“Man is not the creature of circumstances
Circumstances are the creatures of man.”
Macbeth, throughout the play, is presented as one much above the ordinary beings, and, as such, he fulfils the basic -requirements of being a tragic hero. Shakespeare, introduces him as a brave general, a bold, resolute man of action who through as also referred to “Valor’s minion”, “Bellona’s bridegroom’’, the king’s ‘’valiant cousin’’, a very “eagle’’ among ‘’sparrows’’, a ‘’lion’’ among ‘’hares’’. It is a play, which is depicting a complete destruction, wrestling with creation. It is a study of the disintegration and damnation of a man. And yet, Macbeth is a ‘tragic hero’. Here presents, the hero’s complete symbolic life-journey in a reflective pattern to ensure the only operation of evil in this world.
‘Macbeth: “Come, let me clutch thee:
I have thee not,fatal vision,sensible
To feeling as to sight?” ‘
In the third scene of the first act of the play though the hero accepts evil overtly, there is a suggestion that, even before the commencement of action of the play, he has fallen under the influence of evil.
‘Banquo : ..“Merciful powers,
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
Gives way to repose.” ‘
The Witches, merely prophecy certain things for Macbeth. They do not influence him in any concrete manner, but the effect of the prophecy is to make Macbeth, start as if he were already guilty of harboring dangerous ideas. It is a fact that his ambition impels him towards “the swelling act of the imperial theme”, though his conscience fills him with horror at the idea that has come to him about how to gain the throne.
‘Macbeth: “Come what come may,
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.” ‘
Macbeth, is the starkest and the least discursive of Shakespeare’s tragedies as Granville-Barker has pointed out. The deterioration of Macbeth’s character illustrates the theme of conscience and its decline. From a brave soldier and noble person Macbeth reaches a state when he is a soulless man, a beast chained to a stake like a beast!
‘Second Witch: “By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes;
Open locks, whoever knocks.” ‘
The forces of evil are always ready to ensnare man; but they have their limitations. They do not, indeed cannot, force man into evil; they can merely tempt man to choose to follow evil ways. Macbeth, deliberately choose- not once, but several times in the play-the evil path. At every stage of Macbeth’s degeneration we witness the choice being made deliberately, at the same time there is a sense of inevitability, about Macbeth’s choices.
‘Macbeth: “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
What is’t you do?
All the Witches: A deed without a name.” ‘
Much more, than the other elements, the Witches introduce an element of supernatural mystery and fear into Macbeth. According to Charles Lamb,” They are foul anomalies, of whom we know not whence they are sprung, or whether they have beginning or ending. As they are without human passions, they seem to be without human relations. They come with thunder and lightning and vanish to airy music.”It is significant that the play opens with a brief meeting of the Three Witches.
‘Old Man: “Threeescore and ten I can remember well;
Within the volume of which time, I have seen
Hours dreadful and things strange, but this sore night
Hath trifled former knowings.” ‘
The opening scene, in fact is important, in that which makes a complete sense of mystery, strikes the keynote of the play:
..’ Second Witch: “When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost, and won.
Third Witch: That will be the ere the set of sun.
First Witch: Where the place?
Second Witch: Upon the heath.
Third Witch: There to meet with Macbeth.’’ ‘
When we meet the Witches again in Act I, Sc.iii, we get to know of their physical aspects. They are withered and not dressed like earthly beings; their fingers are choppy and lips skinny. They look like women, and yet they are bearded. They can at will vanish into air, can foresee the future, and possess more than mortal knowledge. They are by no means the ordinary witches of popular super -station; they are more powerful beings, resembling rather the “Goddesses of Devine “as Holinshed calls them. Shakespeare has endowed they may have power over Nature, but that power is not -absolute. They may have power over a man’s soul but that power is not absolute either. It is when a mortal mind is tainted that they can have an influence on it. Their prophecy only gives a definite shape to the dark thoughts that have already been smoldering in Macbeth’s mind. The thought of assassinating Duncan occurs to him independently of ‘them’-without any hint from ‘them’. Macbeth reads into the prophecies a “supernatural soliciting”, to murder and, Lady Macbeth looks upon them as “metaphysical aid.” The Witches in Macbeth never solicit nor aid- this is nothing -but a wishful thinking.
