THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH By playwright, William Shakespeare (1564 -1616)
Shakespearean tragedy ‘Shakespearean tragedy’ refers to a number of very different plays sharing common features. about high status persons who suffer as play progresses, and die at the end. set in places remote in time and/or place, but the emotions the characters experience still relevant ‘political’ in the sense that what happens to the main characters affects the society in which they live. Three witches predict Macbeth, will become king. Prompted by his wife, he murders King Duncan and rules Scotland as a tyrant. . his imagination and his conscience torment him, fights bravely he is killed in a final battle.
Origins of tragedy Ancient Greece: at religious festivals, drama and poetry presented high status men and women suffering grief and calamity brought about by their own actions (or by the gods). Shakespeare through his education in the classics would have been aware of the writing of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 -322 BC) and understood the traditions, conventions and styles of tragedy.
Universal Themes 1. Disorder and Chaos Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s “vaulting ambition” (1, 7, 27) is a corrupting influence which spreads through Scotland like a disease, creating chaos and disorder which ultimately leads to suffering, destruction and tragedy Reflected in patterns of imagery related to reversal of values: the witches language and idea of “foul is fair”(1, 1, 12 and 1, 3, 36) Invasion and battles in opening scenes Abnormal and violent weather Reversal of masculine and feminine values in Lady Macbeth and Macbeth Juxtapositioning of loyalty and honour against deceit and treachery/treason Hallucinations and ghost Patterns of imagery- light and darkness; poorly fitting clothes; disease; animals behaving unnaturally
2. The corrupting power of “vaulting ambition”(…)/Pride (hubris) Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Banquo are all ambitious – consider their different responses to witches’ prophecies Ambition, unchecked by moral constraints is corrupting and this tragedy explores the destructive effects of this Violence is used by the Macbeths to fulfill their ambition Reflected in the cumulation of imagery related to blood, darkness and time
3. Good and Evil drives people to commit unnatural actions of destruction Illustrated through the representation and juxtaposition of characters such as the Macbeths and Duncan, Malcolm and Macduff Values of courage, loyalty, generosity, honesty are contrasted with deception, lying, equivocation Macbeth willingly lies, deceives, murders and massacres. The consequences are dire: it corrupts and destroys him by affecting his health, sanity, marriage and he is alienated from those around him
4. What makes a good leader? Related to theme of power and ambition The natural order (Great Chain of Being) is overthrown by the murder of the legitimate king, Duncan Virtues embodied in rule of King Duncan are contrasted with Macbeth’s tyranny. See Act 4, 3. Macbeth’s rule brings chaos – unnatural events Restoration of rightful king in resolution restore natural order ensuring Divine Right of Kings
Themes / Central Ideas 1. Good and Evil – appearance and reality 2. What makes a good ruler? Overthrow of natural order. 3. Pride/Ambition 4. Fate or Human Choice?
The nature of tragedy A tragedy portrays a serious, complete, and important action involving pain and destruction A tragedy shows the fall of an important person from happiness and prosperity into misery and catastrophe (this unexpected reversal of fortune is called peripeteia). The suffering and fall results from one or more causes: Some fatal flaw or frailty of personality Some error of judgement (hamartia) Something of which the character is ignorant
The hero moves from ignorance to knowledge, coming to recognise clearly what causes his suffering (anagnorisis = recognition) Tragedy arouses pity and fear in the spectator, and succeeds in purging and purifying such emotions (catharsis)
Notemaking to study genre of ‘tragedy’ Tragedy and its conventions: 1. Role of tragic hero 2. Role of supernatural and fate 3. Narrative pattern of tragedy which is driven by external and internal conflict 4. Response of the audience 5. Universal ideas/themes and moral lesson to be learned by audience in following the journey of the tragic protagonist Incorporate the ways in which Shakespeare used structural and stylistic devices to construct character, themes/evoke emotion: juxtapositioning of characters, conflict, soliloquies, patterns of imagery and use of symbol
Features of Macbeth as a Tragedy Shakespeare used Aristotle’s (Greek philosopher) model of tragedy (explicated in Poetics) as the basis of his great tragedies, but enhanced and developed the genre of the classical tragedy (Aeschylus, Euripides - Greek and Seneca Roman) to suit his own purposes In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the tragic hero is elevated above the majority of society by rank or ability The tragic hero is generally alienated from his own society through his experiences or through choices he has made which may result from a personal error of judgement or flaw or excess of some character trait(hamartia) like excessive pride (hubris), leading him to ignore warnings or his own better judgement. He must oppose some conflicting force, either external, internal or both
Features of Macbeth as a Tragedy Towards conclusion, the tragic hero recognises (anagnorsis) the consequences of his actions and draws some meaning of universal significance related to the cause of human failure and unhappiness Audience feels pity and fear as they share in hero’s emotions, should ponder complexities of life and finally experiences a release of tension (catharsis) as the conflict is resolved The fall of the hero affects the whole society, but evil is purged and retribution exacted.
