In every good piece of literature there is a moral. This embedded message, sometimes referred to as the ‘writer’s intention’, is a way for writers to influence peoples lives through their work. In Shakespearean times people relied on religion to explain the things we can now explain with science, so it would be preposterous to suggest that Shakespeare had no religious theme’s hidden in his plays, in fact, I propose that in his play ‘Macbeth’ it was Shakespeare’s intention to promote religious theory. The particular theory that is expressed is ‘that bad things come to those who give into temptation and have dire ambition’. By this I mean that both giving in to temptation, and dire ambition are sins, and god will punish you for doing or having them. It is not to far-fetched to say that this was Shakespeare’s intention, because any meaning he wanted to get across to the audience would have been exaggerated in their minds if it was linked with something they cared deeply about, like god. Shakespeare could have even intently incorporated religious themes intending to connect with the audience and to get his message through. This is shown through the events in the play, but also through his use of a variety of language and theta technique’s to show his idea, such as rhyme, dramatic irony, pathetic fallacy, the meter of speech and metaphor.
“When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”. The first line of William Shakespeare ‘Macbeth’ is written in rhyme. This captures attention and sparks interest. In the ordinary world it is the things that are different, the things out of the ordinary that scare us the most. If its vampires with their pointed teeth and pale skin, ghosts who pass through walls, or werewolves who possess the power to shape shift, the monsters made up throughout history have always been different in some way from an ordinary person. In ‘Macbeth’, Shakespeare used this human suspicion of the different to his advantage. In the first scene of ‘Macbeth’ we meet the witches. Keeping in mind that this is the 16th century and people would have believed in witches, the apparition of such creature’s on stage would have shocked and frightened many people, for witches are a symbol of evil. Indeed in the play the witches are shown as a representation of evil, and the audience knows this through how the other characters describe these fends. In act one scene 3 Macbeth says “you should be woman and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.”. This leads us to believe that Shakespeare intended to make the witches look abnormal in order to frighten his audience, but, how they looked was not the only way Shakespeare showed the evil of the witches. From the moment the audience hears the witches speak a sense of foreboding is evoked in them, for the witches speak in rhyme. As we know people don’t normally speak this way, so we are instantly apprehensive of the witches who insist on rhyming every line they speak. An example of this is “Hang upon his penthouse lid. He shall live a man forbid. Weary sev’nnights nine times nine Shall he dwindle, peak and pine.”. By changing the meter of the witches speech Shakespeare is trying to convey that the witches are bad news. He wants to do this because it supports his idea that ‘giving in to temptation and dire ambition can only result in punishment (from god)’, he needs the witches to be as hated and feared as possible in order to discourage people from the evil they represent. The evil of sin.
Hecate is a character introduced latter in the play. It appears from the text that Hecate is the leader of the witches and that they (Hecate) are more evil than the other witches. Shakespeare shows this using different methods. One of the methods is the meter. The meter of speech can, as explained above, change how the audience feels about the character. In the case of Hecate the dialogue is rhymed, but in a different way from that of the witches. We can see this when Hecate says “how did you dare To trade and traffic with Macbeth In riddles and affairs of death, And I, the mistress of your charms, The close contriver of all harms, Was never called to bear my part, Or show the glory of our art?”. This sentence is said in a rhyme that is both more elaborate and more sophisticated than that of the witches. This change in speech patterns implies that Hecate is at a different level of evil than the witches, more evil, therefore their leader. This links in with Shakespeare’s intention of trying to warn people to stay away from beasts of evil that tempt mortal thoughts, because by making Hecate different he makes them (Hecate) more frightening. The other method Shakespeare used to show the evil of Hecate is the labels he used for them. In Shakespearean times it would have been seen as unnatural, even unholy, not to have a gender, and so Shakespeare made Hecate gender nonspecific. We can see this through what they (Hecate) call them self and what the witches call them. In act 3 scene 5 Hecate says “And I, the mistress of your charms,” which means that Hecate is female for mistress is a woman’s label, but, in act 4 scene 1 the witches say “Say, if th’ hadst rather hear it from our mouths, or from our masters.” when referring to Hecate, which would confuse the audience greatly because master is a male label. This inability to determine the gender of Hecate would have made the audience very uneasy, which was Shakespeare intention. Now the audience is even more apprehensive of Hecate and know they are bad. Shakespeare was very clever to use meter and labels to make the witches and Hecate more frightening to his audience. He made sure everyone who went to his play went away having learnt never to trust evil creature’s, because not only the witches actions, but the way they speak and the labels attached to them inspire fear in even the bravest of people.
