How does Macbeth adhere to the Gothic?

AQA LITB3 Revision – Gothic and The Uncanny/Psychoanalysis

Hey! I hope revision is going well for everyone reading! So, here are my notes on The Uncanny/Das Unheimliche within the scope of the gothic. As ever, hope it helps.

Because the LITB3 exam requires a lot of perceptive and original interpretation to achieve the higher bands, it’s useful to look at texts like Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Macbeth and even The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale through the lens of different critical perspectives. Aside from the interpretation of the gothic genre as sensationalist, serving no other purpose than excess and titillation, it is also a plastic, ambivalent discourse that can be used in many ways and to different ends in conveying a number of social, political, cultural messages. For this reason, psychoanalysis provides a theoretical framework through which we can read the gothic, that is perhaps more relevant and less orthodox than the ever-predictible feminist theory, which is applied so much to Carter’s work in the exam, to the extent that people tend overlook what actually makes the text ‘gothic’.

So, to understand the uncanny, it’s useful to have a basic grasp of the concepts underlying psychoanalysis, Freudian theory in particular. Here is a link to Freud’s essay on The Uncanny/Das Unheimliche that should help with this if you want to get a full understanding, but I’ll break down the basic ideas here:

The Unconscious

  • Division of the psyche that contains thoughts that we are unaware of – this is gothic in that it deals with the sexual, primitive and aggressive urges that lie beneath the civilised exterior that we portray to society. These urges motivate our behaviour in powerful ways that we are unmindful of.
  • The unconscious is dynamic, boundless and unknowable.
  • It reveals itself through jokes, parapraxis (slips of the tongue – a ‘Freudian slip’), and dreams (this is particularly important for the gothic).
  • Site of past childhood and developmental traumas.
  • It contains disturbing material that we need to keep out of our awareness – they are too threatening for us to acknowledge. Thus, this information needs to be repressed in order for individuals to function (otherwise – they are mad/criminal)
  • Exerts compulsions and repetitive behaviours.
  • Ambivalent – the competition between civilised conscious thoughts and sex/death instincts – this conflict manifests in the behaviour of many gothic characters.

‘Das Unheimliche’ / ‘The Uncanny’ (all quotes taken from the article I cited earlier in the post)

  • ‘The word ‘heimlich’ is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without being contradictory, are yet vey different: on the one hand, it means what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other, what is concealed and kept out of sight’
  • So, Unheimlich can be defined as ‘The name for everything that ought to have remained…secret and hidden but has come to light’
  • Heimlich is a word meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich’
  • Understanding of the uncanny in relation to the gothic can be simplified as follows – ‘that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar‘ and ‘nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression

The subject of The Uncanny and its manifestations within gothic literature

  • Uncanny feeling is ‘produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced‘.
  • Uncanny as disguise/disguised – what is beneath the disguise?
  • The subject of the uncanny… is undoubtedly related to what is frightening – to what arouses dread and horror equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general. Yet we may expect that a special core of feeling is present which justifies the use of a special conceptual term. One is curious to know what this common core is which allows us to distinguish as ‘uncanny’ certain things which lie within the field of what is frightening’.
  • Freud also lists a number of more specific sources of the uncanny including: ‘intellectual uncertainty, doubles, deja vu, coincidences and repetition, omnipotence of thoughts (recalling our surmounted belief in the power of thoughts to affect the material world), the blurring of the boundary between imagination and reality, incest, being buried alive, ghosts and death itself’.
  • Furthermore, castration; doubles; doppelgängers; split personality; mirrors; involuntary repetition or the compulsion to repeat (Wiederholungszwang).
  • The uncanny evil eye; scopophilia and the love of looking; this way, the uncanny can also be related to feminist theory, so if you’re not quite ready to lay to rest the ghost of Angela Carter and her second wave collective, then this might be something to mention! This fear that a person is able to inflict harm upon another being merely by a glance’ ; the ‘substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ […]” particularly in the context of lost vision and dismemberment’.

