The actual definition of a butcher in the dictionary is an indiscriminate or brutal murderer, someone who savagely murders without reason. But the term butcher cannot be put upon Macbeth as simply as that. Macbeth is a complex and contradictory character and many things he does or says in the play go against the term butcher. For example, the letter he sends his wife. It shows his love and respect for Lady Macbeth. In addition, at the start of the play, Duncan refers to him as Noble Macbeth. Duncan and his noble men have high opinions of him.
However, there is also a lot of evidence that says Macbeth is a cold-blooded Murderer. Shakespeare has Macbeth kill Lady Macduff and her child for no reason, when women and children are thought the most innocent of all people. At the start of the play, the witches, who are recognised as evil and supernatural, mention Macbeths name.
This dramatically links Macbeth to evil and is a device used by Shakespeare to show a sense of foreboding surrounding Macbeth. It tells the audience to watch out for him. The term used by the witches, fair is foul and foul is fair, can be used here. Macbeth is thought of as noble, but noble people can turn evil. It leaves the audience confused from the very first scenes. A psychological progression can be seen, from brave Macbeth (Act 1, scene 1, line 16) to dead butcher (Act 5, scene 9, line 36).
Macbeth is the main character of the play so a lot is known about him, including, a lot of the time, what he is thinking or feeling. Even though he is the villain in the play there are things the audience see or notice which may change their opinion of him. For example, in act 1, scene 7 we can see that Macbeth is unsure about going through with the murder of the king. He likes the king and is obviously finding it hard to go against Duncan, who trusts Macbeth.
Act 1, scene 7, line 13
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
¦ Then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself!
Macbeth still has a conscience at this stage and is being forced to go through with the murder by his wife. This makes the audience empathise with Macbeth, even when he is discussing the murder of the king. Shakespeare manages to do this a lot during the play, even when the audience should hate Macbeth; there is still a part of us that feels sorry for him. In retrospect, it is clear that Macbeth is primarily the victim of his own ambition. Act 2, scene 2 is an example of this. He has just murdered Duncan; this is a true butcher like deed, however he panics, he is regretting what hes done. He isnt cold blooded and is still human.
Act 2, scene 2, line 49:
I am afraid to think what I have done.
Look ont again I dare not
This shows Macbeths confused and confusing character. He is very ambitious, he thrives to be great, and he is easily manipulated, these are things that make him evil, but these things alone are not butcher like qualities. The audience can see, at the beginning of the play at least, that Macbeth is confused and easily manipulated, he has been persuaded by his wife and the witches, but he is still human and not a butcher. In fact, at the start, Lady Macbeth is more the butcher. She is the dominator in the marriage. When she receives the letter from her husband, telling her of the witches prophecy, the first thing she says is that she will make sure Macbeth becomes king
Act 1, scene 5, line 14:
And shalt be
What thou art promised!
It is immediately apparent that she is more cold-blooded and overpowering than Macbeth. She is scared that Macbeth is too soft and innocent to kill the king,
Act1, scene5, line 16:
Too full of the milk of human kindness,
This gives the audience a good opinion of Macbeth; he is obviously a good person, too good maybe, to murder someone. Others have a good opinion of Macbeth as well; Duncan for instance, trusts Macbeth and likes him a lot. For example, he stays at Macbeths Castle, this proves the kings trust for Macbeth.
Act 1, scene 6, line 29:
Conduct me to mine host. We love him highly,
And shall continue our graces towards him.
And in the second scene of the play he refers to Macbeth as Noble Macbeth.
One of the main qualities of a butcher is someone who is cold blooded, who kills without reason or conscience. The audience can see that Macbeth definitely has a conscience at the beginning of the play, and that he was having second thoughts about going through with the murder, Act 1, scene 7, line 31:
We will proceed no further in this business.
He hath honoured me of late,
And it can also be seen that he regretted killing Duncan after it happened. We can tell he is regretful in Act 2, scene 2, line 32, as he is hearing voices:
Methought I heard a voice cry. Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep!'
Some of the audience may interpret this behaviour as guilt rather than that it shows his conscience. Guilt is a more permanent feeling that cannot be overcome, whereas a moral conscience can be relieved by a change in behaviour and is not permanent. Macbeth seems to lose his conscience during this play as he continues to kill. However, at the end he chooses not to kill Macduff because he has already killed too many of the Macduff family. Act 5, scene 6, line 45:
My soul is too much charged
With blood of thine already
This is guilt he is experiencing, a much deeper and more true feeling.
