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How blinded he became by his ambition is shown by his conduct towards Banquo. Placing implicit reliance upon the truth of the witches' predictions regarding himself, he yet does all he can to prove them false by trying to destroy all hope of their fulfilment in Banquo's case.
Lady Macbeth.—A strong contrast is shown between the influence of the crime upon Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. All the strength of will and decision of mind are hers before the murder, and are all Macbeth's afterwards.
The news of the witches' predictions at once rouses her ambitions for their fulfilment. She expresses only doubt of her husband's weakness, and removes all possibility of her own shrinking by that terrible invocation to the murdering ministers to repress within her every trace of womanly nature. Ambitious not only for husband but for herself, she feels the future in the instant, and does not hesitate to suggest the murder of the innocent Duncan; nay, more, she will carry it out herself
“You shall put
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.” The “our” of this passage is significant of her own great ambition. Relentlessly she incites Macbeth to the crime, and the same clever mind which has already analysed Macbeth's character so truly, now plots out the manner of the crime, and carries it out with almost utter unscrupulousness, relieved only by touch of natural feeling in her hesitation at the resem. blance of Duncan to her father, and with the most perfect dissimulation. Her mental strength has enabled her, in the excitement of an appar atly fulfilled ambition, to conquer all physical weakness, and to bend to her will the more physically strong but mentally vacillating Macbeth.
The murder once performed, Macbeth, having leaped the barrier dividing good from ill, needs now no further impulse
from Lady Macbeth, and she gradually becomes less and less necessary to him. She is kept ignorant of the proposed murder of Banquo and Fleance, knows nothing of the quarrel with Macduff, and the chastisement of her tongue, so powerful in effect before the murder of Duncan, falls almost without notice from Macbeth in the supper scene. This inactivity of mind allows her physical weakness full sway. No longer buoyed up by action, her mind gradually becomes weaker and weaker, leading her gradually through the restless ecstasy of the sleep-walker unto death by self and violent hands. The heavy penalty she pays for her crime awakens pity for the criminal.
Womanly in her love for Macbeth, she shows but little
ce of woman's kindly nature anywhere else, except in her hesitation to kill Duncan owing to his likeness to her father, and in the remorse shown in the sleep-walking scenes, when her mind was not under the command of her waking powers,
She is depicted to us as a woman of the greatest ambition, with the mental powers keen enough to plot out the means for its gratification, and with the cruelty, unscrupulousness, and dissimulation necessary to carry them out.
Banquo, the fellow general of Macbeth, and the sharer with him in the witches' predictions, preserves his loyalty untainted by the poison of ambition. His keen insight enables him to see the downward path which Macbeth is about to tread
" That trusted home, Might yet enkindle you unto the crown,' but he recognises early, what dawns upon Macbeth only at the end, that,
“Oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
In deepest consequence,” and, in consequence, he represses the thoughts of future greatness which even his noble mind cannot quite avoid.
The open suing for his aid by Macbeth he at once recognises, and he determines to keep his bosom franchised and allegiance clear from any taint of disloyalty.
On the discovery of the murder he recognises the treasonous malice which has caused the deed, and declares his fight against its undivulged pretence. A nature so open and frank is an incessant irritation and alarm to the suspicious Macbeth, and the murderers are called upon to add a second crime against Macbeth's name.
Duncan.—The gentleness of Duncan's nature offers a strong contrast to the fiercer nature of Macbeth. In the opening scenes we see his sympathies moved strongly by the stories of the Sergeant and Ross, and he is intensely eager to honour, with a generous recognition, those who have fought for him, and for the honour of their country.
His desire to honour Macbeth leads him to visit that chieftain's castle, and his unsuspecting mind makes him enter it without a dread-makes him humbly apologetic for the trouble he is about to give, and eager to reward with liberal largesse those who have done him service. Macbeth well describes him;
... this Duncan Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office ;
and this meekness and clearness from stain make doubly cursed the deep damnation of his taking off.
Macduff.—Macduff plays throughout the patriot's part. He enters into the action of the play as the discoverer of the foul murder of Duncan, and is overcome with horror at the sight. Apparently with some suspicion of the real murderer, he refuses to join in the rejoicings at Macbeth's coronation, and retires to his own castle in Fife. The later actions of Macbeth give him cause for fear, and he removes himself out of reach of that king's vengeance by joining Malcolm in
England. A patriot still, he would endure vice after vice in Malcolm if he will but come to the aid of his country, and ceases to persuade only when appalled by Malcolm's statement of his degradation. Assured that this has been but to try him, and with the hope of revenge for the murder of wife and children added to his patriotic fire, he eagerly marches with Malcolm and Siward into Scotland, and is proud to be the happy instrument of Macbeth's downfall.
Macduff's high and lofty character is tarnished by his apparent desertion of his wife and children to the cruel vengeance of Macbeth.
Malcolm takes but little share in the play, except in the scene with Macduff. In everything he does, however, he seems to deserve well the title of Canmore (Big-head). Thus, immediately after Duncan's murder, he recognises the danger in which he and his brother stand, and decides that their safest course is to avoid the aim which is certain to be made at their lives. He therefore seeks safety in flight to England. Rendered crafty by misfortune, he does not at once accept Macduff as a friend, but feels his ground carefully by a false confession of iniquities, and receives him only when the trial has rendered him certain. In the march upon Macbeth's castle, it is by Malcolm's advice they cover up their numbers with the boughs from Birnam Wood, and it is he who orders these boughs to be thrown aside when their numbers may cause terror. The victory once gained, he is profuse with thanks and with promises of honours to come, and so strengthens the bonds of loyalty which join his subjects to him.
The Language of the Play.
In making a critical investigation of the language used in the play, five factors of difference from the present English usage will demand consideration.
1. Closer Proximity in Time to Anglo-Saxon.—The gradual change from the highly inflected Anglo-Saxon to Modern English had not proceeded so far in the year 1606 as at the present time, and the language of the play, like that of the Bible (1611), shows many more traces of the old inflections than does the language of to-day. To this factor may be allocated :
(a) The more accurate use of the subjunctive mood. Examples of this occur in almost every speech of the play, and the student should carefully observe its use to express a wish (the optative subjunctive). “Go not my horse the better."
III. i. 25. (6) The more correct use of hence, hither, thence, thither, whence, whither, where modern carelessness has substituted here, there, where.
(c) The frequent use of the inflexion -th for the 3rd Person, Singular, Present Indicative. “ As seemeth by his plight.”
I. ii. 2. (d) The careless use of the past participle and past tenses, owing to the breakdown of the old inflexions Thus we find such participles and past tenses as shook,. spoke, wrought, holp, forsook.