Macbeth and The Uncanny

In Macbeth, The Uncanny appears in the following forms, and psychoanalysis can be applied accordingly:

  • The uncanny feeling is produced when the distinction between Macbeth’s imagination and uncivilised thoughts of Duncan’s ‘murther which yet is fantastical’ come into fruition as he commits the deed of ‘treasonous malice’.

Put simply, the distinction between his imagination and reality – his brain, which is fundamentally ‘wrought with things forgotten…,’ containing disturbing introspections which he wishes to repress, is obliterated. There is evident conflict between the ‘black and deep desires’ of the psychological id and conscious, rational thoughts of a man who notes that Duncan ‘hath honoured  [him] of late’. As these repressed thoughts creep into the conscious mind, the result is terror – a ‘horrid image that doth unfix [Macbeth’s] hair and make[s his] seated heart knock at his [ribs].’ Though at this stage, uncivilised thought and ‘present fears are less than horrible imaginings’ – as he kills Duncan, Macbeth ‘murther[s] sleep’ and progressively descends into a downward spiral and state of psychological unrest. Furthermore, the notion of the power of thoughts and their ability to affect the material world is significant to a psychoanalytic reading of the play. Macbeth’s subversive thoughts – in the sense that they subvert hierarchy – ‘[shake so his single state of man],’  and as the body can be considered a microcosm for society, the affects of these thoughts causing the earth to become ‘feverous,’ ‘shake’ and even result in literal disruption as ‘the chimneys were blown down’ represents an uncanny destruction of nature.

  • Also, the notion of disguise and concealment is integral to Macbeth (see my essay here on darkness and concealment). Not only through literal concealment, darkness and equivocation, but also Macbeth’s transformation, as he adopts an ‘otherness’ in order to commit his bloody deeds. There is plenty of imagery relating to appearance and reality as a result – Macbeth takes on a ‘vizard‘ to mask his depravity; Lady Macbeth instructs him to ‘look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t‘. The recurrence of ‘false face‘ and duality is inherently Freudian.
  • Coincidences and repetition, in particular the echoing of the ‘fair is foul and foul is fair chiasmus‘ through Macbeth’s own rhetoric (‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen‘), as this sentiment resonates throughout the entirety of the play.
  • Similarly, Lady Macbeth straddles, uncannily, the border of nightmare and reality, exerting compulsive and repetitive behaviours as she expels the damaging content of her unconscious mind though somnambulism.

She suffers the following; ‘A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of watching. In this slumbery agitation, besides her walking and other actual performances…’. Sleep is a process by which we recover from the hardships of daily life – ‘sleep that knits up th’ravelled sleeve of care‘. Yet, as ‘only the innocent sleep,’ this familiar process is distorted and changed into something horrific; unfamiliar, or uncanny, even. Her repetitive behaviours and compulsions also adhere to Freud’s notion of the unheimlich – as repressed memories of Duncan’s bloody murder creep into her subconscious, she begins to ‘rub her hands,’ an ‘accustomed action,’ to rid herself of the blood that she recalls from the scene.

  • Again, repetition is significant with Duncan/Macbeth, as Duncan notes in a sort of ominous and uncanny proleptic irony that there is ‘no art to find the mind’s construction in the face’ prior to his murder at the hands of Macbeth, who notes that ‘false face must hide what the false heart doth know’ chillingly soon after. Coincidence and fate is also uncanny within the play. The past appears to repeat itself, as the original Thane Of Cawdor, ‘a gentleman on whom [Duncan built] an absolute trust’ is similar to the originally ‘noble’ Macbeth in that he commits treacherous acts and succumbs to his eventual death.
  • The uncanny evil eye – This fear that a person is able to inflict harm upon another being merely by a glance’ ; the ‘substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ […]” particularly in the context of lost vision and dismemberment’. – let the eye wink at the hand and yet let that be which the eye fears‘ – Macbeth fears the eradication of his masculinity and wishes to overcome the moral and ethical consequences of committing murder, which would cause him psychological unrest if he were able to physically see the act.
  • Finally, Banquo’s ghost is also an apt example of the uncanny within the play – he appears in an unfamiliar form which is evidently troubling for Macbeth, resulting in his terror and the ‘very painting of [his] fear’. Thus, as he begs for the ghost to ‘never shake thy gory locks at me, thou canst say I did it!’ he evidently engages in both the denial/repression of his aggressive and uncivilised actions, motivated from the unconscious/id and absolute fear.