In Shakespearean times people thought of mental illness and insanity as something that was inflicted by spirits of evil. So, when someone lost their mind they would have put it down to supernatural causes. In William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ the character Macbeth gives in to temptation. The witches, agents of evil, offer him a prophecy that says he will be king, and, instead of ignoring the words of women that are so obviously evil, he chooses to kill the current king in order to get what he wants. power and glory. This is dire ambition, meaning that he would do anything, even kill god’s appointed ruler and his cousin the king of Scotland, in order to achieve his goals. It is well-known that it is sinful to kill anyone, let alone the king, so this act would have been thought to be very aggravating to god. Shakespeare wanted to show that god would punish those who disobeyed his rules, so he made many bad things happen to Macbeth in punishment of his crimes. The first of these consequences that we see, is Macbeth starting to lose his mind. In act 2 scene 1 Macbeth sees a floating dagger and says “Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.”. We do not know if the dagger is there or not, but we do know Macbeth is starting to unravel, for he treats the floating dagger like a person. When he says “Come, let me clutch thee.” to the dagger it seems like he is referring to it in a way that would make it seem human. The language effect used here is called ‘pathetic fallacy’ which is when human feelings and attributes are used when referring to an inanimate object. A dagger is not human, nor is it alive, so saying something like ‘let me clutch thee’ is not accurate, for a dagger can not knowingly let someone clutch it. The dagger could also be a vision conjured by the witches, or other evil powers with the intention of enticing Macbeth to do something evil. The line “Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going” which was said by Macbeth when he saw the dagger, makes us think that it is the dagger that is telling Macbeth to kill Duncan. This confirms the theory that the vision was sent by agents of evil to further tempt Macbeth. Another language feature that is used to show the influence of God Macbeth is dramatic irony. In act 3 scene 1 Macbeth orders a group of murderers to kill his good friend Banquo. Latter in the play, when Macbeth learns that his long time friend is dead, Banquo’s ghost appears at his banquet table. Macbeth exclaims when he sees the ghost and says “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake Thy gory locks at me.” . This statement tells us that Macbeth is trying to suppress his guilt for the murder he commissioned upon his friend. It is viable to think that this vision is a message sent by god to invoke remorse and pain in Macbeth for his crimes. Macbeth says “Thou hast no speculation in those eyes Which thou dost glare” . Thanks to this quote we know Macbeth is feeling guilty when he describes the way Banquo’s ghosts eyes look at him as ‘speculating’. The fact that only Macbeth can see the ghost means that Shakespeare used dramatic irony, which is when the audience knows something that some of the characters don’t. Many people would be moved by this use of apparitions to show how the effect of higher powers on Macbeth, for most people believed in a such things in those days, so the message that Shakespeare was sending would have, and still does, sink deep in the memory, never to be forgotten.
In the first half of the play ‘Macbeth’ by Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth (Macbeth’s wife) is a prominent character. Shakespeare used Lady Macbeth to show his meaning as well as Macbeth, for Lady Macbeth is also ambitious and has done evil things to achieve her goals. In act 1 scene 5 Lady Macbeth openly invites evil spirits to corrupt her body and help her carry out murder when she speaks the metaphor “Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty.” . Lady Macbeth’s actions also have negative side effects. In act 5 scene 1 we see Lady Macbeth washing her hand in a sleep-like trance and saying things like “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky!”. In this metaphor the spot is blood. The blood of Duncan most likely, and the fact that it wont come out means that lady Macbeth is feeling guilty. We also learn that Lady Macbeth does this every night and that her sleep is very troubled. These waking dreams could be a form of punishment inflicted by god just like the vision of Banquo’s ghost were for Macbeth. Shakespeare used the metaphor of a spot for blood to show the remorse lady Macbeth was being made to feel through the dreams. This would in-grain the message of ‘God will punish those who go against his teachings’ even further into the hearts, and minds of the audience. Sadly, in Shakespearean times, women were seen to be less significant than men. As uncomfortable as this concept is to accept we must take it into consideration when studying the play. Lady Macbeth was an unusually strong and independent for a woman of the time, but her luck had to run out at some point for the mostly male audience of would not accept a successful, or meaningful part for a woman. This means that when Lady Macbeth died in act 5 scene 5 it was most likely because of Macbeth instead of on her own accord. We know this because Lady Macbeth was not given a dramatic death scene with last words or anything, but died off stage via suicide. The tragedy of Lady Macbeth death, however, was witnessed in the obvious pain felt by Macbeth when he finds out. To show his complete and utter despair, Shakespeare changed the meter. In all of Shakespeare’s plays and throughout the play ‘Macbeth’, the characters (with the exception of the witches) speak in iambic pentameter, (a pattern of speech were the five syllables of a phrase are said with strong, soft, strong, soft pattern). In ‘Macbeth’ all the characters lines end in a strong syllable, but when Macbeth finds out about his wife’s death this changes. We can see this when Macbeth says “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” . The parts of the phrase that are in bold are the syllables said strongly and the others are said soft. The last word of the line, death, is said with a weak foot, which is when the sentence ends with a soft syllable instead of a strong one. The fact that Macbeth talked with iambic pentameter for the whole play but is now talking with a weak foot, hints at his feelings. He is feeling so hopeless and sad that even his speech is failing to maintain structure. It would take something truly heart breaking to do this to Macbeth who has done everything in his power to keep his despair at bay, thus showing us the terrible consequences Lady Macbeth’s death had on him. We can also hear his sorrow in the words Shakespeare chose for him to say. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more.”. Macbeth’s whole monologue is dripping with hopelessness and this is just one example of the metaphor’s used to show this. Every line is Macbeth reinstating that life is pointless. This is a very significant thing for Macbeth to say. He has kept faith all the way, justifying his action holding on to hope, but now he has finally given up. The death of his wife was the last blow. Macbeth has nothing to live for any more. This melancholy proves that, in order to punish Macbeth, god killed his wife, or made her crazy so she would kill herself, as to discipline Macbeth. This can be understood by everyone who has lost someone close to them. it is one of the worst things people can go through. Shakespeare has used the death of a loved one to punish misbehaving characters and send a message before. In Romeo and Juliet it can be interpreted that Shakespeare intended the death of Romeo and Juliet to be a punishment for the greedy and grudge holding Montagues and Capulets; it could even have been a deity that caused this to happen, so the concept is not new for Shakespeare. Sometimes the loss of a loved one can be worse than death, especially when you feel like you could have done something to change that persons fate, which Macbeth surly could have had he not had dire ambition.
