Macbeth Sympathy

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How does Shakespeare retain a degree of sympathy for Macbeth, through to the end of the play? Shakespeare manages to retain a degree of sympathy for evil Macbeth, throughout the full play, no matter how small it might be. Initially, Shakespeare introduces us to the positive character of “brave Macbeth”. He is a hero to the people because he is a “noble” soldier.

King Duncan holds Macbeth in high regard and refers to his cousin as a “worthy gentleman”. His positive attributes are stressed from the beginning of the play, while he fends off Scotland’s enemies.His basic kindness is also stressed. Lady Macbeth describes her husband as being “full of the milk of human kindness”, and fears that Macbeth may not be ruthless enough to kill the king. We immediately like Macbeth because of his loyalty and bravery.

An assessment of Macbeth’s culpability must take account of the influence exercised on him by “The three weird sisters”. The witches know that Macbeth’s moral flaw is “vaulting ambition” and use this information to the best of their ability. The witches’ prophesise that Macbeth “Shalt be King hereafter”.They don’t have direct power over him but they achieve their aim by drawing out Macbeth’s deep rooted flaw; ambition. Macbeth plots to murder Duncan because of the trait he possesses.

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The fact that Macbeth has been deluded by these forces of darkness allows us to maintain sympathy for him. On the other hand, some might argue that if he wasn’t fundamentally evil that he wouldn’t have such a dangerous flaw. Macbeth is a reluctant murderer furthermore reserving our sympathies. Macbeth is dealing with a troubled conscience and no longer wants to proceed with the Duncan’s murder.He realises that as a noble kinsman, it would be disgraceful for him to commit treason. It takes Lady Macbeth’s powers of persuasion to get him to follow through with the plan. She insults his manhood and bravery “Art thou afeared? ” Macbeth succumbs to his poisonous wife and carries out the Kings’ murder. It is very significant that Shakespeare doesn’t let the audience see Macbeth actually killing Duncan. Perhaps he assumed that if the audience seen the bloody act, they would immediately lose any sympathy for Macbeth hence destroying the tragic hero’s reputation.Instead we witness Macbeth’s regret and conscience. The focus is not on the horror of the deed committed “sacrilegious crime” but on Macbeth’s inner turmoil instead. Macbeth is horrified at what he has done and amazingly Shakespeare manages to evoke sympathy for the protagonist from the murder. Macbeth is in a trance-like state and he tries to forget what has happened, however he realises that “will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand”. Macbeth watches on as his wife takes care of all the practical details, allowing him to dwell on the qualms of his conscience.Macbeth’s troubled conscience suggests that despite his ‘ambitious’ act he still retains a degree of humanity. We feel some sympathy for Macbeth in his painful awareness of the high price he will pay for achieving his ambition by evil means. No sooner has he killed Duncan that he realises that he will never sleep peacefully, having murdered “the innocent sleep” of a good king. He even admits to envying Duncan’s peaceful sleep of death “Duncan is in his grave; after life’s fitful fever he sleeps well… nothing can touch him further”.As the play progresses, Macbeth’s moral decline continues as he murders with greater ease. He no longer relies on his wife and doesn’t care to spend time with her anymore. “Say to the King I would attend his leisure for a few words”. Sympathy is conveyed by the loss of what once was a strong, solid relationship. I believe that if their relationship was as durable as its foundations, that this couple couldn’t be defeated by any means. Macbeth’s reliance on darkness and evil rather than goodness and love shows that he is deeply troubled by what he has done.His guilty conscience is again portrayed in the banquet scene. Macbeth has a vision of Banquo’s ghost, once his best friend that he ordered the murder of. Macbeth reaches his moral nadir with the slaughter of the entire Macduff family. This is a turning point in the play where some of the audience would lose all sympathy for this villain. The thought of murdering women and children to keep a sense of self security is utterly unscrupulous. Despite the disgraceful circumstances for murder, I believe Shakespeare retains Macbeth’s humanity because he doesn’t commit the murders himself.He orders murderer’s from a prison to kill his innocent victims. Scotland is now being ruled by a ruthless tyrant. The people live in fear of their King and the land is barren. Macbeth has killed all sense of happiness and joy because of the way he succeeded the crown. He wishes that the doctor who attends his wife could cure Scotland and bring it back too good health“If thou could’st, Doctor, sound the sickness of my land, find her disease and purge it to a sound and pristine health” Macbeth knows that he has destroyed the land he once protected so bravely and wishes that he could be a better king like Duncan was.Macbeth’s awareness that he could never fill Duncan’s “robes” again evokes sympathy for him. He is filled with melancholy. “…a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. ” As the play draws to a close, Macbeth is unmoved by the news of his wife’s death. He is disillusioned and world weary, his faith relies solely upon the forces of evil and the witches’ secondary prophecies. Macbeth learns that the prophecies are slowly becoming true “The wood began to move”. Macbeth clings to the hope of the final prophecy that no man born of woman could harm him and his power. Such a one am I to fear, or none” The tyrants bravery shines through up until his death. Macbeth refuses to admit defeat, he is defiant but trapped. The protagonist dismisses the option of suicide; neither will he consider surrendering since this would involve acknowledging Malcom as King. Macbeth admits to feeling guilty about the slaughter of Macduff’s family, a reminder that despite all his evil deeds, he is still not entirely without humanity? Macduff’s dramatic revelation about the circumstances of his birth shows the witches’ prophecies to be double meaning and empty.Macbeth loses all faith once he learns of this; however we admire his bravery for battling to the end. The confrontation between Macbeth and Macduff symbolises the struggle between good and evil. In conclusion sympathy can be evoked for Macbeth throughout the play predominantly because of his guilty conscience. By ignoring the moral truths of his imagination, by denying his conscience, Macbeth discards his better “noble” self. With each murder, Macbeth’s chaotic imaginings, his hallucinations and revulsion give way to intensify hugely before his cruel moral nadir.The point could be argued that because Macbeth had a conscience it made him even more malicious. If Macbeth realised he was shedding so much blood and tears, why didn’t he correct it like he would have done at the beginning? Macbeth was so immersed in his inner conscience that he couldn’t see the hurt that he caused to his people. Perhaps this selfish tyrant doesn’t deserve any sympathy from the audience despite Shakespeare’s best efforts evoke it. However I believe that where all sympathy should be lost, I believe a lot is gained.Macbeth who was once such a noble and brave soldier became a murderous tyrant because he wanted to succeed in life and follow his ambition. Humanity strides towards bigger goals, people need to be motivated on a daily basis. Perhaps in Elizabethan times murder was deemed necessary for a sense of fulfilment? For Macbeth his desire for ambition was a risk that needed taking, unfortunately he lost all his morals, the one he loved, respect and his purity in the process. Macbeth teaches us that what we desire is not always our best option.

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Macbeth Sympathy. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Macbeth Sympathy
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