The Character of Macbeth: Description & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Character Description
  • 1:54 Character Analysis
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Vineski
In this lesson, you'll learn about the character of Macbeth and how he functions within the play of the same name. Take a look at the character description and analysis.

Character Description

In William Shakespear's tragic play, Macbeth, Macbeth is a general in the king's army, and the honorable Thane, or Scottish count, of Glamis. Because of his valiant fighting in the battle with which the play begins, Macbeth is rewarded by King Duncan with the additional title of Thane of Cawdor.

But, while Macbeth is a brave soldier and a powerful man, he's not a virtuous one. After his first meeting with three witches, who predicted that he would become the new Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth begins thinking about murdering King Duncan and taking his place. He's undecided whether it is better to give in to that murderous temptation or let luck or fate make him king.

At first, he decides not to kill the king, yet he is goaded into murder by his self-image of bravery, his overreaching ambition, and his wife, Lady Macbeth, who accuses him of cowardice and implies that he is less of a man if he doesn't do it.

Once Macbeth agrees to murder the king, and is then crowned King of Scotland, he sinks ever further into murder. Obsessed with the witches and their prophecies, he decides to have Banquo, once his trusted lieutenant, brutally murdered. Later on, Macbeth has Lady Macduff, her young son, and their entire household murdered as well.

At times, he feels remorse for his crimes and reflects upon his inability to resist his darkest desires. But he's trapped within his own weakness of character, his tragic flaw. In the end, unable to bear the consequences of his crimes, Macbeth returns to the battlefield, where he's killed by Macduff.

Character Analysis

Macbeth is the protagonist or principle character of the play, as well as its tragic hero, a virtuous character with a tragic flaw that eventually leads to his or her downfall. When we first hear of Macbeth in the wounded captain's account of his bravery on the battlefield, our first impression is of a strong, valiant warrior. This initial impression is complicated, however, by his obsession with the three witches, who predict not only that he will become king, but also the circumstances of his downfall.

This suggests the possibility that Macbeth has no control over his own fate; that he's destined to be and do what the witches predict. Yet he clearly thinks long and hard about murdering King Duncan, something the witches never mention. We realize then that his courage is as much a part of his ambition as it is of his valor.

Even as the witches' prediction that he will be king sparks within him a lust for power, it also brings Macbeth self-doubt. Before he kills King Duncan, Macbeth is racked with worry and he nearly gives up the idea. It takes Lady Macbeth's unflinching resolve and attack on his masculinity to push him into it. After the king's murder, however, Lady Macbeth disintegrates and takes her own life.

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