A Literary Analysis Essay of Macbeth
Macbeth, as written by Shakespeare is one of the shortest of his plays. It can aptly be described as a tragedy in line with the way in which various prominent characters are murdered in as well as the somber and dark mood that follows events as they unfold. It is a bloody account of the way in which Macbeth rises to power after being told of a prophecy saying he will do so from three treacherous witches. He lets his ambition consume him and it in turn sets a series of events into motion that culminate in a bloody finale. Many critics posit Macbeth as Shakespeare paying homage to the current King James I with his excellent work (Shakespeare, Bate, and Rasmussen 17). The king had a Scottish ancestry and it is thought the play embodied this. The play is not so complex as to lose its audience in the process but retains a high level of emotional intensity. From a literary point of view, Macbeth is a masterpiece as it captures the artistry of Shakespeare’s ability and communicates a valid message despite its short length.
The play tells the rise of Macbeth from his position as a successful soldier on the battlefield alongside the equally immaculate Banquo. As followers of King Duncan of Scotland, they are faithful servants. Macbeth is however turned when he is told of a prophecy that will see him become king by three witches. The result of this discovery is that Macbeth is manipulated by his wife who exploits his ambition and lack of moral strength to convince him to murder the king to take over the kingship. She convinces him to kill king when he comes to visit their castle. A series of events follow with another prophecy being cast that ultimately seals Macbeth’s fate. He goes on a murderous rampage and a war with one of Duncan’s sons follows as his wife descends into madness. The Scottish nobles also elect to reject him and he ends up dying at the hands of Macduff whose wife and children he had killed (Shakespeare, Bate, and Rasmussen 25).
The play is a clear indication of the way in which power can corrupt and how ambition if left unchecked may lead to untold havoc and destruction. Macbeth, along with his wife is destroyed by their ambition and lust for power. Their murderous rampage is evidence of how dangerous this can be (Shakespeare, Bate, and Rasmussen 103). The play also puts into perspective how much masculinity is related to violence and cruelty. It is a major ploy that Lady Macbeth uses on her husband to question his strength. She repeatedly ridicules him for not being able to stay the course and it is assumed that being a man is being cruel (Shakespeare, Bate, and Rasmussen 104). Shakespeare also attempts to draw a broad distinction between the way a king acts and the way a tyrant carries out himself. This distinction is made in the way that Duncan carries himself out as opposed to Macbeth who cowardly kills the king in his sleep and assumes his position. The impression here is that Macbeth is actually a polar opposite of what a king stands especially with all the violence he permeates under his brief rule (Shakespeare, Bate, and Rasmussen 104).
The play elicits the argument between fate and free will and attempts to show that despite preordained destinies it is people’s actions that ultimately lead them down certain paths. Fortune holds a certain degree of influence but the ultimate motivation is that of personal desire (Shakespeare, Bate, and Rasmussen 119). If Macbeth had not heard the prophecy then it is probable to believe that he may not have committed the murders. He is initially skeptical of the prophecy and only after cajoling from his wife does he acquiesce to both his and her ambition and murder the king. As a literary piece, Shakespeare delivers a wonderful riposte that places into perspective the true nature of man and just how destructive unchecked ambition can be. It is an illuminating, if not disturbing look into the human psyche and just how dangerous people can be.
Shakespeare, William, Jonathan Bate, and Eric Rasmussen. Macbeth. London: Macmillan Publishers, 2009. Print.