Table of Contents
- Who is Macbeth?
- Macbeth Character Traits
- What is Macbeth's Journey in the Play?
- Macbeth Character Analysis
- Macbeth Character Quotes
- Lesson Summary
Macbeth is the titular character and protagonist in Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Macbeth goes through several profound character changes over the course of the play. When the play begins, Macbeth is thane of Glamis, which is equivalent to being a lord of an area of Scotland. After he encounters three witches who make prophecies about his future, Macbeth starts to become much more ambitious and power-hungry. Ultimately, the play is about how Macbeth changes, transforming from a genuine hero to a tragic hero over the course of the story.
There are many Macbeth characters who all come together to create the terrible situation that leads to Macbeth's downfall. They all have their specific roles in the story and their own relationships to Macbeth. Engaging in Macbeth's character analysis requires looking at all of the other characters in the play as a whole. The following are brief Macbeth character descriptions of the most important figures in the play:
|Character||Role in the Story|
|Lady Macbeth||Macbeth's wife, Lady Macbeth starts out as a much more ambitious character than her husband is. Over time, she starts to feel increasingly guilty about what she and her husband have done, and she ultimately kills herself near the end of the play.|
|King Duncan||Duncan is the king of Scotland at the beginning of the play, and, by all accounts, he is a good king. Lady Macbeth pushes Macbeth to kill Duncan and take his crown, starting him on his path to destruction.|
|Banquo||Banquo is Macbeth's friend who also receives a prophecy from the witches. He is Macbeth's second victim and his ghost returns to remind Macbeth of his crimes. There is also a prophecy about Banquo that says that his children will go on to be kings after his death.|
|Macduff||Macduff is a noble who is initially one of Macbeth's closest allies. When he grows suspicious of Macbeth, the new king has Macduff's wife and children killed, which devastates him.|
|The witches||The three witches are supernatural figures who give Macbeth and Banquo prophecies about their own lives. Though the prophecies are misleading, they all eventually come true. The witches are invested in creating chaos in the world.|
|Malcolm||Malcolm is King Duncan's eldest son and rightful heir who eventually becomes king of Scotland at the end of the play.|
Macbeth interacts with all of these characters throughout the play, often changing his relationship with them over time. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is close with his wife Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Duncan, and Macduff. Over time, he becomes more and more opposed to all of them. He also trusts the witches at the beginning of the play, but later learns that they have misled him.
Any Macbeth description that tries to parse all of Macbeth's character traits will by necessity result in contradiction. Macbeth changes so dramatically throughout the play, and his motivations are so multifaceted, that he embodies many traits as well as their opposites. Macbeth is a brave warrior with a kind heart. He cares about his friends and wants to do the right thing. He is also a power-hungry tyrant who will stop at nothing to expand and maintain his control. He is tempted into his wickedness by his desire for power, the witches' prophecies, and especially by the urging of his wife. He often doubts himself, but he also acts decisively and often violently when he needs to. All of these traits together are what allow him to become a tragic hero.
Perhaps no Shakespeare character changes as dramatically in a single play as Macbeth does in his quest for power. His journey, when broken down to its simplest form, goes from brave warrior to reluctant murderer to king to brutal killer to and finally back to brave warrior. The play begins shortly after Macbeth and Banquo have fought bravely in battle, positioning Macbeth as a heroic character. This heroic portrayal begins to change when Macbeth first meets the three witches.
Macbeth meets three witches who tell him that while he is currently Thane of Glamis, he will soon also be Thane of Cawdor and king of Scotland. Banquo is told that his descendants will be kings. When Macbeth returns home, he learns that the Thane of Cawdor has died and that he has inherited the title. This gives him faith that the rest of the prophecy is also true. Lady Macbeth feels even more strongly about Macbeth's future as Scotland's king, and she pushes him to kill King Duncan so that he can take the throne.
Macbeth is very reluctant to kill Duncan, but he eventually agrees. He stabs Duncan with a dagger and then blames the action on Duncan's servants. Following his murder of Duncan, Macbeth is then crowned king. Almost immediately, Macbeth starts to feel more and more paranoid and guilty about his actions. Because he grows concerned about the prophecy of Banquo's descendants becoming kings, he tries to have Banquo and his son Fleance killed. The murderers he hires do kill Banquo, but Fleance manages to escape, compounding Macbeth's paranoia. Macbeth's guilt over his friend's murder causes him to see Banquo's ghost during a dinner with other nobles, causing him to say dangerous things in front of his guests while Lady Macbeth tries to keep him under control and explain away his strange behavior.
