Shakespeare

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.

Macbeth

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?

Macbeth

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 PPQ – JUNE 2010 – ‘At the end of the play, Malcolm describes Macbeth as a butcher. Do you think that Macbeth is merely portrayed as a butcher?’

Here’s another band 6 Macbeth mock I did in my own time, this time, focussing in on the excessive violence Macbeth’s tragic regression than the last.


Malcolm’s description of Macbeth as a ‘butcher’ in the play’s denouement is certainly an appropriate one, as he is responsible for many brutal, excessive and unnecessary murders within the play all of which become more ignoble and uncivilised as it progresses. However, though Macbeth’s villainy is obvious, so is his degree of humanity, evident in his early doubts, later disillusionment and his tortured conscience, which could be perceived as transcending that of a mere butcher. Furthermore, though it could be interpreted that he is indeed a savage and trained killer, unfit for sovereign rule, his final soliloquy affirms a philosophical introspection not characteristic to an unthinking butcher. Ultimately, the interpretation of Macbeth as a tragic hero is a stronger one – his unravelling corruption implies that he kills out of madness and paranoia to ensure his safety rather than the evil intent of a butcher.

It could be perceived that, as Shakespeare characterises Macbeth as a typical gothic villain, committing brutal and savage ‘muthers … too terrible for the ear,’ that worsen as the play progresses, then Macbeth is indeed portrayed as a mere butcher. Macbeth’s initial act of regicide is a ‘more than bloody deed,’ excessive to the extent that it is ‘unmannerly breached with gore,’ exercised without any honour, or Duncan’s provocation. Macbeth’s butchery is furthered, as Shakespeare’s allusion to ‘The Rape Of Lucrece’  within Macbeth’s soliloquy, which can be seen to reveal his innermost thoughts, certainly aids his characterisation as an uncivilised butcher, as he describes his movements towards Duncan like that of ‘Tarquin’s ravishing strides,’ evoking his inhumane and tyrannical spirit as he proceeds with the murder. The later murders of Banquo and in particular, the family of Macduff, shown through the asyndetic list of his ‘wife, children, servants, all that could be found’ all exemplify Macbeth’s brutality, and thus, as he ‘savagely slaughter[s]’ so many characters, the interpretation of Macbeth as a ‘mere butcher’ is a credible one.

However, as Macbeth is at first unconvinced by his murderous plans, exhibiting doubt and a guilty conscience that drives him to the brink of his sanity, it is clear that he possesses thoughts that are certainly not characteristic to a one-dimensional and unthinking ‘butcher’. Macbeth’s guilty apprehension is present before he even commits to the act of ‘treasonous malice’, as he remarks that ‘We will proceed no further in this business,’ as the very thought of murdering Duncan is ‘horrid’ to him, making his ‘seated heart knock at his ribs’. As he only commits to the act of regicide when he is goaded and ‘chastise[d]’ by his wife, it is likely that he does not have the strength of mind to execute cruel murder as a ‘butcher’ would. Macbeth’s resulting ‘brainsickly’ psychological unrest, which manifests symbolically in the form of Banquo’s ‘horrible shadow’ indicates that he is not ‘merely’ a butcher, able to commit horrific acts of murder without any sense of remorse. Though he is quickly ‘settled’ into such acts, the ‘torture of [his] mind’ demonstrates the humane and regretful contemplation of a man ‘afraid to think on what [he has] done’ and it would be altogether more feasible to interpret that whilst he is a ‘butcher,’ he is also conscience-stricken.

Furthermore, within the exposition, whilst it could be interpreted that Shakespeare does indeed depict Macbeth as a butcher from the outset, delighting in the ‘reeking wounds’ of bloody battle, due to the imagery and verse form that utilised, it is a likelier interpretation that this connotes his nobility of character, rather than the evil intentions of a butcher. Macbeth is initially and universally regarded as ‘noble’ and ‘brave,’ and Shakespeare affirms this by utilising the imagery of the ‘[eagle]’ and the ‘lion’ to in order characterise him as fully ‘deserv[ing]’ of the praise that he receives. Though this imagery, in addition to the depiction of ‘bloody execution’ and how Macbeth ‘unseam[s Macdonwald] from the nave to ‘th chops’ could be perceived as both dire and butcher-like, the verse form of this passage confirms an inherent nobility that a mere butcher could not possibly possess.

