At the start of Macbeth, the weird sisters introduce the supernatural theme. The first indication that all is not as it seems is when the weird sisters chant fair is foul and foul is fair which suggests uncertainty, either now or in the future. From this speech we gain the impression that all will not be as it seems.
Scene two is in stark contrast to the foremost scene of the play. Here we learn of a brave hero, Macbeth, a valiant and inspiring warrior. Overall, the character of Macbeth is portrayed in the second scene as a man who would not even contemplate killing the king. A captain describes Macbeth in a glowing report to the king using words such as valiant, noble, worthy and a peerless kinsman which helps the audience gain a favourable impression of Macbeth. Another section of the captains speech describes Macbeths valour:
For Brave Macbeth well he deserves that name-
Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel
Which smoked with bloody execution
From this speech and other points during the report, the audience learns that Macbeth is a ruthless warrior who draws spirit and strength in the heart of the battle when danger is at its utmost. We also learn that he is patriotic, very unlike the perfidious Thane of Cawdor.
The man that we meet in Scene three seems to be almost a different person. The first instance of trouble is when Macbeth comments:
so foul and fair a day I have not seen
This is an uncanny mirror of the weird sisters in the first scene. The mention of a drum as Macbeth approaches in the third scene evokes a sense of doom and helps to maintain an air of expectancy. When Macbeth and Banquo finally come to meet the weird sisters they are somewhat unnerved by their presence as they see creatures that
look not like th inhabitants o th earth
The fact that the evil sisters are waiting for Macbeth in the first place suggests that they have something in mind. Macbeth is puzzled when the weird sisters refer to him as Thane of Cawdor. This is because he does not know yet of the speech of King Duncan, which denounces the duplicity of the Thane of Cawdor:
No more that Thane of Cawdor shall decline
Our bosom interest. Go pronounce his present death
And with his former title greet Macbeth.
Both Macbeth and Banquo are somewhat taken aback when the weird sisters hail Macbeth, that shall be king hereafter. Macbeth we know is both surprised and scared as Banquo notices that his appearance has changed as he states:
Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear
Things that do sound fair?
Banquo seems not to be concerned with the weird sisters as he shows during this speech:
Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear
Your favours nor your hate
It is during this scene that we learn that Macbeth is perhaps not as patriotic as we once thought, as he wants the weird sisters to go on:
Stay, you imperfect speakers! Tell me more!
He does not dismiss it as insane notions within the weird sisters minds, whereas Banquo does not care if the weird sisters stay and say more or go and tell no more, however this is probably because they do not mention him. He does however want them to speak to him but is able to resist knowing too much about the future, as he fears the supernatural. An interesting speech by the weird sisters, which sums up the fact that Banquo can resist where Macbeth cannot, is
lesser than Macbeth, and greater
This suggests that while Banquo will be without the power and status of Macbeth but will be a better man within whereas Macbeth will be, it is hinted at, evil. Banquo also seems quite alert as he notices that he seems rapt with withdrawal referring of course to Macbeth. It also seems that the idea of turning things onto their heads, recalling the earlier equivocal statements by the weird sisters
Fair is foul and foul is fair
has already transpired, as Banquo now has become the patriotic soldier as he fought just as well as Macbeth during the battle and despite not being given anything for his pains he does not think of committing regicide. Macbeth deliberates about killing the king then dismisses it but the damage has already been done when no one put the idea into his head he thought about killing the king. Nevertheless, was anyone else to blame for the act of regicide with the exception of Macbeth?
Banquo seems to be exempt from blame. He ponders over whether he and Macbeth have lost their sanity as he searches to find reasons for what they have heard:
Were such things here as we do speak about?
Or have we eaten on the insane root
That takes the reason prisoner?