The Bloody Chamber and The Uncanny

Because the comment I received about the uncanny specified Macbeth, I’m not going to specify psychoanalysis in The Bloody Chamber in quite so much detail but I’d look out for the following:

  • See my essay on base instincts/subconscious desires here, or my essay on the beasts as more humane than the humans here to read about the uncanny in The Tiger’s Bride. One thing I didn’t really touch on was the full significance of scopophilia and the male gaze and also, the role of the automaton, but I’m sure that’s something you can look into.
  • The Erl-King for me is the most obviously psychoanalytic of all the texts in the collection – the whole story has the potentiality to be a construct of the narrator and a manifestation of her unconscious desire (‘he came alive from the desire of the woods’ ‘all perspectives converged’ ‘invented distance’ ‘imaginary traveller’ – she is addicted and desires the Erl-King, as shown through the imagery of the ‘nicotine’ etc. etc.’.
  • In the titular story, look out for imagery of mirrors, gothic duplicity with the Marquis, references to scopophilia and eyes (Those of the Marquis, contrasting with those of the more benign Jean-Yves – he evades the male gaze, as though he is blind, his eyes are ‘singularly sweet’).
  • The Snow Child is evidently open to psychoanalytic interpretation, due to the dream-like atmosphere and periodic references to desire and aggression. The Count is ‘weeping’ as he succumbs to his own unconscious desire – is he helpless in his depravity? The Countess is similarly ambivalent – she ‘watched him narrowly’ and resigns to her own aggressive instincts.
  • Finally, all of the stories evoke the latent content of fairytales –  childhood stories appear to be subverted into horrific adult nightmares, but Carter is merely extracting the latent content. This is uncanny in that the terror is already underlying the prose that we have read as children, once again, showing the gothic to be a pliable genre that we can use to project didactic messages for our own means, whether they be political, feminist, social etcetera.

AQA LITB3 PPQ – JUNE 2012 – ‘Write about the significance of darkness and concealment in Macbeth’

In Macbeth both darkness and concealment are essential to play and its descent into tragedy, as metaphorical darkness is used most obviously in relation to death and as an element of characterisation, conveying the evil nature and immorality of both the Macbeths and the witches. Concealment is used to a similar avail, characterising Macbeth as a gothic double, yet it is more likely that darkness and concealment are at their most significant when they are used in conjunction with one another, dealing directly with the debate regarding the source of Macbeth’s corruption.

Both Macbeth  and Lady Macbeth evidently utilise literal darkness to conceal their depraved actions from others and as a mode by which they can protect their consciences. As Macbeth calls upon the ‘selling night [to] scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day’ in a similar fashion to Lady Macbeth’s bid for ‘thick night [to] pall [her] in dunnest smoke,’ both characters essentially profess a desire to disguise their acts ‘that be which the eye fears’ in order to avoid any ethical or divine scrutiny that would prompt them to ‘hold’ and terminate their plans to commit ‘murthers too terrible for the ear’. Thus, it is utilised as a structural device that allows the crises of the play to occur.