Yet, though Macbeth is arguably depicted as noble warrior within the exposition, Malcolm acts as his foil, exposing that he is, perhaps, a trained killer unfit for sovereign rule and instead, prone to uncivilised and butcher-like ‘tyranny’. Though Malcolm claims that he has ‘no relish’ of any ‘king becoming graces,’ this is simply a guise, as he is revealed to be virtuous and ‘yet unknown to woman.’ As he exhibits the ‘good truth and honour’ typical of a king and devotes himself to ‘[his] poor country’s to command’,  the ignoble traits of Macbeth, shown through the syndetic list; ’bloody…avaricious, false, deceitful… malicious, [and] smacking of every sin..’ are emphasised. As as a result, by contrast, pure Malcolm indicates that ‘black Macbeth’ is fundamentally, a sinful butcher by nature, devoid of any redeeming qualities.

Nevertheless, this interpretation can be refuted,’ not only as it is delivered from the biased perspective of Duncan’s son, but also as Macbeth was once undoubtedly a ‘worthy’ character of high status, it is a more credible view that he is not a ‘mere butcher,’ but instead, a more complex tragic hero. Macbeth eventually recognises his own brutality, and that he is ‘in blood stepped in so far…returning were as tedious to go o’er,’ and the endless succession of violence that occurs as ‘blood will have blood.’ Considering the concept that violence will beget more violence and that he is in a position that he cannot return from, then perhaps Macbeth kills as a result of his psychological entrapment – the ‘saucy doubts and fears’ regarding his position as king, that he is ‘cabined, cribbed and confined’ by indicates that he progresses to the role of butcher, consciously acting on the ‘firstlings of [his] hand,’ and suppressing his ‘human kindness’ so that he is able to commit such bloody deeds. This notion is furthered in Macbeth’s final soliloquy within the play’s denouement, which occurs after he has already committed much of his brutal action, as he reflects on the brevity of his ambition and the transience of life, speculating that ‘life’s but a walking shadow’ and the tragedy of his own plight as he comments that his is meaningless, ’signifying nothing’. Thus, even as he is left corrupted at the play’s end, Macbeth’s profound and complex introspection confirms that he is not merely a thoughtless and uncivilised butcher, as he clearly achieves an anagnorisis.

AQA LITB3 Practice essay – To what extent is Macbeth responsible for his own downfall?

Hey there, this is a practice essay (Ie. not a real past paper question) that I completed for homework over half term. I haven’t had it marked yet, but thought it seemed decent enough to post! Reading over what I’ve written, one thing I’d focus on more if I could re-write it, is probably the influence of the witches, considering some of Heccat’s dialogue (‘trade and traffic with Macbeth / in riddles and affairs of death,’ the apparitions, the interpretation of Macbeth as a ‘wayward son’ for some further structural analysis etc.). I did write this with a conclusion (I concluded that he was the source of his downfall, but not responsible for it), but for some reason, it wasn’t saved to my laptop, so I’ll update this when I get my grade back.


The eponymous hero of Shakespeare’s Macbeth undeniably suffers a tragic downfall, from the ‘noble’ thane of Glamis in the play’s exposition, to an ‘abhorred tyrant’ in its denouement. Though it would outwardly appear that Macbeth is rather indisputably corrupted by extraneous forces of evil that lead him to his demise, such as Lady Macbeth and the three witches, perhaps a stronger interpretation is that such forces merely bring his latent evil into being. Ultimately, if we consider a psychoanalytic reading of the text, then we can regard Macbeth’s madness and guilt as a form of psychological defence, rather than proof of his good nature. The source of his downfall lies not with the malign guidance of others, but with the ‘black and deep desires’ of his own subconscious. However, whether Macbeth can actually be held ‘responsible’ for this is subject to interpretation, as he tragically seeks to repress such urges.

