeth is the Tyrant. The subjects love the good King but fear the tyrant like in V, 2, 19: “Nothing in love” .

In V, 3, Macbeth boasts himself to have a spy in each of his subjects” house. The tyrant used to have spies. Macbeth is unfair (like Richard III) and Justice is the main quality of a good ruler. The abuse of power is shown in Act V, sc3, v11.

Macbeth is gradually more and more lonely and less and less communicative. He fears himself, perhaps because if he has killed the King, he can be killed too.

What is a good ruler ?

This question is set everywhere in Shakespeare”s works (see The Tempest). A good ruler has to be the natural heir of the throne and needs culture, knowledge, and prudentia.

In Act IV, sc3, Malcolm is precocious and aware that “a good man can turn evil / A bad man can turn good”.

Malcolm is not as naive as his father. He will test Macduff, whom he thinks is one of Macbeth”s spies, by pretending to be totally awful. Malcolm recounts Cawdor”s death in I, 4. He is aware of Man”s nature and tells how Cawdor, a bad man, turned repentant.

Macbeth is compared to Satan because he is so valorous and close to the king that he thinks he can take his place. The central moral debate is how could Satan, so close to perfection, rebel against God.

The answer is plain: because of jealousy. Macbeth was Duncan”s favourite knight just like Satan was God”s favourite angel.

Malcolm has prudentia and has learnt to be aware of traitors. Macbeth is tempted and falls. Malcolm is even aware that fall is part of Human Nature.

It was the post-lapsarian period: everybody can fall and no one is innocent. The link between Macbeth and Satan resides in the name of Macbeth”s servant, Seyton.

Introduction to

Introduction to Macbeth

Macbeth was written by Shakespeare between 1603 and 1606, between Caesar and Hamlet. It is the story of a murderer and usurper, like Richard III or Claudius (Hamlet) from crime to crime to achieve security. Macbeth is a villain but a more humanized character compared to Richard.

Macbeth is a noble and gifted man. He chooses treachery and crime, knows them for what they are and is totally aware he is doing evil. Evil is concentrated in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who are influenced by the Weird Sisters.

The play examines the possibilities of evil and centres on the villain-hero. We find good only in secondary characters like Duncan or Malcolm. Macduff is the righteous character. Macbeth is a tyrant (Cf Richard III) and Malcolm will be the good king (Cf Richmond).

The supernatural powers are represented by the Weird Sisters and Hecate, standing for the side of evil (disorder) and by the King of England, standing for the side of good (order). The symbolism is obvious: it is light versus darkness, angels Vs devils and heaven Vs hell.

The character of Macbeth is interesting because he is fully conscious of the horror of his deeds. Indeed, we learn in the beginning of his soliloquies that he knows very well what is good: in Act I, sc2, l.13, there is an enumeration of all reasons why he should not kill Duncan. Macbeth is tortured between his erected wit and his infected will.

Macbeth is the story of the temptation of a good man by witches. It is comparable to Adam and Eve with the Serpent. Lady Macbeth is the one who is really tempted.

There is also a sort of philosophical issue: Macbeth is a brave soldier but a moral coward too: he is a brutal murderer feeling guilty. It is a moral dimension that does not exist in Richard III.

The play is therefore more subtle since we find the presence of evil in the virtuous and of good in the wicked. It is not a manichean word: “our life is a mingled yarn, good and evil together” (All’s Well that Ends Well).

The Thane of Cawdor is a traitor and he dies in I,4. But we learn that even the wicked can have virtue through repentance. It announces the other side.

The fundamental moral issue is that evil is made possible because of man’s free will. Moral damnation is possible because man has understanding and can make the difference between good and evil.

Awareness and clairvoyance make moral judgements possible. Macbeth is perfectly aware and morally conscious. The tragedy lies all in both being aware and being courageous -it is the fate of the tragic hero.

Macbeth is not a manichean vision of man. Richard III is the villain as hero but Macbeth is the hero who becomes a villain.

The emphasis is on the process of turning evil. Hence, it is fundamental that, from the start, Macbeth should be presented as a hero: “for brave Macbeth” (I, 2, 16).

At first, he is a very brave soldier but he is ambitious and wants to satisfy his wife who is even more ambitious. He will seize the opportunity to get the crown. But he made a misjudgment between temporal good (crown) and eternal good (heaven). Macbeth has awareness but his judgement is weak: he is very much influenced by his wife.

Shakespeare decided to show the steps by which a noble man is made to his damnation, to depict a man lured by evil. The more evil Macbeth is, the more isolated he becomes.

Shakespeare could not show a devil at the time of the Renaissance (for it was considered as comical at that time) so he showed witches instead, who were human beings that had given their souls to the Devil).

Witches are not naturally evil. They have to become evil, just like Macbeth. Like Parcae, the three sisters are weaving human destiny. They represent fate and humans who have become evil. They know the past, govern the present and can foresee the future.

They appear at the beginning, announce Macbeth’s rise and finally his fall: mainly at strategic moments. They only tempt Macbeth because he is ambitious and responsible. Ambition and his wife’s influence will lead him to murder Duncan. Everything is motivated by fear.

The ultimate evil is always a child murderer. Banquo is killed because he represented a living reproach for Macbeth: Banquo did not yield to temptation and remained loyal. It is a vicious circle for Macbeth: after murdering Duncan, he has to murder Banquo. Macbeth’s solitude increases with the number of crimes.

The recurrent idea in Macbeth is that the more you fall into evil, the less free you are. Indeed, Macbeth has less and less choice. He has to do evil and he feels less and less guilty by doing so. Guilt was good because it showed him the difference between good and evil. Macbeth’s will is infected.

Lady Macbeth is less aware of this difference between good and evil. At the end, when consciousness comes back to her, she tries to wash her hands during her sleep, just like Pontius Pilate. It is interesting to notice that sleepwalking was a sign of possession by the Devil in Shakespeare’s times.