Yet, interpreting darkness only it its literal sense is less integral to the reading of Macbeth as a gothic text, as though it acknowledges the significance of metaphorical associations with evil, immorality and death these are certainly underplayed. Shakespeare’s use of the semantic field of ‘night’s predominance’ following Macbeth’s murder of Duncan infers such a connection between darkness and evil, recognising its all-consuming power and ability to prevail, ‘strangle’ and ‘entomb’ benign ‘living light’. Therefore, perhaps figurative darkness, shown through the antithesis of darkness and light , is used to greater effect in characterising ‘Black Macbeth’ as an archetypal gothic protagonist, particularly in his soliloquy preceding Duncan’s death. He reveals his innermost ‘black and deep desires’ and his depraved conscious wish for these to overcome their very antithesis – ‘any signs of nobleness, [which] like stars, shall shine on all deservers’. As he requests for darkness and the ‘stars [to] hide [their] fires,’ he essentially declares his wish to be stripped of all morality so that he is able to commit his bloody deeds.

Furthermore, as themes of depravity and a lack of morality are evidently deal with more appropriately though symbolism, Shakespeare’s contrasting use of light and dark imagery throughout the play details the consequences of straying from moral principles. Shakespeare’s use of the motif of the ‘taper’ as the play approaches its denouement potentially indicates Lady Macbeth’s ascent back to morality. Unconsciously speaking in disorderly prose, she progresses ‘to [have] light by her continually,’ living in fear of the dark and ‘[murky hell]’ that she has previously allowed to control and ‘tend on [her] mortal thoughts’.

Metaphorical darkness is also significant in its association with the excessive ‘dusty death’ that appears to overshadow the entire play, providing a commentary on the brevity life. As Banquo is murdered in darkness, as shown through the stage directions as ‘murderer 1 strikes out the light,’ his life is extinguished similarly to the ‘brief candle’ of Lady Macbeth’s. As Macbeth realises the futility of his ambition and that his life is ‘but a walking shadow,’ it could be interpreted that such symbolism is essential to the play’s classification as a tragedy and its protagonist’s resignation in his own life that he has ‘lived too long’ immorally.

However, perhaps concealment alone is used to a more significant degree in characterising Macbeth as a gothic protagonist, as dissimilarly to the subjective interpretations of symbolism,  soliloquies and asides prove directly Macbeth’s dishonesty and resulting role in the play as a gothic double. His ability to ‘make [his] face [a] vizard to [his] heart, disguising what [it is]’ affirms this view, as the mask-like disguise of his uncivilised thoughts exposes his earlier claim to ‘speak [his] free heart’ to Banquo to be one that is entirely untrue, as he does not divulge the ‘wicked dreams’ that he is plagued by after his meeting with the witches. Yet, as such secrecy develops to be progressively more sinister throughout the play, as Macbeth surpasses his wife’s intervention, telling her to ‘be innocent of the knowledge’ that he is to murder Banquo, it is clear that he is concealing evil deeds that gradually become more ‘black and deep’ in nature. As duplicitous ‘false face’ is used to cover the dark and depraved acts of murder that are essential to the plot, evidently, the two concepts are more significant when used in combination, detailing Macbeth’s corruption.

Therefore, the witches, who are indisputably evil ‘instruments of darkness,’ concealing truth by the means of equivocation, are of greatest significance in Macbeth, as they arguably corrupt his ‘noble stature’ and render it to be ‘foul,’ inciting the whole basis for the play in their chiasmus ‘fair is foul and foul is fair/ hover through the fog and filthy air,’ as the imagery used here echoes this notion of moral contamination. Contextually, the witches would have been perceived as agents of the devil, and by adopting ambiguous language, they ‘palter with [Macbeth] in riddles and affairs of death’ and as a result he is ‘drawn into his confusion’ by their riddles, perhaps committing regicide due to their intervention. Though there is some debate as to whether Macbeth is solely at fault for his regression, ‘burn[ing] in desire’ to become King by his own account, the notion that the witches  ‘trade and traffic’ with him, exploiting him and lead him to his demise, essentially frames the narrative of the whole play – they are there to ‘meet with Macbeth’ and corrupt him from the very exposition. As this is such a central topic of discussion regarding the play, it can indeed be perceived as the most significant example of darkness and concealment.

