Macbeth Essay


Macbeth, a play written by William Shakespeare includes two soliloquies from act 1, scene 5 and act 1, scene 7 which I will be comparing. These soliloquies are spoken by Lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself and they both contain ambition, not always good ambition, sometimes evil and for the wrong motives. Shakespeare explains the motives of the two characters through the use of metaphors. Macbeth, although he wants to become king is faced with the thought of murder, placed upon him and encouraged by Lady Macbeth. Using dark metaphors Shakespeare explains the thoughts of which Macbeth struggles against. He highlights the difference in the two ambitions and personalities. “Thou sure and firm set earth, Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear Thy very stones prate of my whereabouts, And take the present horror from the time, Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives. Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.”


In the soliloquy by Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare writes “Art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly. that wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false, and yet wouldst wrongly win.” to display the point that she believes Macbeth desperately wants the witches prophecy that he will become king to be true, but she thinks he lacks the evil spirit to do so. Using the metaphor “full o’ th’ milk of human kindness” it is portrayed that although Lady Macbeth is aware of Macbeth’s final goal she is also aware that he is a kindhearted fellow, who although his ambition is strong he lacks the courage required to pursue such a violent task. “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way.” Shakespeare uses the quote inserted above to tell us that Lady Macbeth knows Macbeth has managed to fulfill the hard task of becoming Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, and just as the witches prophecy has promised he will become king. She suggests that he will need to rid himself of the milk of human kindness, meaning he needs to pick up some strength and evilness which is required if he shall become King.


Macbeth thinks hard about the witches prophecy and whether or not he should pursue his dream. He thinks that should he choose to commit the crime that must take place for him to become king there will be rumors spread about the horrible deed. His doubts are strong. Shakespeare shows us as readers by saying “But in these cases we still have judgement here; that we but teach bloody instructions, which , being taught, return to plague the inventor:” this gives us insight to Macbeth’s sense of fair play and although his ambition to murder King Duncan may not coincide with what his heart is telling him to do, he puts his wife’s wishes first. He is fighting against his fears and pulling in the nasty streak which is required to pursue the violent crime. Macbeth is aware of the consequences that will spread like a wild fire once the terrible deed has been cleared. He knows that somewhere up in heaven the angels are watching him and they see whatever move he makes. He is aware of the fact that Duncan, as he goes to heaven will know that it was Macbeth who committed the crime. The unfairness of the deed plays on Macbeth’s mind. Duncan has been a fair leader and he has never done anything as vile as what Macbeth plans on doing. The unfairness of the murder hangs over Macbeth like a dark cloud that refuses to leave him alone. Using the quote “Besides, this Duncan Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office, that his virtues Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against The deep damnation of his taking-off;” Shakespeare tells us that Duncan has been such a fair leader and doesn’t deserve to be treated like this.


The similarities between these selected soliloquies and the things that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth say is the fact that both portray the similar type of thoughts. By saying “And that which rather thou must fear to do than wishest should be undone” Shakespeare explains to us that Lady Macbeth believes Macbeth has the goals to be the best, yet he doesn’t have the strength to continue through with such a vile task, of killing King Duncan. Macbeth thinks about the deed he would have to pursue and he is aware that the end outcome would be great for him but it would also come with consequences that he will have to consider. Shakespeare writes “So clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead like angels, trumpet tongued against the deep damnation of his taking off.” telling us that Macbeth notices that if he was to kill King Duncan then there would be terrible chain reaction that followed. Macbeth is aware that everyone will hear about the crime he has committed. The rumor will spread like a big gust of wind. Macbeth is driven mainly by the ambition of Lady Macbeth. Her ambition is strong and powerful and it is the driving force behind his actions. She has the guts and the ability to commit the worst crime known. She insinuates that as she is a lady she cannot pursue a powerful crime such as murder, it should be committed by a man. The end outcome of the deed will bring great things to her, and she doesn’t consider or care about the burden of guilt that will be laid upon Macbeth, should he choose to pursue with her plan of killing King Duncan. Macbeth becomes haunted by the thought of murder, yet he refuses to let down his wife.

Shakespeare writes this statement  which Lady Macbeth says “Thus thou must do, if thou have it.” and it makes us consider her thoughts of Macbeth and his ambition and desire. She knows he wants to be the best; the most powerful, although to get that he must cheat or be nasty. She also knows he is aware of these facts yet doesn’t have the courage to pursue these terrible tasks. “Art not without ambition, but without The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly, That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false, And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou’ld’st have, great Glamis, That which cries, Thus thou must do, if thou have it,.” This quote by Lady Macbeth explains that Macbeth lacks the skills and audacity required to get to the top and be the best. He wants the witches prophecy to become true yet, he wants to do it fairly. Something that is almost impossible. It is a crime, and crimes cannot be done fairly.

By saying “I have no spurs to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’ other.” Shakespeare explains to us that Macbeth himself has come to terms with the fact that to acquire the top position he has to commit a crime, a crime that he will most likely never be forgiven for. He knows he should be the one to defend Duncan, not be the one to wipe him off the worlds face. “He’s here in double trust: First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, Strong both against the deed; then, as his host, Who should against his murderer shut the door, Not bear the knife myself.” In this quote Shakespeare  shows us that Macbeth finally realizes that to get to the highest rung he cannot play fair, he must break King Duncan’s trust and his own dedication to his job which involves being passionate about saving and preventing injures aimed towards King Duncan.