Other occasions that prove Macbeth has a conscience, and therefore is not a butcher, include the murder of Banquo, his best friend, in act 3 scene 3. In the next scene Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo while dining with his friends. He goes off in a sort of trance; this is the first sign of madness in Macbeth. It is obvious in this scene (act 3, scene 4) that Macbeth is feeling extremely guilty about what he has done. He is in denial, he says to the ghost in Act 3, scene 4, line 50:
Thou canst not say I did it! Never shake
Thy gory locks at me!
It may come across like he is denying his part in the murder, as it wasnt he who was holding the sword. But he obviously cant get what he has done out of his mind. Again, the audience will pity Macbeth because they can see into his mind. He is slipping into madness at this point and this is why the audience feel sorry for him. Although the audience will recognise that what Macbeth has done is wrong and feel he is being, quite rightly, punished.
Another time when Macbeths conscience is uncovered to the audience is in act 2, scene 1, just before the murder of Duncan. In this scene Macbeth sees a bloodstained dagger floating before him. This is his conscience working, questioning what he is about to do. He knows what the dagger is telling him but he knows it is wrong.
Act 2, scene1, line 33
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand?
Macbeth has the ambition but no drive to push it. The character of Lady Macbeth is therefore required to provide Macbeth with a push to fulfill his royal ambitions. Macbeth is almost forced by Lady Macbeth to murder Duncan. It is not fully his decision so even though he says, I am settled about the murder, the dagger proves he isnt.
These things suggest Macbeth has a conscience and therefore is not a cold-blooded murderer. He still feels guilt, regret and fear.
It is interesting to have a murderer as the hero, or main character of this play. The audience do not usually see into the murderers mind, they just assume the killer is evil and thats the end of it. But it is hard to pinpoint Macbeth as evil when what is going through his mind is known to the audience, and when his conscience can be seen. This is why the question Is Macbeth a butcher, is not a simple one to answer. The audience can see, as well as Macbeths evil side, his good, weak and pitiful side.
Nonetheless, the audience cannot fail to notice Macbeths many butcher like deeds. From the very beginning of the play, Shakespeare has shown the witches arranging to meet Macbeth, thus linking him to evil.
Act 1, scene1, line 8:
There to meet with Macbeth.
Shakespeare also uses the weather and nature to link Macbeth in with the supernatural. The night he murders Duncan Shakespeare uses dramatic devices such as an owls hoot or thunder and lightning. Lennox says, in Act 2, scene 3, line 51:
The night has been unruly. Where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down.
Nature is also showing that what Macbeth did was wrong. In act 2 scene 4 Duncans horses broke free and ate each other, on the night of his murder.
Act 2, scene 4, line 14:
And Duncans horses¦
Turned wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out.
Then Macbeth and Banquos meeting with the witches is witnessed, when they announce the prophecies of the two friends. The reaction of the two men when told the prophecies, are very interesting. Macbeth is amazed, as the witches have told him exactly what he wants to hear.
Act 1, scene 3, line 71:
Stay you imperfect speakers! Tell me more
¦ Speak I charge you.
While Banquo dismisses the witches prediction of his children becoming king and understands that what seems fair may turn out to be foul,
Act 1, scene 3, line 125:
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray s
In deepest consequence.
Macbeth doesnt realise this and chooses to follow the witches prophecy. Both Banquo and Macbeth have been given fair prophecies but only Macbeth chooses the path of evil. This tells us that it isnt the witches working their power but it is truly a flaw in Macbeths character. His ambition is his biggest strength and yet it is his fatal flaw.
The fact that Shakespeare links Banquo and Macbeth through friendship, and then has Macbeth kill Banquo highlights Macbeths ambitious and evil side. He is prepared to kill his best friend to get what he wants. This is significant because, as the witches say, Banquo is greater than Macbeth.
In Act 1, scene 3, line 140 Macbeth is already hinting at murder, Whose murder yet is but fantastical. The thought of killing the king comes to him almost immediately, even though he doesnt want it to. This is before hes made any contact with his wife; it is all his own thinking. Again, in Act 1, scene 4 we can see Macbeth is plotting a murder, when he finds out that Malcolm has been made the heir to the throne.