AQA LITB3 – Section B Revision – Gothic quotations from critics and possible questions for June 2015 – Part I

Recently, my tutor gave us a list of critical quotations for us to apply to The Bloody Chamber, The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale and Macbeth to consider different elements of the gothic that may come up as questions for section B of the exam (or maybe even section A) this summer. Obviously, if you’re studying other texts, like Frankenstein, etc., I’m sure you’ll still be able to get something from this post anyway! Hope it helps.

1. ‘The violation of innocence – “At the heart of the Gothic text is the tension provided by the possible violation of innocence – the concept of ‘virtue in distress'”

The Bloody Chamber

Story 1: The easiest story to refer to for a question on virtue in distress would definitely be the eponymous story of the collection. Talking about the Marquise and debating the source of her corruption (whether she is already corrupt from the offset of the story, or whether she is corrupted by the Marquis).

You would need to specify i. What constitutes as ‘virtue’ – so, virginity, purity, innocence, beauty etc. ii. Whether the violation of this innocence and the virtue in distress creates narrative tension. The most obvious line of debate would be that i. The Marquis attempts to corrupt the narrator, and this results in tension as we contemplate whether or not she will die as a result of said corruption. However, you can counter-argue and evaluate by posing that she is corrupt from the outset (here, you’re incorporating structural analysis – which AQA love – by referring to the exposition in this way), marrying the Marquis only for his wealth. Also, you could argue that as Carter adopts gothic conventions in a very melodramatic and perhaps even parodic way, that this means no tension is created.

Story 2: The other story I’d talk about for a question on this is The Erl-King, which is probably the most complex story of the collection, but I think it’d give the best opportunity of getting the most marks due to its difficulty. It allows you to speak about narrative perspective and structure quite nicely, and sets up a debate as to whether the omniscient (and very subjective) narrator is the cause of her own corruption (as she willingly goes to the Erl-King, inciting her own entrapment and that she allows herself to be subjugated by males, as she perceives herself the way they do), or whether the Erl-King is a predatory character, causing her corruption and resulting entrapment. Again, there’s the same debate as to whether this creates tension, as with TBC.


Again, you would be able to write about structure relatively easily with Macbeth by analysing the imagery in the exposition (the perspective that Macbeth is a tragic hero, regressing from high status to that of an ‘abhorred tyrant’ If you’d like to read some analysis of this, my post on how the first few scenes of Macbeth adhere to the gothic heremy essay on Macbeth’s downfall here and my essay on Macbeth as a butcher here should help. When writing about Macbeth though, I think it’d be good to unpick the critical quotation even more, as the presence of the witches and their arguable control over Macbeth from the exposition means that the violation of his innocence is not a possibility, but an inevitability.

The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale

In my opinion, this is the most difficult of the texts to refer to (in most cases actually – I’ve yet to see a question that I find easy to answer). I guess you could talk about i. The concept of ‘virtue in distress’ is shown to a much lesser extent in the prologue/tale, because the Pardoner, nor any of the people he speaks of are virtuous. However, you could talk about how the Pardoner preys on the innocence (and thus, virtue) of his audience for his own gain, as he cons them into paying for his false relics and convincing the uneducated that they have committed terrible sins etc. As for tension, I don’t think the concept of virtue in distress/lack of any virtue in the Pardoner creates any tension as such, but rather evokes the disdain, disgust and contemptuous laughter from the reader/contemporaneous audience, as the Pardoner is so obvious in his evil.