SHAKESPEAREAN TRAGEDY Greek tragedy showed a man meeting the bludgeoning of FATE or CHANCE. His downfall was not really of his own volition or within his own control, although it might be interpreted as a kind of punishment for his pride or the sins of his father Shakespeare created a more subtle and deeper tragedy which showed how a man may seal his own fate, bring about his own ruin and that of those he loves by simply being himself, not necessarily wholly evil but human, liable to normal temptations and errors It is a tragedy because of the promise and possibilities that come to nothing
Macbeth melds the genre of classic tragedy and revenge tragedy Which of the following features of the popular genre of Revenge Tragedy are also incorporated into the play: A ghost appears and initiates the revenge The avenger protects himself by pretending to be mad The avenger devises a play to indict the enemy Violence and bloodshed abound Corruption is purged from the state by the act of revenge
Tragic Stature of Macbeth Consider the status possessed by Macbeth at commencement of play and the pain he feels at losing it Assess the moral enormity and social, psychological and emotional complexity of task of murdering a virtuous king (regicide) and questionable suitability of his personality and conscience in carrying out the task Consider alienating nature of task and practical, emotional and psychological ramifications of Macbeth’s weakness in performing it Note self-loathing he feels, loss of joy and meaning in his life which is its consequence
Structure of the Tragedy Opening scenes: establish situation and atmosphere Character of tragic hero made evident Nature of problem facing him is made evident By end of Act 1 fatal decision is made and audience knows catastrophe is inevitable What key events constitute the complications/ rising action for Macbeth? Climax occurs in the centre of the play ; that is, the murder of Banquo and the appearance of his ghost at the banquet
Structure of the Tragedy – see your red booklet for more on role of fate Rising Action of play: Relentless progress to catastrophe Feelings of awe at relentlessness of life Thought that tragic hero could have been greater if circumstances had not intervened Resolution: Tragic hero often redeems himself by refusing to capitulate or by suffering and dying with dignity Those who infringe must suffer and die Hope is restored in the resolution
What part do other characters play in the tragedy The Witches Are the witches the most powerful characters in the play, acting as the catalyst to all of Macbeth’s crimes? Do the weird sisters initiate Macbeth’s fate? Are they touchstones of evil against which the audience measures the evil of Lady Macbeth? Consider their dramatic power in play’s opening scene and in Act 1, Scene 3 , Act 3, Scene 5 and Act 4, Scene 1 – contribute to atmosphere, action, thematic power
The Witches Consider limits and extent of power: cast spells, foresee future, create tempests, punish those who deny their power (vindictive), but not kill! ; dupe Macbeth, driven to confusion, but inevitably doomed by own consequences of his actions Add dramatic strength to play through rituals, incantations, parallels and echoes between their speech and Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 3), Lady Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 5), Macbeth ( Act 2, Scene 1) and Old Man (Act 2, Scene 4)
The Witches Presence in Macbeth’s and Banquo’s imagination Imagery in play, including references to serpents, animal and body parts, abnormal events in natural world, blood (all echo contents of witches’ cauldron) Extra imaginative strength derived from their association with destructive forces of universe: thunder, lightning, rain
Lady Macbeth – what is her role in the play? Consider Lady Macbeth’s importance as confidante of Macbeth; her role in goading him to suppress his conscience Analyse her words which echo the witches’ tone, intent and language Note power of her denunciation of Macbeth’s cowardice and her own inability to stab Duncan herself Analyse Lady Macbeth’s contribution to murder plot to kill Duncan: counsel to dissemble; return of daggers to chamber; post-murder strategies to deflect suspicion
Is Lady Macbeth a tragic figure also? Note that she tries to counteract the damage to Macbeth’s stature and credibility when he betrays himself to the thanes when Banquo’s ghost appears at the Coronation Banquet Plot her alienation from husband Discuss pathos of her sleepwalking Consider Macbeth’s response to her suicide
THE TRAGIC HERO A Shakespearean tragedy requires a tragic hero. A tragic hero, in the classic Greek tradition, is a hero who is inherently good, but due to a tragic flaw (character trait) and outside forces of fate, descends into evil. The audience should be able to identify with him and learn from his mistakes. Initially, the hero must exhibit noble qualities such as loyalty, bravery, a capacity for love and have respect in the community.
The tragic hero will often hold an important place in society. In short, the tragic hero is a character with a lot to lose. It is important that the tragic hero is essentially a good man, because, as Aristotle argued, if a man is entirely bad, we do not care about his demise. The point of the tragedy is to feel sad that such a good man has given in to temptation with tragic consequences, especially when we know his capacity to be a great, kind and loving leader. In the tragic hero, we see the two-sidedness of human nature: the ancient idea that man is both good and evil.
Whilst supernatural elements may play a role in the initial temptation, the final decision to commit evil is always the choice of the tragic hero. We are all capable of going down the same path as Macbeth. But, we must learn from his mistakes and follow the path of the noble Banquo. We must remember that Macbeth chooses evil – he is not forced to commit murder. This is never a condition of the witches prophecy.
THE DOWNFALL OF MACBETH Good guy tempted with supernatural promises Good guy wants power Good guy married to pushy control freak She wants power Good guy turns bad Bad guy kills people – LOTS of people Gets power Gets paranoid (aka goes crazy) Ticks off a lot of people Wants more power – KILL! Gets what he deserves – (is killed himself)
Notemaking on the tragic hero 1. 2. 3. Construction of the tragic protagonist in the exposition – status, qualities, motivation, ‘tragic flaw’ ‘Journey’ of self discovery for the protagonist – see the narrative pattern for the stages in his journey and the response of the audience at various points Final scene in which the tragic hero dies and the moral lesson about life and human behaviour which the audience perceives Incorporate the ways in which Shakespeare used structural and stylistic devices to construct character, themes/evoke emotion: juxtapositioning of characters, conflict, soliloquies, patterns of imagery and use of symbol
Tragic Stature - Activities Analyse depth and progress of his villainy and suffering revealed through his soliloquies Assess extent of Macbeth’s loss as result of his mission to gain and keep Crown of Scotland for his present and his posterity Note powerful contrast between Macbeth’s kingship and that of Duncan and projected rule of Malcolm Assess far reaching effect of Macbeth’s actions Evaluate Macbeth’s courage in face of depths of personal despair and inevitability of defeat at conclusion of play