Macbeth is the most perfect and the most complex hero of Shakespeare. In him we find the most pathetic example of a great man of power, nobility, strength and courage ruined through the existence of trifling inherent weakness brought into contact with the special hostile circumstances calculated to defeat him. With a still pen and heavy heart Shakespeare seems to be proving through the character of Macbeth that it is possible that such a noble person as Macbeth may “end as a traitor, as a murderer as a base habitual deceiver, as a monster of unhesitating cruelty, as a despairing disbeliever in all goodness, as the veritable fiend of Scotland whom with righteous reason all men hate.”
Macbeth is a man of indefatigable courage and formidable valour. He is brave beyond brave man’s standard and courageous beyond the ordinary bounds of courage. He is the unyielding hero of ferocious bloody wars and adventures. His sword spits fire in the battle-field.
A very important feature of Macbeth’s character is his inordinate ambition. He is by temper too ambitious and his ambition gradually develops into a passion. In fact, soaring ambition is his “tragic trait” which ultimately brings about his doom. He had the ambition to wear the crown of Scotland. In prophesying that Macbeth would be the king of Scotland, the Weird Sisters rightly touched the weakest point of Macbeth’s heart. However, the course of action suggested to him by his ambition is extremely perilous and hazardous.
Yet in spite of this vaulting ambition Macbeth is weak of will. He lacks determination at least in the early part of the drama. He aspires for the crown of Scotland but wavers in determination. The very thought of murder unnerves him and unfixes his hair and makes his seated heart knock against his ribs. He decides to knock out Duncan in order to ascend his throne but just in the next scene he comes out with the decision:
“We will proceed no further in this business:”
A hint towards this weakness in her Lord is clearly given by Lady Macbeth in her soliloquy. This is why she wants to meet him as early as possible. It is owing to this weakness that Macbeth falls an easy prey to the prophecies of the witches and to the criminal incitement of his wife. He has no power to oppose the sinful temptation rising in his heart in spite of all his conscience and sense of moral gratitude.
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Yet another weakness in Macbeth is that he is superstitious. He accepts the prophecies of the witches as truths. He is a bit skeptical about them but when two of their prophecies are fulfilled on the spot, he begins to have faith in them. Therefore a second time he himself goes to the deserted heath to meet the witches and solicit their advice every syllable.
Macbeth suffers all the tortures and agonies within his mind and heart on account of his superstitious nature. He trembles awfully at the sight of the ghost of Banquo.
The most redeeming feature of Macbeth’s character is his glowing imagination and lively conscience. Although he murders the king, slaughters Macduff’s wife and children; butchers Banquo and revels in bloodshed, yet the forces of moral and spiritual life do not wholly die in him.
He suffers terribly after the murder of Duncan. He strives from crime to crime though his soul never ceases to bar his advance with shapes of terror or to clamor in his cars that he is murdering his peace and casting away his “eternal jewel”. So when the murder is done. Macbeth goes mad with horror. He hears fearful cries in the air.” He sincerely wishes to die.
His mind is full of scorpions and in his heart burn the blazes of hell. His miserable life falls over his head like a dead weight which he cannot bear.
After the murder of Duncan there is a steady decline and degeneration in Macbeth in spite of all the foreboding forces of conscience. The “will to live becomes so mighty in him that he passes from murder to murder and crime to crime. There is no hesitation now, no remorse; “he has nearly learned his lesson.” “The vessel of his peace is poisoned and the poison corrodes his whole being.” “He is henceforward separated from the whole of the world, except his comrade in the murder. He is isolated also from his earlier self: he is an outlaw to himself.” He degenerates into a vile tyrant who would daily have his thirst quenched with blood.
Macbeth is not such a thorough-going villain as lago is. To the very end of his life the forces of moral and spiritual life are not wholly dead in him, though they are vanquished. His unconquerable resolution compels some sympathy. Our chief thought is how grand he might have been how beneficent his whole career, if he had but made the right decision when his time of trial came. His end solemnly reminds us of the truth of the saying that “the corruption of the best is of all things worst.”