In the play ?Macbeth?, Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as the normal man ? at first. Through his skills as a warrior, his friendship with Banquo and his loyalty to Duncan, Macbeth attempts to be the everyday man. As the play develops, however, Macbeth becomes over ambitious and power hungry. Like the book A Simple Plan, where people become so involved in their own greed and self-prosper that they kill people they love, Macbeth gains power through extreme desire and corruption. Macbeth does not set out to possess these characteristics. His ?simple plan? for life is to be a normal man, according to society, characterized by power, class, bravery, and pride. The plan goes astray as his greed and immorality destroy his pursuit of normalcy. Shakespeare clearly establishes that as Macbeth becomes immersed in his social goals, he becomes inhuman.
I. Macbeth?s normalcy
Although Macbeth does not appear in the first two scenes of the play, other characters talk about him in very descriptive terms. Macbeth is seen as a very brave and extremely valiant warrior:
For brave Macbeth ? well he deserves that name ? Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel Which smoked with bloody execution, Like Valour?s minion carved out his passage Till he faced the slave, Which ne?er shook hands, nor bade fare well to him, till he unseamed him from the nave to th? chaps and fixed his head upon out battlements? (1.2. 16-23).
This captain talks about Macbeth as though he were a god. Macbeth begins as an intrepid character who is feared by his enemies and admired by his friends. This shows that society values bravery and audacity.
Macbeth starts as a great warrior and a loyal servant to Duncan. Macbeth has served under Duncan for many years as Thane of Glamis. When Duncan becomes too old to fight, Macbeth takes his place in the front line. He leads Duncan?s army into many battles and fights courageously for his side. Unlike the Thane of Cawdor, who betrayed Duncan in battle, Macbeth remains loyal no matter what the situation. Duncan is very proud to have Macbeth fighting for his side, ?What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won? (1.2. 67).
Banquo, a soldier for Duncan, is a good friend of Macbeth. Banquo and Macbeth fight in many wars together, supporting each other in battle. Macbeth does not desert Banquo in the battlefields, nor does Banquo turn his back on Macbeth and switch sides. They have a strong relationship as warriors and friends.
Shakespeare, at the beginning of the play, carefully portrays Macbeth as a man of great stature with the capacity to be good, with ?milk of human kindness? (1.5. 15). Through Macbeth?s goodness, he is natural and similar to other men. Shakespeare depicts Macbeth as linked to humanity, his fellow men, and to God. As these connections to humanity and God are destroyed, Macbeth loses his conscience, his sense of compassion, and his desire to live.
II. Normalcy becomes evil
As Macbeth loses his tie to humanity and God, he chooses what he perceives to be good, kingship and power. Eventually, however, these lead to corruption. Macbeth turns his back on a neatly ordered and harmonious universe and rebels against the order of nature. Through love of self, Macbeth voluntarily chooses evil. He ultimately loses his wife, his kingdom and, finally, his life. Macbeth says, ?Jump the life to come? (1.7. 7). He is saying that he is no longer satisfied with his life and wants to leave everything behind and move on.
Early in the play, Macbeth meets the three witches, his first encounter with the supernatural. They prophesize that he will become the Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland. Macbeth sees his future unfolding and becomes anxious to fulfill his goals. The scene with the witches foreshadows Macbeth?s successes and eventually his troubles.
Macbeth realizes that he is next in line to replace Duncan as king. Macbeth does not want to wait until Duncan dies a natural death; instead he begins to think of murder. Greed overcomes Macbeth; he now considers a course of action that he would not have taken before.
Although Macbeth is thinking of murder, he is not certain he wants to carry out such a plan. Macbeth states, ?We will proceed no further in this business? (1.7. 31) He still is controlled by his conscience. Lady Macbeth, however, urges him to ignore his prior sense of humanity and go forward to commit the crime. Macbeth is losing his grip on his earlier beliefs and values.
While Macbeth decides to break his bond with morality, Banquo resists the temptation. According to Irving Ribner, ?Banquo is ordinary man, with his mixture of good and evil, open to evil?s soliciting, but able to resist it. It is in such a man, Shakespeare is saying, that the hope for the future lies? (Ribner 248). Macbeth, by contrast, represents medieval society in decline.
III. Normal actions turn abnormal
Macbeth?s decision to ignore his conscience permits him to commit evil acts. First, he kills Duncan, then he kills Banquo and finally he becomes estranged from his wife. Each action leads to the next. Macbeth becomes more active and less concerned with the consequences. Ribner says, ?His voluntary choice of evil, moreover, closes the way of redemption to him, for in denying nature he cuts off the source of redemption, and he must end in total destruction and despair? (Ribner 247). Macbeth loses his bond to God and therefor becomes inhuman.
Macbeth?s first evil act is to kill Duncan. Macbeth was loyal to the king for many years as he rose through the ranks of the kingdom. He served as Thane of Glamis and fought in Duncan?s army. Macbeth had only killed on the battlefield. While Macbeth agrees to kill Duncan, Lady Macbeth actually commits the murder.
Banquo suspects that Macbeth is behind Duncan?s murder. When Macbeth learns of Banquo?s suspicions, he hires the Murderers to kill Banquo. Macbeth takes this action despite his friendship and loyalty to Banquo. This time, Macbeth acts on his own without the encouragement of Lady Macbeth.
Banquo?s murder symbolizes two things. First, Banquo ?represents one aspect of Macbeth, the side of ordinary humanity which Macbeth must destroy within himself before he can give his soul entirely to the forces of darkness? (Ribner 248). Second, the struggle between Macbeth and Banquo symbolizes the battle between evil and good in medieval society. Banquo represents the common man who is trampled by the corrupt forces of the power structure.
After these two deeds are accomplished, Macbeth?s feelings towards Lady Macbeth change. Their marriage began as a partnership. As Macbeth sinks into his corruption he no longer loves or needs his wife. Macbeth becomes completely self-absorbed and no longer cares for his wife?s well being.
IV. Responses to Events become Abnormal
After killing Duncan and Banquo, Macbeth begins to hallucinate. He first sees a bloody dagger floating in front of him after the murder of Duncan. When Banquo is murdered, Macbeth seems to encounter Banquo?s ghost. Shakespeare leaves it unclear whether this ghost is real or just a figment of Macbeth?s imagination.
These hallucinations are symbolic of Macbeth?s struggle with his conscience for control of his soul. It also represents the unraveling of Macbeth?s mind. Macbeth is losing the ability to appreciate the consequences of his actions.
Towards the end of the play, Macbeth hears women shrieking because Lady Macbeth has killed herself. Macbeth does not respond. This shows that he has lost all sense of humanity. He has become completely narcissistic and has no feeling whatsoever for the loss of his wife. Macbeth says, ?I have almost forgot the taste of fears? She should have died hereafter; There would have been time for such a word? (5.5. 9, 16). Macbeth becomes so self-absorbed that he does not think that his wife?s death should be dealt with right then. He says that they will talk about it tomorrow. This example shows that he has become completely abnormal and inhuman.
Shakespeare?s ?Macbeth? teaches how ?absolute power corrupts absolutely.? The play also represents medieval society?s descent into depravity and immorality. Shakespeare?s normal man succumbs to the temptations of power and greed. Normal man becomes abnormal. As in the book A Simple Plan, where common people are tempted to obtain wealth illegally, greediness leads to destruction.