In both of these quotes Shakespeare portrays the point that for Macbeth to become King he must do a horrible deed. Yet, in both of the quotes it is displayed that both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth have come to terms that in order for Macbeth to carry out the crime he must undergo a personality change. He must be able to summon the courage required to murder. Shakespeare shows by using metaphors such as “besides, this Duncan hath bourne his faculities so meek” and “That I may pour my spirits in thine ear” that for this to happen, Macbeth will need the strength and courage which Lady Macbeth holds in her heart. Lady Macbeth knows deep down that although Macbeth himself lacks those skills at this moment, she believes that he can acquire those traits and transform his personality into something that can never be reversed. This is an evil trait but a trait that must be carried by a man.


Shakespeare uses metaphors to describe that Lady Macbeth wants Macbeth to hurry home so she can persuade his kind hearted mind and let a little of her evil spirit overpower his desire for fair play. “Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear And chastise with the valor of my tongue All that impedes thee from the golden round.” He tells us by saying “Hie thee hither” that Lady Macbeth is desperate for Macbeth to come home and grasp the crown. The witches prophecy has inspired Lady Macbeth even more to persuade Macbeth into the  murder of King Duncan.


Shakespeare displays that although Macbeth has the correct and strong ambition that is needed for such a crime to take place, he is scared about the consequences that will happen. Macbeth knows that the crime is vile and he knows that to commit such a crime will have his place as a leader more undervalued and not as many people will look up to him as highly as they would of to king Duncan. “And pity, like a naked newborn babe, Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed Upon the sightless couriers of the air, Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye, That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself And falls on th’ other.” Shakespeare shows us using metaphors and similes like “like a naked newborn babe”, “That tears shall drown the wind.” and “I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent” that Macbeth has recognized the fact that should he choose to commit the deed, the news will spread like the wind, not hiding from a single soul. There will be tears shed to empathize with the unfairness and evil spirit that accompanied the ambition. Macbeth knows that ambition can be a hard thing to push against but he also knows that by following through with his ambition he could end up with a very nasty surprise at the other end.

Shakespeare uses many metaphors to show that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, although they both have the same ambition of Macbeth becoming king, they both have entirely different personalities. Macbeth thinks about the consequences of his actions whereas Lady Macbeth only thinks about the end outcome and the pride that Macbeth will hold should he become King. The pride though, of becoming King, will be overpowered by the guilt and unfairness of the murder that must take place for Macbeth to end up as king. The metaphors which Shakespeare chose to use when writing the story of Macbeth are dark but contrasting. For example when he talks about two different types of fluids, Human milk and poison. Human milk portrays the thought that for a human quality it would be kind, caring and compassionate whereas poison for a human quality would be evil, nasty and unfair. Both of these fluids can be related to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the qualities which human milk contain is the personality of Macbeth and the poison is Lady Macbeth’s qualities. Lady Macbeth talks about filling Macbeth up with her spirits, showing us that she would like to replace some of Macbeth’s human milk qualities with some of her poisonous qualities. Lady Macbeth wants this to happen because she believes that it will ignite his ambition for king and allow his dreams to become true.


4 thoughts on “Macbeth Essay”

  1. This is a good start – you’ve clearly outlined your ideas, and on a quick read now, I see you’ve also organised these well into separate paragraphs and provided extensive supporting evidence.

    An important focus to keep in mind is that you are being assessed on your writing, so if you look at your intro paragraph, for example, you will want to develop a structure that commands attention. Where you capture your reader’s interest and expand on how you’re going to explore these two soliloquies. This might involve using a carefully selected quote that has high impact, or it might mean expanding on what these soliloquies are actually saying and the impact this would have on an audience. They’re talking about killing a King!

    Good work so far, though.


  2. We discussed this piece in relation to its grammar structure. After explaining the two soliloquies in isolation, you then go on to explore more deeply the differences between the two characters and the source of their ambition. While this is all valid analysis, it moves off the track of the question which is about how Shakespeare uses language and the conventions of Drama to communicate his ideas.

    The material you have is all relevant to that, but it needs to be presented in the form of an answer to that question, rather than one about the differences between the two characters. I suggested that you write a table to explore the differences in how the two soliloquies are constructed and what THIS reveals about the characters.

    Also, there were some examples of over-long sentences with comma-splices, so I’ve advised you to go back and break your sentences down into simpler components, which will aid your reader’s understanding enormously. Remember a good literary essay illuminates a complex idea, rather than obscures it.

    It’s going well, Jessa, and you’ve plenty of time to re-structure your work. A lot of it can be used, but your topic sentences and main thrust of the argument should use your existing analysis to more closely answer the question.


  3. Jessa! You’ve done it. I think all you should do at this point is read your essay aloud – if you’ve any available time with Clare, I’d encourage you to read it to her – and amend any sections that lack fluency, then you can hand it in to me for formal assessment. Well done.

  4. Achievement Achievement with Merit Achievement with Excellence
    Develop and structure ideas in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas convincingly in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas effectively in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control to command attention in formal writing.

    The next step in an essay like this will be to bring your analysis of language into even clearer focus – and to address a wider range of language and dramatic features as part of the analysis. What was excellent in this piece with the interpretation of the soliloquies and the nuances between the meanings of the two.

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