Act 1, scene 4, line 48:
The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else oerleap,
For it lies in my way.
Macbeth hears his prophecy only a very short time before these thoughts of murder. The audience might even go as far as to think Macbeth has thought about murdering the King before. The witches just gave him the final push. They manipulate him by telling him exactly what he wants to hear, knowing he will follow his fate due to his great ambition. There is dramatic irony here as Macbeth has just been given the title of Thane of Cawdor, a traitors title. Even though the title was a great thing it could link him to what is to come, fair is foul and foul is fair.
Duncan is perceived as a good king, he is much loved by his people, which makes murdering him seem even more horrifying and brutal. Ross in Act 1, scene 2, cries God save the King! and when asked where he travelled from he answers, from Fife, great King After Duncan is murdered he is treated with just as much respect. His people truly loved him. Our royal Masters murdered they still talk of him with respect, rather than rejoicing in the Kings death, like they do with Macbeth.
It came clear from the dagger speech that Macbeth is torn between murdering the king and not, but he decides to go against his conscience and go through with the murder.
Act 2, scene 1, line 63:
I go and it is done. The bell invites me.
Hear it not Duncan for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell
Macbeth may have a conscience but what is important is if he listens to it or not. The fact that he knows what he is doing is wrong but still decides to go through with it is, actually, a lot worse.
Shakespeare makes Lady Macbeth the more powerful and persuasive person in her marriage with Macbeth. It is she, after all, who pushes Macbeth to go through with the murder. She has the whole thing planned out and doesnt seem to have the conscience that Macbeth has. But after Duncan, Macbeth continues to kill. His ambition and obsession with power take over. He doesnt even consult his wife on his other murders, (Banquo, Lady Macduff, her children, the guards) and it is Lady Macbeth who slips into madness, resulting in her assumed suicide. The fact that the stronger Lady Macbeth is the one to break down while the weaker Macbeth continues to murder is dramatic irony. When Macbeth starts to act of his own accord is when he begins to be thought of as a butcher rather than a hero with a fatal flaw.
One of the most brutal acts that Macbeth carries out is the murder of Lady Macduff and her children. They are completely innocent and Macbeth has no reason to carry out the murder other than to increase fear in Scotland. He may have done it as a warning to other thanes not to flee to England.
Act 4, scene 1, line 150:
The castle of Macduff I will surprise:
Seize upon Fife, give to the edge o the sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls.
Shakespeare shows Lady Macduff as having a close relationship with her son. In the same scene as they get murdered the mother is shown talking to her child, laughing and joking. This makes the audience feel a lot worse towards Macbeth because they know that these innocent people are about to be murdered on Macbeths orders.
He doesnt seem to even have a conscience any more; he is acting on instinct and is lead by greed. Macbeth is striking out at random, and his moral sense seems to have disappeared. The brave hero we met in Act I has changed into someone that is completely twisted. He will do anything and will stop at nothing to preserve the crown in his head.
By Act 5, scene 5 Macbeth is a different man. The death of the wife he once loved so much comes as no shock to him. He is emotionless.
Act 5, scene 5, line 17:
She should have died hereafter:
There would have been a time for such a word.
This is the scene in which he realises he has lost all emotion. He has almost forgot the taste of fears, This is very symbolic as a butcher is thought of as someone with no emotions, who kills without thought or reason. That is almost what Macbeth has become.
The King gave Macbeth the title Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth has replaced a traitor and dies a traitor.
From closely analysing the character of Macbeth I can see he is a man with great ambition and greed, but also a weak and pitiful nature. He is, after all, the hero of the play, and he dies like a hero. But there is no denying the things Macbeth has done. He has killed without reason or emotion. We as the audience can see his conscience working but we can also see him ignoring it. As the play goes on we witness Lady Macbeths slip into madness as Macbeth carries on killing. We cant deny his bravery and skill but his bad qualities overrule the good. A conscience is not enough to clear you of the deed. Macbeth enters the play as a hero and ultimately dies like one, but he is an evil man with thoughts only for himself. That is why, after a close study of is character, I believe his action are primarily the actions of a butcher.