2. ‘The shocking elements of the gothic are selfish and go beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable in society’ – “Gothic fictions seemed to promote vice and violence, giving free reign to selfish ambitions and sexual desires beyond the prescriptions of law or familial duty”

The Bloody Chamber

Again, very easy to classify what is shocking – illicit lust/sexual gratification, language, subversion of religion etc. and how these transgress societal boundaries. I’d personally refer to The Snow Child and The Bloody Chamber for this question. The sexual primacy of the Count most definitely transgresses familial duty as he commits to incest and pedophilia (and necrophilia too), having sex with ‘the child of his desire’ intended merely for his own selfish and sexual desires. He’s unpunished within the denouement (thus, structural evaluation and hitting assessment objectives). You could also analyse the Countess as she ‘reigns in her stamping mare’ and symbolically gives free reign to her husband, as she so evidently cannot control him. In TBC, I’d obviously refer to sexual gratification, the link between sex and pain and how this is selfish, but I’d refer to religious transgression as the Marquis is characterised (hitting more assessment objectives!!) as a satanic figure (‘the key to my enfer,’ the fact he has Huysman’s ‘La-Bas’ ‘bound like a missal’ and treated as prayerbook, his ‘chthonic gravity’ etc.), promoting vice and violence, and how this could be perceived as ‘shocking’. Yet, as the Marquis is killed within the denouement, is such behaviour really promoted by Carter?


The main thing for Macbeth would obviously be his act of regicide, as this definitely goes beyond both the prescriptions of law, and of the divine. Selfish and ‘vaulting ambition’ is clearly exercised in order to bring Macbeth’s wish to be king into fruition. Though the play does also becomes progressively more violent and Macbeth succumbs to vice, the play cannot be said to promote such behaviours, as it could be interpreted that Macbeth is punished in the denouement as Macduff enters bearing ‘Macbeth’s head on a pole’ and Malcolm’s dialogue also echoes the sentiment of a morality play as he exclaims a wish to ‘[Produce] forth the evil ministers of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen’. Yet, there is a clear absence of unrestrained sexual desire in Macbeth, so this needs to be approached also.

The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale

Though the Pardoner outwardly preaches against vice and violence, chastising his audience against sin; ‘glutonye,’ and all its ‘cursedness,’ ‘lecherye’ etc. through his use of the sermon form and inaccurate biblical allusions, as he only does this for his own gain, ‘prech[ing] nothing but for coveitise,’ and not suffering any punishment for this, it could be said that the tale does does promote vice (but not violence).

AQA LITB3 Revision – How does Macbeth adhere to the Gothic? – Act I:I, II and III

Whilst it is not strictly a gothic text (this is something I definitely plan to bear in mind when writing any essays on the play), Shakespeare’s Macbeth does anticipate many elements of the gothic tradition. Whether it is the excessive violence, the inclusion of supernatural and unnatural forces or the exploration of the divided human psyche that runs central to the play, all contribute to the dark, atmospheric intensity of Macbeth, allowing us to label certain aspects of the play, rather indisputably, as being ‘gothic’.

Act I:I

Gothic setting

The ominous setting is described as ‘open ground. Thunder and lightning,’ – here, not only do we have remote and desolate locations (‘open ground’ and a barren ‘heath’), but also, pathetic fallacy within the setting that definitely aids the sense of great foreboding in this scene. The pathetic fallacy is furthered as the witches speak of their next meeting, ‘in thunder, lightning or in rain,’ and this is quite symbolic – we can perhaps interpret the turbulent weather as being representative of disturbances in nature, leading us to the question, are the witches agents of chaos that control Macbeth, leading him to his demise, or is it something else?

The supernatural 

Inarguably, the supernatural is the most obviously gothic aspect of play. I don’t think an explanation for why witches and their familiars are gothic is particularly necessary, but what I do think is worth a mention, is that structure is definitely something to consider here. Why would Shakespeare open the play with the prophesying of witches? The use of the witches and their fateful discussion within the exposition actually sets the tone of what’s to come. They are central to the plot, as they state plainly that they plan to ‘meet with Macbeth,’ and this is, again, indicative of the prospect that perhaps they do control him. If this is the case, then can we label Macbeth as a gothic villain later on? This considered, the form that Shakespeare uses here also aids our interpretation of the witches as the forces of evil in the plan. Act I:I is written in stichomythia (several characters speaking in alternate lines of verse), so the fact that the witches are 1. speaking in unison 2. effectively, finishing each other’s sentences, is disconcerting to say the least. Stichomythia is a technique typically used when a plot is reaching its climactic point or some sort of crisis, so using it here, in the opening of the play does contribute to the sense that something is not quite right. The witches are able to predict what is about to happen, but do they cause it?