In Shakespeare’s time many people believed in the after life. If you were good and faithful to god, you went to heaven, if you were not, you went to hell. The concept of going to hell, living in eternal torment and disappear, is the worst nightmare of any christian, and to realise that this will be your fate is a horrible experience at best. In the paragraph above I talked about how Macbeth felt despair. Despair in a religious sense is the loss of faith in god. In Macbeth’s case he would have not stopped believing in god all together, Shakespeare’s audience would not have liked that, no, what Macbeth was suffering from was a loose in his faith of going to heaven. You would think that Macbeth would have forfeited his futile hope of heaven as soon as he even contemplated killing Duncan, but he did not. There is evidence that suggests that Macbeth clung to the hope of heaven for quite a while after he descended into a life of evil. In act 1 scene 5 Macbeth says “Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires” when he is contemplating his criminal plan. In this metaphor the stars represent god and to say he wants the lights to go out is to say he wants god not to see the bad things he is thinking and doing. This imply’s that Macbeth thinks that if he can stop god from seeing his dreadful deeds, he will still go to heaven. as the play progresses we see Macbeth starting to feel more and more uncertain of his place in heaven. When he says “List’ning their fear I could not say “Amen,” When they did say “God bless us!”” in act 2 scene 2 it gives us an in site into what the character is thinking. To be unable to participate in religious ceremony is to say that Macbeth is feeling guilty about defining god, and so, subconsciously avoids anything to do with him as not to confront theses hard feeling, and to keep living with the hope of going to heaven. Macbeth manages to keep up this charade until the very end when the tragedy of his wife’s death is revealed to him, and he no longer has a reason to live. His castle will most definitely be taken by his enemy’s at this point and he knows it, so he will not be king for much longer. also he has no children to motivate him ether, so he finally gives in to the pressure mounted upon him, and relinquish’s his hope. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” he says in act 5 scene 5 after his wife is killed, and it is through Shakespeare brilliant use of metaphors that the extent of Macbeth’s hopelessness becomes evident to the audience. Shakespeare uses words like ‘shadow’, ‘poor’ and ‘nothing’ which are all colored with the gray’s and blacks of despair to ensure the meaning is known instantly by anyone who reads or hears Macbeths final confession of grief. Macbeth knew he is going to hell. He knew that he would spend the afterlife paying for the mistakes he made. The mistakes he made thanks to his dire ambition and his willingness to be tempted by evil. Then he dies at the hands of a man whose wife and children he killed. The message is clear. Don’t go against gods teachings or you will end up like Macbeth. A sorrowful man with no hire, and a dead wife who is going to hell. A mock king who never really had the respect or admiration of his people because he was not the man appointed by god.
For thousands of years religion has been a key factor in motivating people to do good. A set of morals that one must live by, with a god who rewards and punishes his disciples according to how well they follows the rules, is a very useful tool in encouraging people against the more venomous side of human nature. In the play Macbeth Shakespeare wanted to say that it is bad to have dire ambition and to be tempter by bad things, and used religion as a tool to make this message really sink in to his audience. To do this he put to use all kinds of language and theta techniques such as rhyme, pathetic fallacy, dramatic irony, the meter of speech and many, many, metaphors. With the help of these he succeeded in writing a play that is capable of convincing anyone and everyone that dire ambition is a bad idea, through the scary way the witches talk, and the dreadful things that happen to both Macbeth and lady Macbeth. He makes his audience believe that god will never cease to punish those who strive to achieve that which they are not meant for, and uses religion to help him connect with the audience on a deeper level, and therefore make the message stick. It is my sincere belief that ‘Macbeth’ is a true masterpiece of literature and will forever be remembered for its profundity and wisdom, and for the universal lesson it teaches us: that dire ambition and temptation will only result is pain and suffering.