Banquo seems to be able to understand what Macbeth is thinking as he tells Macbeth to be chary of the supernatural and not assume that no evil will come from the seemingly innocent and good news. He warns that the supernatural could be playing with them and leading them into a trap:
But tis strange;
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm
The instruments of darkness tell us truths;
Win us with honest trifles, to betrays
In deepest consequence
Lady Macbeth is certainly a different type of character, during her soliloquy on the opening lines of scene five she comments on how Macbeth is too full of the milk of human kindness. She feels that she needs to push Macbeth from having scruples to becoming a cold-blooded murderer. She reflects on Macbeths deficiencies during her soliloquy:
Thou wouldst be great
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it
She does not know that when the first stage of the weird sisters prophecy becomes true regarding the Thane of Cawdor that Macbeth thought about perpetrating the act of regicide and hence hastening the second phase. Lady Macbeth seems to not let Macbeth speak when she learns of the coming of Duncan, as Macbeth wants to discuss the matter further; We will speak further. She is so absorbed in creating an unimpeachable plan that she has no time for what anyone else may articulate, including her husband as she almost fantasises about the death of Duncan:
O never shall sun that morrow see!
As soon as she learns of the plot, she rambles on with words such as the ones in the previous sentence until Macbeth finally manages to speak. Further proof of the fact that the plot obsesses Lady Macbeth is found in her soliloquy in scene six as she uses duplicity. This proof is:
Your hand, your tongue; look like th innocent flower,
But be the serpent undert.
During Macbeths soliloquy at the inception of scene seven Macbeth weighs up the pros and cons of performing the act of regicide. The only reason that he can see for killing a respected guest who is a relation to him is ambition and desire. He dwells on the arguments against killing the king and, realising that his own safety is in jeopardy, he thinks rationally for another reason as to why he should kill the king but cannot think of one. In scene three, it seems that Macbeth made a similar decision when he said:
If chance will have me king, why chance may crown me
Without my stir
This means that insanity cannot be blamed for the act of regicide as Macbeth looks at the all of the facts and decides rather than ignoring the negative aspect altogether. After battling with his conscience, he decides to withdraw from the evil deed. When Lady Macbeth hears that Macbeth no longer wants to participate in the murder of the king, she makes a speech that is to decide the future of Macbeth and finally push him to the evil side:
I have given suck and know how
Tender tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed his brains out, had I had so sworn
As you have done to this
During this speech, she makes Macbeth realise that he has thought about performing the deed and planned it so much that they cannot turn back. She makes Macbeth feel guilty that a hardened soldier who unseamed soldiers from the nave to th chaps becoming lenient. She even hints that Macbeth is showing signs of cowardice. It is that speech that spurs on Macbeth to do the evil deed and therefore makes Lady Macbeth take a significant proportion of the blame. She seems to seek out what she would regard as Macbeths strong points, and draw upon them.
Duncan seems to have unwittingly aided Macbeths decision when he made his speech about his eldest son, Malcolm:
We will establish our estate upon
Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter
The Prince of Cumberland
This speech seems to make Macbeth realise that it may be a long time before he will become king if left to natural means and divine right. This is because Malcolm has now been named as heir to the throne. Macbeth seems overcome with jealousy and he must take action or nothing will happen. He notifies the audience during a soliloquy:
The Prince of Cumberland: that is a step
On which I must fall down, or else oerleap,
For in my way it lies
The audience is provided with proof that Macbeth hopes that good people do not see the evil that he holds within him, the evil that the weird sisters suggested when they said lesser than Macbeth, but greater. This is another example of equivocation in the play. The audience is told this when Macbeth says:
Stars hide your fires,
Let not light se my black and deep desires
We hear the word desire mentioned again as it is the only feasible reason for killing Duncan. From the speech above we know that Duncan has triggered Macbeth to think about performing the act of regicide.
Also during this scene we come across an example of dramatic irony. Duncan talks of the treachery of the ex-Thane of Cawdor:
Theres no art
To find the minds construction in the face
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust
Yet, while he says these words, the new Thane of Cawdor is thinking the same thoughts of betraying the king, and again Macbeth is a man whom the king trusts and, whom the king would deem unlikely to perform such a deed.
Evil spirits, the audience are lead too believe, play a large part in the decision of Macbeth. The first scene of the play suggests that the supernatural is a major presence and the weird sisters; when they meet Macbeth, certainly change Macbeth. Before the meeting, Macbeth would have slain anyone who dared to plot against the king whereas after the meeting he himself does just that. The audience also gain the impression that Lady Macbeth is under the influence of evil spirits and is not in control of her body:
Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
She then proves that she wants to sacrifice her body to evil as she offers her womans breasts to evil spirits and wants her milk for gall to give her the evil necessary to do the deed. This suggests to the audience that she wants to be poisoned with evil spirits.