The people of Scotland start to have serious doubts about Macbeth's tyrannical rule. Worried about what his future might hold, Macbeth returns to the witches to hear more prophecies. They tell him to beware Macduff, but they also say that no man born of woman can harm him, which makes Macbeth believe that he is invincible. The final prophecy that the witches give Macbeth is that no harm will come to him until Birnam Wood, a large forest, comes to Dunsinane Castle, where Macbeth lives. He feels reassured by these last two prophecies, but, when he learns that Macduff has fled to England to join Malcolm's army in an attempt to end Macbeth's rule, he has Macduff's family killed.
Prince Malcolm, son of the late King Duncan, raises an army to destroy Macbeth and regain his throne. While Macbeth has grown more confident in his ability to hold power, Lady Macbeth is consumed by guilt. She commits suicide because she is no longer able to bear the weight of the crimes she and her husband have committed. Macbeth learns that the soldiers coming to attack him are carrying tree branches from Birnam Wood to obscure their numbers. He is horrified but has no choice but to fight bravely. Macduff, who wants to avenge the deaths of his family members, attacks Macbeth and kills him. It turns out that Macduff was born by what is now known as a Cesarean section rather than a natural birth, making him not ''of woman born'' and therefore able to kill Macbeth in accordance with the prophecy. Malcolm becomes Scotland's new king.
Macbeth is a particularly interesting character in the Shakespeare canon who has been the subject of rigorous character analysis for centuries. He is a character built on contradictions who responds in increasingly desperate and violent ways to the events that happen around him. He feels intensely guilty about his actions, but he is also unable to tamp down his ambition. He is not a villain like Iago in Othello or other outright villainous Shakespeare characters, but neither can he truly be said to be a hero. He is a complex character very much at war with himself. It would be fair to say that Macbeth is the kind of character who has a tragic flaw: his inability to control his own ambition and his willingness to perform great acts of violence ultimately cause his downfall.
Some of the quotes that Macbeth says over the course of the play clarify and describe his journey for the audience. The following quotes are in chronological order, showing how his mental state alters from the play's beginning to its end.
|"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?"
|Act I, Scene III||Macbeth thinks about killing Duncan in order to become king, but is horrified at himself for thinking it.|
|"Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires"
|Act I, Scene IV||Macbeth is outwardly polite to Duncan, but he is starting to have more and more thoughts about killing him.|
|"We will proceed no further in this business:
He hath honour'd me of late"
|Act I, Scene VII||Right before the murder, Macbeth tries to pull back. His wife convinces him that killing Duncan is the only way forward.|
|"Both of you
Know Banquo was your enemy...
So is he mine; and in such bloody distance
That every minute of his being thrusts
Against my near'st of life"
|Act III, Scene I||Macbeth says this to one of Banquo's murderers, almost as though he is trying to convince himself that he is making the right choice.|
|"I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er"
|Act III, Scene IV||This is a major turning point for Macbeth: he no longer thinks it is possible for him to make amends for his actions, so he just has to move forward as a tyrant.|
|"I will not yield,
To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,
And to be baited with the rabble's curse.
Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou opposed, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body
I throw my warlike shield."
|Act V, Scene VIII||This is Macbeth's final line in the play. Even though all of the prophecies have come true in terrible ways, he still wants to be a brave warrior right until the end.|
Macbeth is a character who lets external forces influence him too much, rather than standing by his own convictions in the face of difficult situations. He is driven to seek power by the prophecies and by his wife, rather than remaining true to his own beliefs and moral compass. Like all tragic heroes, Macbeth suffers because of his own actions.
Macbeth is the main character in the eponymous play by William Shakespeare. He begins the play as a hero and ends it as a tragic hero when he dies in battle. His tragic flaw throughout the play is his inability to hold true to his moral compass when presented with the opportunity for power. He kills everyone who gets in his way so that he can become king of Scotland, even when the people he has to kill are his close friends.
Macbeth's biggest influence throughout the story is his wife, Lady Macbeth. She pressures him into killing King Duncan, but eventually succumbs to her own guilt and paranoia. She kills herself near the end of the play. Ultimately, she is an important part of Macbeth's journey in which he goes from brave warrior to reluctant murderer to king to brutal killer, and finally back to brave warrior when he dies.
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Macbeth is a very complex person who does a lot of bad things. Whether or not he is a bad or irredeemable person is something for audience members to decide.
Before becoming king, Macbeth is the thane of Glamis. The title of ''thane'' in this context is a Scottish title similar to being the lord of a region.
Macbeth is very courageous and is willing and able to do what is necessary to achieve his goals. Sometimes, these strengths are good, while other times, they can be destructive.
Macduff kills Macbeth at the very end of the play. He cuts off Macbeth's head and brings it to the new King Malcolm.
Already a member? Log InBack