Macbeth’s corruption

We’re about to hear all about Macbeth’s ‘valour’ and ‘brave[ry]’ in the upcoming scene, but the final couplet spoken by the witches does put to question whether Macbeth is as noble as he seems. The chiasmus (which simply put, is a reversal of terms) ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air’ blurs the lines between what is good and what is evil, so already, we have the characterisation of Macbeth of some sort of gothic double, which is something integral to play, as Macbeth progresses to ‘look like th’innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t’.

However, it would be quite reductionist to simply view Macbeth’s divided nature as something intrinsic to him. There is actually debate as to whether the witches are the agents of instability that cause Macbeth to commit regicide, or whether they are merely manifestations of his inner conflict… In Act I:III, Macbeth echoes the chiasmus of the witches in a sort of proleptic irony as he tells Banquo ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen,’ and whilst he is not definitively speaking about the same matters as the witches are (he’s just talking about the battle), this unconscious repetition could perhaps imply that the witches already have a hold on him.

Equally though, this could just convey his latent evil, as in Act IV:I, in the immortal line, ‘and by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,’ Macbeth is quite literally referred to as a ‘wicked’ and evil by the witches, who would’ve been perceived (contextually) as proponents of the devil. The notion that an advocate of Satan would view Macbeth as ‘wicked’ is very important to our perceptions regarding him as a gothic villain.

Act I:II

To me, this scene is quite important in terms of evaluating whether or not Macbeth is an inherently depraved character, capable of the actions he later commits. Here, he is depicted as ‘valiant’, ‘brave’ and ‘noble,’ which of course, would lead us assume that Macbeth’s true nature is one of benevolence and self-sacrifice.

So, here are some of the quotations that I think are useful when conveying this perspective, complete with a little bit of analysis:

‘Brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name)’ This doesn’t really need much explaining – the captain quite plainly states that Macbeth is worthy of the praise that he receives, and thus, is not evil.

‘Like valour’s minion carved out his passage until he faced the slave’  Though he is ‘valour’s minion,’ the fact that he quite ruthlessly ‘carved out his passage’ and ‘unseam[s] [Macdonwald] from the nave to th’ chops’ paints Macbeth as a merciless killer. However, as Macdonwald is himself ‘merciless’ and seems to be the greater evil, it’s safe to assume that this was a noble murder (if such a thing exists!).

‘Valiant cousin’/’worthy gentleman’  Again, quite self explanatory! 

‘What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.’ – Of course we have the interpretation of Macbeth as ‘noble’ and great again, but what’s interesting here is the influence that the past has on the present. The previous Thane of Cawdor is a ‘traitor’ and guilty of ‘treason,’ which as we know, Macbeth also becomes guilty of later in the play. Here, we can consider the rather gothic theme of entrapment. Though Macbeth ‘hath won’ a title, he also inherits ‘borrowed robes,’ [I:III] / ‘strange garments, [that] cleave not to their mould'[I:III] indicating that he is somewhat thrust into a role that doesn’t quite fit or belong to him. I think it’s fair to say that we can feel some sympathy for Macbeth if we interpret his misdoings as a consequence of a future that has been preordained for him – if he is overwhelmed by his new power and has no control over his status, then can we blame him for his actions?

‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ – This metaphor/allusion to Roman mythology references Bellona, the goddess of war and effectively compares Macbeth to Mars, God of war in the process. He’s quite favourably depicted as some sort of supreme being.

‘They smack of honour both’ – Simply put, this envisages both Macbeth and Banquo to be honourable men.