Towards the middle of the play, the evil spirits seem to have been transferred into the psyche of Macbeth and corrupted him as he proves that he is evil by demanding the death of Banquo, and later of MacDuffs family. As this happens Lady Macbeth struggles with her conscience as she proves when she sleepwalks saying out damned spot. It is suggested that Lady Macbeth even went to the extreme of killing herself to rid her conscience of the deed, which she participated in. Without the evil spirits, she seems to be a very much-changed person. Macbeth on the contrary remains strong and carries out many atrocities without so much as a second thought until much later in the play when he come to the end of his tyrannous reign. We can prove that some evil was, to an extent involved; from the way that the evil sisters talk of killing a man in scene three of act one; Ill drain him dry as rain.
After the death of Duncan, Lennox mentions the portentous sights and sounds of the night. He refers to
lamenting heard i th air
Lennox also mentions during his speech that there were, during the night
strange screams of death
the earth was feverous and did shake
It seems that evil spirits, form this set of quotes, have complete control over everything on the planet, even the weather which, apparently, no one can control.
Macbeth mirrors the fair is foul and foul is fair confusion with nothing is but what is not in scene three. The audience then gains the sense that evil spirits have changed everything, monarchs, the weather and, of course, the hero. Macbeth has changed radically from the swashbuckling hero that we were told about at the commencement of the play and it may indeed be due to evil spirits that this change has occurred.
In the view of the audience, the majority of the characters only influenced Macbeth and did not force him to do the deed. The audience knows that Macbeth was the one who thought of the idea of taking measures to ensure that he would be the next king when Macbeth said:
Why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair,
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs
Against the use of nature?
It was Macbeth who sent the letter to Lady Macbeth telling her of the weird sisters predictions. He should have kept the predictions to himself as mad notions in old crones minds. Lady Macbeth certainly made a series of convincing speeches after the arrival of Macbeth, when she saw the letter. These speeches made him feel so small about not performing the deed and so influenced him a great deal. Macbeth was ultimately the person who performed the deed and no matter how much anyone influenced him, he should have been strong and gone with his conscience. Again the audience begins to see why the weird sisters said lesser than Macbeth, and greater as it is unlikely that Banquo would have performed this deed, however we also thought that of Macbeth before he met the weird sisters.
An audience in Shakespeares time would have accepted the weird sisters as perfectly acceptable. We know this because many public executions of witches took place to explain any unexplained happenings that mystified them. Jacobeans blamed witches for a variety of misfortunes and so if they thought this then there is no reason as to why the witches in Macbeth cannot control the weather and indeed Macbeth himself. To Jacobeans the supernatural powers were no different than what we would call miracles and bestow the gratitude on God as the Jacobeans did with witches, only they blamed them for unpleasant events.
The evil spirits could be blamed for the act of regicide as they twisted his mind to that of a callous slayer. There is not much textual evidence to support this claim. One of the few examples occurs in act four, scene one when the witches say:
Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him
This lulls Macbeth into a false sense of security along with the speech:
for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.
There is no evidence that evil spirits influence Macbeth anyone as the witches only predict the future. If the evil spirits did control Macbeths mind then they could have just played on his ambition or Macbeth could just be too ambitious himself and evil spirits have no influence.
Ultimately it was Macbeth who killed Duncan. Macbeth must have known what he was doing as he repeatedly plunged those heavy daggers into the sleeping body of Duncan. The mental torment to a man who was not to blame for the act of regicide would have begun as he walked into the room and saw the peaceful Duncan deep in slumber would have made him turn away and not kill Duncan. Macbeth knew what he was doing. No person could have influence him, not even a woman, but evil spirits, certainly if it is taken into account of the audience that Shakespeare was writing for, could easily explain the change from patriot to malevolence. Although the witches did not tell Macbeth directly to kill Duncan, they may have found other devious methods.