Macbeth

by: William Shakespeare

Point of View

Macbeth opens not with the main character, but with a scene between the three witches, creating a distance between the audience and Macbeth and his wife. After this brief scene, however, we see the action mostly from the point of view of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. We are initially sympathetic to Macbeth because we see him grappling with the meaning of the witches’ prophecy both in dialogue and privately. He speaks in asides that the audience can hear but that the other characters present don’t hear. For example, after meeting the witches for the first time, he says as an aside, “This supernatural soliciting/cannot be ill, cannot be good.” Banquo, witnessing Macbeth’s internal struggle, says, “Look how our partner’s rapt.” He sees that Macbeth is preoccupied, but doesn’t know the exact nature of his thoughts in the way the audience does. These asides separate Macbeth from the rest of the characters. By being so closely aligned with Macbeth’s point of view in the beginning of the play, we feel the full implications of his downfall at the end.

As the play progresses and Macbeth commits more murders, the point of view shifts away from Macbeth and toward his victims. As we become increasingly horrified by Macbeth’s actions, and have less access to his motivations, he becomes an unsympathetic character. The point of view focuses on the people affected by Macbeth’s violence, such as Lady Macduff and her sons. The second half of Act Four, for example, shows Lady Macduff with her son, and then Macduff with Malcolm. This shift in point of view makes Macbeth’s murder of Macduff’s family all the more horrific, as we witness it twice: once while it happens, and then again when Ross tells Macduff about the murders. The final act contains one more soliloquy by Macbeth, momentarily bringing us back inside his head, when he expresses grief over the death of Lady Macbeth. But this soliloquy is fairly brief, as he acknowledges, saying, “She should have died hereafter/There would have been a time for such a word.” The point of view then shifts to privilege Macbeth and Macduff equally, with Malcolm delivering the final words of the play.

The witches function as narrators or a kind of chorus commenting on the action of the play. In the play’s first scene, the witches announce their intention to meet with Macbeth before the audience learns anything else about who Macbeth is, which encourages us to think of Macbeth as a figure with some sort of special destiny in store for him. This very belief that he is somehow special and unique is part of what will drive Macbeth to gamble everything in his bid for power. However, as the audience knows more about the witches than Macbeth does. Before meeting Macbeth the witches tell how they’ve been “killing swine,” and conspire to sink the ship of a sailor whose wife refused to share her chestnuts. We see the witches as powerful and vindictive before we hear their prophecy for Macbeth, and interpret everything they say accordingly. While Macbeth is flattered by the witches, the audience knows that the witches have little sympathy for him, and may even take a sadistic pleasure in his downfall.