Macbeth: Revealing Of Power In A Play
Macbeth, a play written by Shakespeare in early 1600 represents a period of English history that was full of uncertainty and fear, when people’s main concerns where of power and ambition. I have chosen to analyse Act 3 Scene 4 because it is a highly influential scene in the play, as it questions themes such as ambition, violence and power, and the consequences that result from the search for such things. The scene, is a consequential turning point in the play, introducing the audience to a deeper meaning to the idea of ‘Macbeth as a tragedy’; The world is seen to turn to ruin as relationships between characters and the characters themselves change, evoking both sympathy and fear in the audience. Other important elements of the play including blood and hallucinations and the influence of setting are also explored throughout the scene. These aspects of the play are displayed through language, setting, characters and symbols.
The scene opens to a peaceful and welcoming atmosphere, in the banquet hall where Macbeth, who is now king and Lady Macbeth, who is now the queen host noblemen. This welcoming and calm atmosphere is established through dialogue;
“You know your own degrees, sit down; at first and last, the hearty welcome” there is little uncertainty in the scene, as everyone knows their place, Macbeth’s language provides a warm and easy going welcome, followed by the prospect of a feast which evokes comfort and contemptment. “Both sides are even: here I’ll sit i’th’midst.” Dialogue also establishes a sense of stability. Both quotes are balanced balanced sentences, suggesting a resumption of order and peace in Scotland subsequent to the chaos and violence of the previous scenes, through the use of balanced syntax.
Within this there is an element of dramatic irony as the audience is aware that this is not the case; as Macbeth continues his violence through the murder of Banquo.
“safe in a ditch he bides, With twenty trenched gashes on his head. The least a death to nature.”
The scene constructs a contrast between appearances and reality and the abrupt change to violent language building dramatic tension. The changing atmosphere corresponds to the changes of Macbeth’s character.
Lady Macbeth’s character was not considered feminine or womanly during Elizabethan times, as Elizabethan woman were generally portrayed as subordinate, beautiful and innocent. Lady Macbeth is displayed to be more strong minded, motivated and ruthless than her husband;
“Sit, worthy friends. My lord is often thus, And hath been from his youth. Pray you keep seat. This fit is momentary; upon a thought he will be well again.” (3.4.53-56). This quote demonstrates the guilt that lady Macbeth and Macbeth are consumed by, and the impact this has on their characters, exploring the consequences of violence sourced from ambition. In her attempts to disguise their acts of cruelty, Lady Macbeth displays her strong will and mind, as remains constant in her judgment, and has not yet lost her composure and consciousness. Her character can be contrasted to Macbeth’s who is weighted down by his guilt.
Her authoritative expression demonstrates her dominant role in the couple’s marriage. Lady Macbeth’s character can be compared to Macbeth’s to challenge Elizabethan gender roles, as she goes against the assumption of women having an inferior role and disposition in society.
Lady Macbeth’s character also questions ideas of masculinity; “Are you a man?”. She believes a man must merciless, brave and headstrong, and be able to take what he desires, however views Macbeth as cowardly and weak-minded.
At the start of the scene Macbeth has regained his conscious, sense of invincibility and security over his throne. In Macbeth’s dialogue, at the start of the scene he mentions a serpent, which represents the slain Banquo, a the worm, which represents his son Fleance.
“There the grown serpent lies; the worm that’s fled, Hath nature that in time will venom breed, No teeth for th’present.” (3.4.29-31). The quote is a metaphor in which The ‘serpent’ is symbolic of a threat to Macbeth’s power is juxtaposed to the ‘worm’ which is described to be no threat to Macbeth’s crown at the present time, but will grow to become one. The metaphor within Macbeth’s dialogue displays his character at the start of the scene, he believes himself to be untouchable and in complete control, as he has prevented further prophesies from coming to pass.
