Sunday, February 21, 2010

Macbeth : "This dead butcher and his fiend-like queen".

Macbeth Essay

To what extent is this a full and fair description of the two protagonists?

In this quote, Malcolm, refers to Macbeth as a “dead butcher” and to Lady Macbeth as Macbeth’s “fiend like queen.” In this instance, butcher is implied to mean one who kills; showing neither remorse nor reason for his actions. The fiend is depicted to mean that Lady Macbeth is a very evil and immoral person, capable of enchanting her victims into a false sense of security. As Macbeth’s reign as king draws out, he may have shown a very insensitive attitude in the way that he murders many people. However, to say that he is butcher is not a fair description of him, as it does not represent his properties of nobility, courage and honour that he had at first displayed. The description of Lady Macbeth as a fiend is a more representable one. She is the one who induced the power of evilness into Macbeth’s soul, allowing him to commit such a heinous act as killing his king, an act which he never would have committed prior to her coercing.

In the beginning, Macbeth is a powerful lord as Thane of Glamis with a prospering life being lived with his wife, Lady Macbeth. He is a noble and valiant soldier, not a butcher and he is quite capable of dying in battle to save his king. This property is one of his strongest, even supported by the acknowledgment that he receives for it – his gaining of a new title as Thane of Cawdor. Following this event, Lady Macbeth receives a letter from her husband, informing her of his new title as well as the witches and their predictions. Although her blood may have been pure a time long ago, the Lady is not so now; she immediately develops a plan for the murder of Duncan so that her husband can become the new king. However, she notes that her plan is flawed because of Macbeth’s worthy and kind nature. Macbeth may be able to slaughter his enemies on the battleground, but he shows great respect and kindness to his friends and especially his king. She knows that although he harbours great ambition, it will be difficult to convince him do such an act of murder and treason – “Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it.”(I. 5. 15-19).

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As said above, Lady Macbeth’s fiend-like qualities first show through after she receives Macbeth’s letter. She seems to have hatred towards the fact that she is a woman. She believes that the traditional role of the women as sensitive, caring and beautiful hold her back from what her mind is capable of doing, murder. In her famous soliloquy she says “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty.” (I. 5. 39-42). She wishes to be liberated from her skin, the pale, soft yet powerless barrier which holds her back from the deeds she believes that must be done. Further on in her soliloquy she says “Make thick my blood, stop up th’ access and passage to remorse…” (I. 5. 42-43). Not only does she want her barriers removed, but she also wishes for an end to her conscience and guilt; an end to her emotions and remorse. This is a combination which would then allow her to become more of a butcher than Macbeth ever became. Throughout the whole play, the Lady gives definition to the term fiend in countless and varied ways.

Macbeth is again seen to counter the image that has been drawn of him as a butcher prior to Duncan’s murder as he contemplates the severity of his actions and whether he should continue or not. Macbeth says “First, I am his kinsman and his subject – strong both against the deed…” (I. 7. 13-14) and argues against his murder of Duncan, he does not believe that is right for him to kill both his king and his cousin. Macbeth succeeds in persuading himself against the murder of Duncan, as seen when he says “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other…” He compares his ambition to that of riding a horse, but then says that he has no purpose to leap too high on his horse as to kill his king, because he knows that he will only fall off. Clearly no butcher would stop to contemplate his actions before killing someone and a butcher would certainly not be able to stop themself, as butchery is an act that is done senselessly and without thought.

At this point in time, the Lady is seen to again exercise her powers over her husband. One of these powers is her knowledge of his weaknesses, and she uses this knowledge to finally change his constantly swaying opinion. She says “To be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem…” (I. 7. 40-42). In this statement she attacks Macbeth’s honour and bravery as well as his vaulting ambition. Macbeth is told that he should be able to act as he thinks and he is called a coward for not doing so. It is very unlikely the Macbeth has ever been called a coward before and it is possible that this comment in itself would have the power to invoke Macbeth to do the terrible deed, to prove to her that his courage is still strong. However, the Lady’s terrible intentions are not fully understood until she makes the following comment to reinforce her argument as to why Duncan should be killed “I would, while it (her baby) was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this.” (I. 7. 56-58). It is no human who says this but a person whom fiend does little to describe; what mother would ever cause such harm to their baby, even if they had sworn to do this?

Macbeth is not a butcher, and the lady is not just a fiend. As can be seen, although the quote does describe perhaps certain aspects of both their characters it is a very vague description and does not fully portray their characteristics. Macbeth is a brave man, led to his downfall because of his weaknesses and the unfortunate property of his wife to exploit them. A fiend is a more appropriate description of the Lady but it still fails to capture the true essence of her character as an extremely disturbed and evil person. It would be fair to say that the quote tries to summarise their characters in one short line but in the process makes them seem less dramatic and less complex than they really are.

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