To really get to grips with Macbeth’s character you must form your own personal opinions. Use these 10 questions to get to grips with how YOU feel about his personality. Remember there is no RIGHT interpretation there are only opinions backed up with quotes / examples.
- Valiant soldier or violent schemer at the beginning?
- Which factor is most influential: (a) Witches & their prophesy? (b) Vaulting ambition? (c) Lady Macbeth?
- Immediate & overpowering remorse – what’s that about?
- Why is he obsessed with killing Banquo? (oh yeah, and Fleance too)
- Has he completely lost it in the Banquet scene? (do you think the Ghost is real or imaginary?)
- How does he justify his decision to proceed down the path of evil?
- He visits the Witches for a second time. Why? How does he react?
- Explain his decision to murder Lady Macduff & children (increasingly erratic & illogical behaviour)
- What last vestiges of humanity, conscience, nobility, bravery do we see?
- Is he nothing more than a “dead butcher” or do we the audience feel differently about him at the end?
Helen Gardner describes Macbeth’s transformation as a path to damnation beginning at one extreme and ending at the other: “From a brave and loyal general, to a treacherous murderer, to a hirer of assassins, to an employer of spies, to a butcher, to a coward, to a thing with no feeling for anything but itself, to a monster and a hell-hound.”
Personally I think this is a little simplistic.
“Brave and loyal general” – yet even at the beginning there are disturbing undercurrents to his personality.
“Treacherous murderer” – yes he’s a murderer, but one who is crippled by remorse.
“A coward” – he refuses to surrender but only because he believes that to surrender would be cowardly.
“A thing with no feeling for anything but itself” – why then is he so profoundly suicidal when he receives news of his wife’s death?
“A hell-hound” – why does he try to avoid a fight with Macduff? Why do we still feel pity for him?
Anyway, it just goes to show, each person who sees the play brings a different interpretation of his character away with them.