However there is an abrupt change in language, causing the development of a chaotic and confusing atmosphere that greatly reflects that changes that appear in the character of Macbeth, and introducing the theme of madness;
“I had else been perfect; whole as the marble, as founded as the rock, as broad and general as the casting air (secure and free): But now I am cabined, cribbed, bound to saucy (distressing) doubts and fears” (23-25). The sentence is balanced by syntax which illustrates, not only the evolving atmosphere, but also the comparison between Macbeth’s changing character. Similes are used to construct Macbeth as a strong, brave and impenetrable man whereas cacophony and alliteration create emphasis on the words used to describe his new disposition. Language used by Macbeth such as ‘broad and general’, which means secure and free greatly contrast to those in second section of the balanced sentence such as ‘cribbed’ which means trapped in a small space. Such contrasts in language creates the changes Macbeth’s character undergoes, from stability to fear; and through this imagery is evoked of a constrained Macbeth who crumbles at the sight of the ghost of the man he just murdered.
Developing atmosphere of the scene also represents the changing character of Macbeth; the disturbed atmosphere correlates to the emotions and thoughts of his character, both advancing the destabilization of Macbeth’s already precarious mindset.
“Stones have been known to move and trees to speak.” (3.4.123) In comparison to the beginning of the scene the atmosphere has become chaotic and confusing, personification of insignificant objects causes disturbance in the natural world, as even the most ordinary of objects has been impacted by Macbeth’s manipulations of the world around him. Pathetic fallacy provides a link between the atmosphere and the character of Macbeth, allowing the audience to better understand his disposition through less complex means.
Stark contrasts exist within Macbeth’s character in the scene, his unstable, irrational disposition harshly contrasts to his previous feeling of freedom, and stability of power. The change in Macbeth’s character throughout the scene is caused by his hamartia in acting on his ambitions and hubris of his confidence, emphasising the extent to which guilt has consumed his character.
Hallucinations – cont record
Whether the ghost is a figment of Macbeth’s imagination or a disruption of the natural world varies in versions of the play, yet remains an important element of hallucinations in Macbeth. Macbeth’s dialogue imagery of a ghost. “Never shake thy gory locks at me” Macbeth describes a gruesome, disapproving ghost, bringing to life what the audience may not be able to see.
The ghost acts as a powerful symbol of guilt, and Macbeth’s hallucinations suggests that he is aware of his actions being immoral. Within the scene the heroic leader of Scotland is reduced to a paranoid murderer, plagued by inner conflict guilt over his irrational acts of violence.
The ghost, not only represents guilt or disorder in the world, but also exemplifies how ambition can never be satisfied. A destroyed mind or psychological breakdown are consequential to unrestrained ambition, and in this way Macbeth can be blamed for his own downfall.
Blood is another important symbol in Macbeth, it is repeatedly used to represent guilt as a result of a violent act.
“I am in blood; Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more; Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.136-138) Shakespeare has created strong imagery of wading into a river of thick blood, and even if he turned back now it would be more difficult than just continuing to kill. Shakespeare comments on how when one starts committing violent acts in search for power they will inevitably commit more.
Hallucination of the ‘dagger’, from previous scenes is referenced in Act 3 Scene 4;
“This is the very painting of your fear; This is the air-drawn dagger which you said led you to Duncan.” (3.4.61-63)
Visions of the bloody dagger have previously ‘led’ Macbeth to committing violent acts and therefore are seen as a foreshadowing force in the play. The dagger represents Macbeth’s ambitions, an irrational section of his mind, which encourages him to do take what he desires by sinful means. The dagger also symbolises disruption of the natural world. There is a “connection between the political and natural world” (Litcharts, 2019) which is put into disorder by Macbeth’s unnatural acts of violence that is seen to tip the political balance in his favour and therefore there are consequences within the natural world, such as the murder of Banquo committed by Macbeth.
In conclusion, language and language devices such as alliteration, metaphor and simile, setting, characters including Lady Macbeth and Macbeth and symbols of blood and hallucination, have used in Act 3 scene 4 of Macbeth, to explore the idea of Macbeth as a tragedy and the influence and impact of important themes of violence, ambition and power, as well as their consequences.