‘They doubly redoubled strokes upon foe: Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds, Or memorise another Golgotha’ – This is the first indication that Banquo acts as a foil to Macbeth. They are both fighting valiantly, which becomes important later on (if you’re arguing in favour for Macbeth as an innately evil character anyway). However, the latter part of this quotation would potentially suggest that the battle is less noble than we’re led to think.

Leading on from the last quotation, it is entirely possible that we could interpret certain aspects of this scene as actually depicting Macbeth’s ruthlessness – is he innately a killer?

The biblical allusion (Matthew 27:33) references Christ’s death on Mount Calvary – ‘And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull’. According to John 29:34, a Roman soldier pierced Christ’s side as he hanged from the cross. This is particularly interesting, considering Macbeth has previously been compared to the Roman God of war, Mars. This goes some way to depict Macbeth and his army as excessively violent (yet another gothic aspect) and perhaps even sadistic, delighting in the ‘reeking wounds’ that they inflict and making the battlefield as bloody as Golgotha. 

Act I:III (Lines 1-80)

Gothic setting 

As in scene I, we have pathetic fallacy with the ‘thunder’ and the desolate ‘barren heath’. To the theistic contemporaneous audience, the thunder would’ve been perceived as a warning from God – his voice of what’s to come, thus, this contributes to the dark, brooding atmosphere.

Supernatural/The witches

At the beginning of scene 3, we are again presented with the sooth-saying of the ambiguously gendered witches. Their earlier predictions that they will go to the Heath ‘to meet with Macbeth’ are realised upon the third witches’ couplet ‘A drum, a drum, Macbeth doth come!’. This, in addition to the prospect that the witches have control of the elements (‘I’ll give thee a wind’) exemplifies the power that they have over the natural world, and this would definitely fortify the interpretation that they are the manipulators to blame for Macbeth’s hamartia. It is wholly possible that the witches are the sources of inherent evil in the play, as their vengeful attitudes towards a woman’s husband (they state that ‘He shall live a man forbid; Weary sev’nights nine times nine’ and seem to rejoice in the agony that they inflict).

‘The Weyward Sisters, hand in hand, Posters of the sea and land, Thus do go, about, about, Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, And thrice again, to make up nine. Peace! The charm’s wound up’

Spoken by all of the witches, this bit of verse is particularly ominous and ritualistic. Their collective name ‘The Weyward Sisters’ conjures up (pardon the pun) images of liminality and connotations of the strange and the unnatural, the fateful and the perverse – they are amphibious ‘posters of the sea and land’. This again, is all of course, very gothic.. But their ability to literally conjure Macbeth who enters as soon as ‘The charm’s wound up’ seems to prove their power to control not only the elements, but also, the actions of humans.


Though the witches are formidable in that they have destructive powers, they are not all-powerful. As the first witch curses a ‘man forbid,’ the lines ‘though his bark shall not be lost, Yet it shall be tempest-tossed’ indicates that though the witches can cause a storm, gnawing a hole in the side of the ship, it is ultimately, not in their power to destroy the ship completely. So, we can attribute this piece of information to Macbeth also… We can interpret that they partially lead him to his own destruction by their use of equivocations. Their ‘prophetic greetings’ are only half-truths – they’re not strictly false, but in telling Macbeth that he ‘shalt be King hereafter!,’ they do miss out the slightly vital piece of information that he’s also to be despised as a tyrannical leader and then, murdered. By telling Macbeth snippets of the truth and not any of the repercussions, they essentially drive him to fulfil their prophecies.

Macbeth and Banquo

As I mentioned earlier, Banquo acts as a foil for Macbeth, exposing how he is in fact, driven to corruption. They are both valiant in war and curious about the prophecies of the ‘imperfect speakers,’ but both fundamentally different in their responses. Macbeth fiercely demands them to ‘Stay’ before they ‘vanish’ into thin air and is clearly irked by what he is told – he’s left discombobulated and ‘rapt withal,’ whereas Banquo remains sceptical. Thus, we’re left with the inclination that Macbeth is going to act on what he’s told, complete with dire consequences.