May 9, 2018
Behind the Walls
In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we follow the story of the main character, Macbeth’s rise through monarchy, by somewhat untraditional means. In the first few scenes of Act One, we see him as the strong, courageous, and valiant Thane and solider who won the battle for King Duncan and his kingdom. How one defines strength however differs between persons. For many in the play, especially for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, strength means power. And this is why they both went to such great lengths to obtain the title of King for Macbeth. Behind the walls he built up around him with the title of King, Macbeth is fundamentally weak because he is unduly ambitious, weak-willed, and cowardly.
In Act One, Scene Three, the Witches come into contact with Macbeth and Banquo and they make magnificent prophecies about their lives. They tell Macbeth that he will become Thane of Cawdor, in addition to being Thane of Glamis, and thereafter King. When he meets with Duncan and learns that the first part of the prophecy came true he immediately begins to wonder if the whole prophecy could be true. He says to himself, “Glamis and Thane of Cawdor! / The greatest is behind” (1.3). In essence, that the greater part of the prophecy is still to come. Ambition for many is considered to be a strength, but in the case of Macbeth it adds to his weakness of character because it leads him to behave in unscrupulous ways in order to fulfil the prophecy himself and become king. If Macbeth were truly strong at heart, he would adhere to his morality and have pursued the crown in an honourable and virtuous way.
Not only is Macbeth unduly ambitious, he is also extremely weak-willed. We can see that at first Macbeth is not a truly evil person, he had help becoming this way because of Lady Macbeth and the Witches. He trusted the predictions of the Witches and wasn’t satisfied with simply being Thane of Cawdor. Because Macbeth has very little sense of himself he is easily controlled and persuaded to do things he doesn’t agree with. When it came time to kill Duncan, he began to feel quilt and wanted to abandon the plan, but Lady Macbeth urged him on by saying,
Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress’d yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valor
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,
Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,”
Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage? (1.7)
Macbeth gives in to the persuasions of his wife and indeed kills Duncan whilst he sleeps. He knows what he did was wrong but was convinced because he does not have the ability to stay true to his values, which is a defining point in his weakness of character. Someone who was truly strong would have the courage to stand up to those they cared about and stay true to what they knew to be the right thing to do.
One of the first characteristics we learn about Macbeth is his so-called bravery. His actions are described by the Captain in Act One, Scene Two when he calls him “Valor’s minion” because of his performance in battle (1.2). But in reality he is nothing more than a coward. Lady Macbeth challenged his courage and masculinity by tantalizing him with a quick and easy way to the thrown, which was by killing Duncan. But if he was truly courageous, he would’ve stood up to her and
Macbeth’s story is tragic because he was once a highly respected and honoured man with a title and a promising future in the King’s realm; and although he had many strengths they eventually became his weaknesses and led him to give into his bad judgement and the immoral wishes of others.