‘Macbeth: ‘’Why sinks that cauldron? And what noise is this? “ ‘
The most- distinct suggestion, of the supernatural in Macbeth comes from Banquo’s Ghost. There is no doubt that we can see with Macbeth the uncanny apparition, the blood blotched ghost. Banquo’s Ghost plays an important role in the action of tragedy. The horror of its sight compels Macbeth to make many a comprising disclosure. As Coleridge points out them, “as true a creation of Shakespeare’s as his Ariel and Caliban” and “wholly different from the representation of Witches in the contemporary writers, and yet presented a sufficient of witches in the contemporary writers, and yet presented a sufficient external resemblance to the creatures of vulgar prejudice, to act immediately on the audience.”
‘All the Witches: “Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” ‘
Though the Witches here do not have a direct share in its action they are a very important part of the play. The play from its very beginning continues under their evil shadows until the shadows are finally lifted in the last scene with Macduff’s entry with “the usurper’s cursed head.” The tragedy would lose all its magnificence without its strange atmosphere and the atmosphere would amount to nothing without the presence of the Witches.
‘All the Witches: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,
Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
Lenox describes the ‘unruly’ night in some detail:
“Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say
Lamentings heard i’ th’ air; strange screams of death,
And, prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion, and confused events,
New hatch’d to th’ woeful time, the obscure bird
Clamour’d the live long night; some say, the earth
Was feverous, and did shake.”
In the next scene, Ross and the Old Man discuss of similar events that have taken place during the fateful night:
‘Old Man: ‘On Tuesday last
A falcon tow’ring in her pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawk’d at and kill’d.” ‘
The portents suggest a topsy-turvy situation in Nature and emphasize the naturalness of Macbeth’s heinous deed in murdering Duncan who is at once his king, kinsman and guest.
Ross: “And Duncan’s horses, a thing most strange and certain,
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turn’d wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending ‘gainst obedience as they would
Making war with mankind.” ‘
The accounts of these supernatural happenings hence are helping towards the atmosphere of horror in the play. - ‘An owl shrieks
Lady Macbeth: ..’’It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman
Which gives the stern’st good-night.” ‘
King Edward, the Confessor was thought to be inspired with a gift of prophecy and also to possess the gift of healing infirmities and some incurable diseases. Though one motive of the references may have been to flatter James I, another valid justification on dramatic grounds, is that the good supernatural described here is a contrast to the evil supernatural of the witches. Man’s actions are, therefore, not isolated but closely connected to various forces operating in the universe. At the same time, it is made to clear that effect would be different if Man did not succumb to the evil within him.
‘Lady Macbeth: “Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe topfull
Of direst cruelty.” ‘
It is noticeable that Macbeth himself never blames the Witches for his sinister actions. The supernatural elements contribute to the play a rich texture, raise the tragedy to a cosmic dimension to a sense of Fate, operating in man’s life in Macbeth. Macbeth’s failure to utter the word ‘Amen’ is also accepted only as a psychologic. The air-drawn dagger is not strictly a part of the supernatural. The visionary dagger that Macbeth perceives just before committing Duncan’s murder has been interpreted more as a projection of Macbeth’s heated mind than as a concrete reality to be felt and known. It is he who makes it possible for Birnam Wood to come to Dunsinane Castle shutting himself up inside. It is he who senselessly murdering Macduff’s family rouses Macduff who is “none of woman born”- to revenge. Before his end, he simply blames the juggling fiends as they, “keep the word of promise to our ear and break it to our hope.”
“Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun.”
- Shakespeare’s Art, therefore, is evolving from a Deep Understanding of the Complexity of Human Nature!
(References, words, sentences, ideas.settings from ‘William Shakespeare’s Macbeth- A critical evaluation, Dr. S. Sen.)