“We know what we are, but know not what we may be”
- (William Shakespeare).
The author is trying to imply that everyone may think that they truly know themselves; however, they do not know who they may become as the future reveals. The quote is about incertitude; one cannot foretell their destiny or the outcomes that might result later on in life. The play, Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, is a tragedy about a once loyal soldier, Macbeth, who undergoes gloom and sorrow as he desires to kill Duncan, the king of Scottland, despite the consequences that may result in. Macbeth is overwhelmed by ambition and avarice after hearing a prophecy from the Weird Sisters, three witches who eventually lead Macbeth to his death because of his overconfidence. Encouraged by the prophecy and his wife, Lady Macbeth, he decides to murder King Duncan and steals the throne. The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is a complex one that carries many similarities and differences throughout the course of the play.
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Macbeth first appears when he comes across the Weird Sisters. The witches give Macbeth three prophecies: that he will eventually become king and Thane of Cawdor, and that Banquo’s son, Fleance, will become king after Macbeth. Afraid of Malcolm, the one next in line for the throne after King Duncan, Macbeth comes up with a wicked plan to assassinate the king for the throne. Macbeth shows cruelty and self-indulgence by only wants the crown for himself. He is willing to do anything in order for him to be dominant, such as murdering the king. However, on the day where Macbeth was supposed to murder Duncan, he starts to have doubts and regrets, and declares, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly. If th’ assassination could trammel up the consequence and catch with his surcease success, that but this blow might be the be-all and the end-all here, but here, upon this bank and shoal of time, we’d jump the life to come” (1.7.1-7). Macbeth struggles to decide whether he should kill Duncan, and he seems guilty for his thoughts. Macbeth tells himself that if assassinating the king were that simplistic and quick, there would be no complication. Once Macbeth has done the deed, he starts to fret the unpredictable consequences, both present and in the future. Yet he would imperil these consequences if he could be certain that nothing will go wrong.
Macbeth then decides to tell his wife, the one that prompts him to kill Duncan, that he does not have any motive to kill King Duncan anymore. Lady Macbeth, shocked by his decision, responds, “Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem’st the ornament of life and live a coward in thine own esteem, letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’ like the poor cat i’ th’ adage?” (1.7.56-58). This demonstrates how sinister and ambitious Lady Macbeth’s personality is as opposed to her husband who is constantly reluctant. She challenges Macbeth’s bravery and integrity by calling him a coward. Lady Macbeth also criticizes him for having shifted from “I would” to “I dare not”. She insults him by saying that he acts like a cat who wants to eat fish but also does not want to get its feet wet. By taunting his character, Lady Macbeth eventually convinces him into murdering King Duncan. This gives the audience a perception that Macbeth seems to be easily persuaded, therefore making him seem vulnerable, and Lady Macbeth seems to be the one in control. Moreover, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth show a close relationship as partners in crime by plotting to murder King Duncan.
After the murder of King Duncan, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth start to almost change places. Macbeth realizes that since both parts of the witches’ prophecy had come true, he feels that Banquo and his son are a threat to his position as king, therefore he feels the need to kill them in order to prevent the final part from proceeding. Macbeth, in conversation with the murderers, says silently, “The moment on ’t, for ’t must be done tonight and something from the palace; always thought that I require a clearness. And with him…Fleance, his son, that keeps him company, whose absence is no less material to me than is his father’s, must embrace the fate of that dark hour” (3.2.150-157).
Macbeth is hiring murders for the assassination of Banquo and his son, Fleance. He wants then to kill Banquo far away from his castle so that he seems completely innocent from the murder. Macbeth is gradually becoming more fearless and ambitious just like Lady Macbeth before, but as time passes, Macbeth will become too confident which will only result in his downfall. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth starts to feel remorse for her sinister decisions soon after the murder of King Duncan. She begins to question herself what has resulted in her actions and rethink of what she had done. Lady Macbeth says hesitantly, “Nought’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content. ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy” (3.2.6-9). Lady Macbeth feels that nothing has been achieved by killing Duncan. Although she and her husband got want they coveted, it was not worth it because they cannot be surely content about it. She deems that it is better off dead than to live overwhelmed with guilt and dread of the consequences that could possibly occur. While Macbeth is beginning to feel confident and dominant, Lady Macbeth is starting to feel remorse and anxiety. Overall, the consequences of the murder gradually worsen Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship and isolate them.
Towards the end of the play, Macbeth’s overconfidence causes him to collapse from the throne because it is his infirmity, meanwhile, Lady Macbeth is overwhelmed with regret and despair causing her to give up on life. When Macbeth meets the three witches again, they tell him three more prophecies: that he should beware of Macduff, that he cannot be killed by anyone born from a woman, and that he’ll never be defeated until Birnam Wood marches towards Dunsinane. After hearing these prophies, Macbeth feels invulnerable and states, “Bring me no more reports. Let them fly all. Till Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane I cannot taint with fear” (5.3.1-3). Macbeth is enticed into overconfidence with the witches apparitions which make him believe that he is invincible and undefeatable. Here, he is telling his messenger to not bring him any more news on what Macduff’s plan. The prophecies give Macbeth a false feeling of immunity because they imply that because it is absurd for both of those two circumstances to occur, it is improbable for him to be beaten. Consequently, Macbeth decides to be reckless and fight without acknowledging the danger he getting himself into, rather than analyzing the situation and making a rational decision to retreat.
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Lady Macbeth is also no better than her husband. Her guilt for her immoral actions haunts her repeatedly, thus driving her completely insane. When a doctor comes to check on Lady Macbeth, they find her sleepwalking while saying, “Out, damned spot, out, I say! One. Two. Why then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier and afeard? What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (5.1.37-42). Lady Macbeth is overwhelmed by remorse and regret that she starts to hallucinate an image of blood on her hands. She scrubs her hands together, attempting to erase what she perceives are remaining bloodstains from King Duncan’s murder. Lady Macbeth is terrified and inundated by these delusions that she loses all faith, and eventually commits suicide. Here, Macbeth has now become Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the play. He is egotistical and overconfident which are the frailties that cause him to fall from the throne. Lady Macbeth is now the one who is feeling guilty and unstable for her choices which causes her to become deranged. The relationship between Macbeth and his wife has completely dissolved up to the point where Macbeth hardly displays any concern for his wife’s death.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship is an intricate one in which they ironically exchange roles throughout the play. In the beginning, Lady Macbeth was the one who was ambitious and authoritative, meanwhile, Macbeth felt guilt and uncertainty. However, the turning point was when Macbeth murdered King Duncan. Macbeth’s guilt and worry about Duncan’s death prompted him to conduct more crimes in order to ensure his power as king. His overconfidence in the prophecies from the witches ultimately leads to his downfall, and he is killed and overthrown by those he has mistreated. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth is submerged in the same guilt, fear, and insanity that she alternatively becomes demented and delusional. She is afraid that her remorse for her decisions will permanently cling to her and the consequences that may occur in the future. She eventually cannot handle the pressure anymore so she decides to kill herself because of her wrongdoings. Shakespeare intentionally creates this dynamic duo to build upon the fact that people make decisions without thinking of the consequences, therefore resulting in rashness and guilt. For both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, their rapacity and ambition for the throne induce them to become unstable and for their relationship to exacerbate.
- Shakespeare, William. “William Shakespeare Quotes.” BrainyQuote, www.brainyquote.com/quotes/william_shakespeare_164317.
- Shakespeare, William, et al. The Tragedy of Macbeth. Updated edition, Simon & Schuster paperback edition. ed., New York, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2013.
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