The Mirrors of Macbeth – Literature Essay
Different types of literature obviously focus on elements such as plot, setting, and character development. In dramatic literature the focus is on a character’s words and the dialogue the author employs
to develop that character. In Elizabethan times this
was particularly important as such stage devices as props, costumes, and sets were minimally used. In the play, Macbeth, Shakespeare creates a protagonist whose words not only mirror himself but also reflect the two characters who influence him the most.
In first thinking about killing Duncan, Macbeth’s attitude is quite clearly shown in a soliloquy. The audience is quite aware of the guilt that Macbeth is feeling simply thinking about the murder: “If it were done when tis done, then t’were well if it were done quickly.” (p.57) In these lines Shakespeare, by no accident, does not have Macbeth actually use words such as “kill”, “murder”, or “slaughter. “ Instead, Macbeth refers to death in this speech as “it”, and , later on, as “the deed.” (p. 79) Further in the soliloquy two other, softer words, “surcease,” and, “assassination,” are used to show the audience that Macbeth cannot deal with even the thought of killing Duncan let alone the action. It is ironic that Macbeth never realises himself that if he cannot say the word, he is likely not ready to carry out the action the word describes!
Macbeth’s words are not only a reflection of his guilt, but also his words reflect that of his wife. It is no secret to the audience that Lady Macbeth has power over her husband. So much so, that her words are echoed by Macbeth later on in the play. In Act 3 as Macbeth is trying to convince the murderers of killing Banquo and Fleance, the protagonist questions the murderers’ manhood:
[First Murderer]: We are men, my liege.
[Macbeth]: Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men; As hounds, and
greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs, Shoughs, water-rugs,
an demi-wolves. (p. 117)
In these lines Macbeth compares the men to dogs — hardly a flattering remark. These lines mimic the strategy that Lady Macbeth used in Act 1 to convince Macbeth to go through with the murder of Duncan: “Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire? Woulds’t thou … live a coward?” (p. 59) It is quite clear that Lady Macbeth’s strategy of questioning Macbeth’s masculinity is curiously similar to Macbeth strategy when he tries to convince the murderers.
Lady Macbeth’s influence on her husband is paralleled by the three witches. The words of the three “weird sisters” are reflected in Macbeth’s words; in fact, the influence the witches have on Macbeth is so powerful, the audience is exposed to it even before the two meet: “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” (p. 23). In these lines Macbeth almost word for word repeats the witches’ lines in the first scene of the play: “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (p.9). Once again, the words which Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Macbeth are not the protagonist’s, but rather the words are often echoed from those characters who influence him most.
Having a character reflect his personality in the words he utters is not a amazing feat by Shakespeare. Revealing the influence of Lady Macbeth and the witches on Macbeth through his dialogue is, though, quite sophisticated. Questioning his recent promotion to Cawdor, Macbeth says,”Can the devil speak true?” (p.27 ). The audience watching Macbeth should be asking themselves the question, “Can Macbeth speak true?” because throughout the play Macbeth’s lines are often first paralleled by the witches and Lady Macbeth. Had Macbeth listened to his own lines perhaps he would have never gone through with his evil “deed.”