It could be interpreted, that as Macbeth is depicted as a ‘noble’ and ‘valiant’ warrior in the play’s exposition, he is an inherently decent character who allows himself to be corrupted by his, wife, and he is thus, not responsible for his own downfall. As Shakespeare uses the imagery of the ‘[eagle]’ and the ‘lion’ to characterise Macbeth as noble and brave and fully ‘deserv[ing]’ of the praise he receives then perhaps Lady Macbeth acts as a femme fatale and preys on his good ‘nature’, which she speculates is ‘too full o’th’ milk of human kindness’ by ‘pour[ing] her spirits in [his] ear, and goading him to commit regicide. Macbeth’s guilt is clear before he even commits to ‘treasonous malice,’ as the very thought of killing Duncan is ‘horrid’ to him, making his ‘seated heart knock at [his ribs], and this would certainly affirm the view that Lady Macbeth ‘chastise[s]’ him into the act and that she is to be held responsible for his downfall, as she is the character that incites his ‘illness’ and his villainy. Though Macbeth falters and states that ‘we will proceed no further in this business,’ the use of sequencing, as he is very quickly ‘settled’ into killing Duncan in addition to Lady Macbeth’s recognition that he already has the ‘desire,’ then it is a stronger interpretation to consider that her intervention is minor and that Macbeth’s earlier descriptions as valiant ‘eagle[s]’ and ‘lion[s]’ merely suggest his predatory nature and delight to ‘bathe in [the] reeking wounds’ of battle. As Macbeth surpasses Lady Macbeth’s mediation by murdering Banquo, ignoring her request for him to ‘leave this’ , his feelings of unrest cannot solely be attributed to her – perhaps `she is not solely responsible for his downfall.

It is also a feasible interpretation to suggest that as Macbeth plays victim to the ‘supernatural soliciting’ of the witches and is seduced into corruption by their favourable prophecies and equivocations, he is thus, not solely responsible for his downfall. Structurally, the witches are established as agents of chaos from the play’s very exposition. Not only do they frame the play’s narrative, but also establish their ability to render things ‘fair’ in nature, perhaps like ‘brave Macbeth’ into things that are ‘foul’ in their ominous chiasmus ‘fair is foul / and foul is fair’. Such control over Macbeth is implied further, as he unknowingly echoes their chiasmus in conversation to Banquo as he remarks ‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen’ and manifests as soon as ‘[their] charm’s wound up’ in a sort of proleptic irony. As they show an apparent power to control the speech and actions of Macbeth, it is not altogether surprising that he is left in a ‘rapt’ state at their claims that he is to inherit the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’ and ‘King hereafter’. However, though the witches are formidable in their powers, they are clearly not all-powerful; as the witches ‘curse a man forbid’ at the beginning of I:III, the couplet ‘though his bark shall not be lost / yet it shall be tempest tossed’ indicates that though the can manipulate nature to a certain extent, it is not in their power to exert complete destruction. Thus, the use of ‘noble’ Banquo as a foil, whose recognition that ‘To win us to our harm / the instruments of darkness tell us truths / win us with honest trifles / to betray’s in deepest consequence’ leads to the view, that, in spite of their malicious intentions, the witches can only partially lead Macbeth to his downfall. Though the witches are ‘there to meet with Macbeth’ and not Banquo, as he falsely interprets that ‘two truths are told,’ he essentially exhibits clear ‘vaulting ambition’, that is characteristic to him and not the witches, perhaps they are merely manifestations of his own ambivalence and inner conflict that drives him to commit ‘dread exploits’ lending to the interpretation that he is clearly the one to be held accountable for his downfall.

If we consider a psychoanalytic reading of Macbeth and consider him to be an inherently evil character who has previously suppressed his ‘black and deep desires’, then perhaps he is actually responsible for his own downfall. As Lady Macbeth reports how Macbeth ‘burned in desire’ to hear the prophecies of the witches, it is clear that his earlier soliloquy, which can be seen to reveal his innermost thoughts, reveals his subconscious intentions to kill Duncan. The subjunctive mood of Macbeth’s statement that ‘chance may crown [him] without [his] stir’ perhaps reveals not his innocent intentions, but instead, the possibility that he ‘may’ intervene. This is furthered as he speculates that Duncan’s ‘murther yet but is fantastical,’ as he unknowingly comments on the inevitability of treason, it seems to indicate that his evil has been present from the play’s very exposition. As his latent evil is eventually brought into being, the witches, who would have been perceived, contextually as proponents of the devil refer to him as ‘wicked,’ branding him rather indisputably as a gothic villain – the notion that an advocate of Satan would regard him to be evil potentially affirms that he is again, the one to be held accountable for his demise. However, if we consider the prospect that Macbeth is unstable, seeing an unreal ‘air-drawn dagger’ that provokes him to such deeds and plagued by ‘the torture of [his] mind,’ though the source of his downfall does lie within him, perhaps he cannot be held responsible for it due to his unstable state of mind.

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.

Equivocations

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.