Macbeth’s Change of Character Throughout the Play

Throughout the play, Macbeth changes from a noble man to a merciless tyrant thirsting for power, due to the influences of those around him. From the overt sway of the Three Witches’ supernatural precognition of the future, to the subtle persuation of Lady Macbeth, his honorable disposition is slowly corrupted to that of a barbarous dictator, keen only on maintaining and progressing his power. By the second half of the play, his paranoia is so deeply ingrained that he seeks to distance himself from anyone who could threaten his reign – even those he once held in high regard.

At the beginning of the play (Act I Scene II), the Sergeant, fresh from the frontlines of battle with the Norweyans, is explaining the situation of the war to Duncan. He recreates a fanciful depiction of the onslaught, describing the unsurpassed exploits of Macbeth, who tore his way through battle, only to finish it by slaughtering the rebel Macdonwald, and decorating the armaments of his troops with his head. “For Brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name -,” the Sergeant says, describing Macbeth as a brave soldier, well deserving of his title. “Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution,” he continues, portraying Macbeth with his sword, felling all those who stand defiantly before him.

“Like valour’s minion he carved out his passage til he faced the slave; Which never shook hands nor bade farewell to him, Till he unseamed him from the nave to the chaps, and fixed his head upon our battlement.” The Sergeant describes Macbeth as a valorous fighter, who bravely stands before the rebel Macdonwald, never bidding him hello or farewell, before he slices him from the navel to the abdomen, killing him. He then delivers the head to his troops, adorning his armaments with it, signifying the death of the opposing forces leader, and the victory of the battle.

Towards the end of the play (Act V Scene V), Macbeth is within his castle, awaiting the arrival of the Macduff’s army. While accompanied by Seyton, he hears the cry of women in his castle. During this scene, the distinct change in Macbeth is overt. When confronted by the cry, he says, “I have almost forgot the taste of fears: The time has been, my senses would have cooled to hear a night shriek; and my fell of hair would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir as life were in it: I have supp’d full with horrors; Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts, cannot once start me.” He is stating that at one point in his life, he would have been awaken and concerned at the sound of a woman’s cry, but because of the time he’s spent ruling by the sword, slaughterous thoughts overtaking his sensitivity, it no longer stirs him.

Immediately after, Macbeth turns to Seyton to ask where the cry came from. Seyton then delivers the unfortunate news that Macbeth’s wife, the Queen, is dead. Just in line with his previous comment, he replies, “She should have died hereafter; There would have been a time for such a word.” If there was grief in his heart, he did not show it, for his words were that of a cold hearted man, saying that if not now, his wife would have succumbed to the inevitability of death at a later point regardless.

From the beginning of the play, the light hearted and valorous Macbeth, a victim of his influences and circumstances, slowly allows himself to be corrupted. By the end, his veins seem full of ice, not even the death of his wife moving him. This is in stark contrast to the Macbeth we see in the beginning of the play, one who could barely sit upon the thought of killing another. However, as time progresses, even the thought of his own demise does not shake him, and he bravely meets his death, now branded a usurper, at the hands of Macduff.