Examining The Sinister Atmosphere Of Macbeth English Literature Essay


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In Macbeth by William Shakespeare, a sinister atmosphere is built up throughout the play. The very first scene is the witches, not Macbeth as you would expect. At first the witches discuss the battle, and then mention Macbeth. The first mention of Macbeth goes hand in hand with talk of battle and is spoken by the witches as if they know each other, there to meet with Macbeth. The audience will think he is evil if he associates with evil, thus painting a bad picture of him before he is even seen upon the stage.

An audience will use the first scene of a play to gauge what the play will be about, and the first scene of Macbeth does that quite well. In it there is witchcraft, evil, talk of violence and things not being what they seem ''foul is fair, and fair is foul'- . The scene is very short, just enough to give you a glimpse of the witches and the fact they will take part in the performance, but nothing of their goals or what they could be thinking. They are shrouded in mystery and will leave you thinking about them and what they said.

The second time Macbeth is mentioned is by the king as 'brave Macbeth' and as 'valour's minion'. This would betray the audience's expectations of Macbeth. Such compliments, and from no less than the king, is not what you would typically expect of someone who consorts with witches. Although, not all the praise is positive. Even though the king talks about how heroic he is, it is told that he is very violent. He 'carv'd out his passage' and then 'unseam'd' a man 'from nave the chaps, then fixed his head upon the battlements'. All of this is very violent and merciless. He is then described to be 'Bellona's Bridegroom'. At first this would look like a compliment, but upon closer inspection it follows the same merciless, violent tone as before. Violence and mercilessness are all normally traits of evil people, who are working against the greater good. So that is not a trait you would expect to find in the main character of the play.

Violence is a large part of 'Macbeth', as it features heavily throughout. The play mainly consists of violent acts and the plotting behind them. A violent battle, graphically described, then the murder of the king, then the murder of Banquo. It is violent act after violent act. In the fifth scene of act one, Lady Macbeth conjures up a very sinister and violent picture when she mentions being able to 'dashed out the brains' of her own baby while it was smiling in her face. This is very ruthless and says a lot about her character.

The character of Lady Macbeth is very ruthless, evil and plotting from the very first time she appears. As soon as she hears of an opportunity to gain fortune and power, she instantly grabs at it, with no thoughts to whether it was wrong or right. This is in contrast to Macbeth, as before meeting the witches he was warlike, but not plotting or malicious. It was only after he met the witches that he changed. He says 'If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, without my stir' when he is first told by the witches of his future. He wants the throne, but doesn't want to commit treason. Though his attitude here doesn't last long and is soon consumed by greed, and he no longer thinks this way.

This change in character doesn't come about by his greed alone. It is influenced by Lady Macbeth. I think if it were not for her, Macbeth wouldn't have killed the king. If she had not been as power thirsty and told Macbeth it was a bad idea, he would have feasibly given up on this and forgotten about the witches. Macbeth wasn't as confident in the witches and had doubts. Conversely as soon as Lady Macbeth heard she was calling upon 'spirits that tend on mortal thought' to 'unsex her', with little regard for the fact she was going to kill someone and break the law. I think it was her eagerness to gain power that made Macbeth kill Duncan.

Before speaking to Lady Macbeth, Macbeth did have murder on his mind, but was doubtful. He was anxious and scared to kill the king. Even just before, and then after killing Duncan, Macbeth was having second thoughts. It was Lady Macbeth that rid him of his doubt and pushed him onward to go through with the deed. She was helping the witches in their plot for evil, coercing him and playing on his greed, albeit unknowingly.

As Macbeth's greed grew, so did his ruthlessness to protect his newfound power. He thought Banquo was a threat, so he had him killed. Before the witches came, Macbeth was friends with Banquo, now he was having him killed. Back at the very beginning Macbeth would not have thought of committing such an act. I think this change in character through greed is almost like a warning to people, to make sure the same thing does not happen to them. As Macbeth grew in power and greed, the acts he committed were becoming more sinister and evil. This was one of the most important features that William Shakespeare did to create the atmosphere he did.

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