##Instability in Macbeth

Macbeth, by the playwright William Shakespeare, is a play which follows a Scottish nobleman, Macbeth, and his bloody attempts to gain control of the throne of Scotland. The plot includes entwining, complex motives for all characters, and influencing factors, making the cause of the murders ensuing Macbeth's decision to take the throne difficult to define. There is no doubt that there is instability in the play, though, which stalks the actions of Macbeth and his power-hungry wife; but what are the root causes of these instabilities?

There are several ways the concept of stability could be approached with regards to Macbeth. One of these is to look at the relationship between God, the King and the land and the natural order which prevails when this relationship is undisturbed. At the start of the play, whilst Macbeth is fighting honourably in battle, the weather is described: "the sun 'gins his reflection". The sky is clear. The idea created by this image is of the sun rising and reflecting on the ground below. The use of the word "reflecting" provides the impression that the sun's rays are strong and that the land, or the sea, is glimmering. This idea of the land makes it clear that all is well in the relationship between the land and the King as the land is depicted as being healthy. Contrastingly, at the very start of the play when The Witches are plotting to fool with Macbeth, a simple stage direction is given: "Thunder and lightning." This instantly creates an image in the reader's (or viewer's) head of dark and mysterious goings-on. It allows the reader to understand that what The Witches plan to do is disrupt the currently stable relationship between the King and the land.

Defining the cause of this is harder. The Witches' actions are not fully explained in the play - nor their motives. These can, however, be deduced from several quotes in Act 3 Scene 5, Line 2. Hecate - the Greek goddess of witchcraft and sorcery - enters to find The Witches working against Macbeth without her knowledge. She describes their actions as "overbold" and herself as their "mistress". The word "overbold" would imply that each of the witches has a place in a structure of power and that, in this case, The Witches have overstepped their place. Additionally, the word "mistress" instantly conjures the image of a dog and its master (mistress) and the relationship they have. It portrays The Witches as being the minions of Hecate, and that their actions are beyond what they should do. It is possible that this is another example of instability in the natural order; The Witches are attempting to become more powerful by proving their worth in meddling with Macbeth. It is this struggle for power by The Witches which causes the further instability in Macbeth and then the throne.

The second of the three promises The Witches make to Macbeth in the form of apparitions is that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth". This deceptively simple statement is taken by Macbeth to mean that he has been given the promise of everlasting life. The quote "swords I smile at" from Act 5 Scene 7 clarifies that Macbeth does not believe he can be hurt. Because of this, his confidence grows to the point that murder is something he is willing to do to achieve what he wants - to achieve what he has been given the right to by The Witches: the throne. Macbeth is not limited by the possible repercussions of his actions, so he acts as any person would if totally stripped of their reasoning. This causes his downfall. Macbeth does not realise that Macduff was "from his mother's womb untimely ripped". His mother died in the process of birthing him so the statement The Witches said to Macbeth still stands. The use of the word "ripped" in this quote is effective in conveying the tone of fury and rage at Macbeth killing his family in Macduff's voice. It is clear that he does not approve of Macbeth's falsely-based hubris, or that he has threatened the stability of the natural order, or that he has slaughtered his family.

A second important cause of l instability arising in the play is channelled through Lady Macbeth. She is sparked into action by The Witches' prophecy to persuade her husband to work with her to murder their way to the throne. She is arguably the most ambitious character in the play and, therefore, the one which does the most damage to the natural order of King and land. In Act 1 Scene 7, she refers to "th' cat in th' adage", saying she and her husband should not act like it. This is an allusion to a proverb in which a cat does not wish to strike out to catch a fish in fear of wetting its paws. As a metaphor, this could mean that Lady Macbeth is a cat (a female cat being known as a 'Queen') and that she is willing to wet her hands to achieve what she wants. The idea of wet paws could be compared to the well-known expression "blood on her hands". Hence, this means that Lady Macbeth will willingly murder to gain the power she wants.

When persuading Macbeth that murder is the best way to proceed, Lady Macbeth provides two quotations: she will "pour [her] spirits in [Macbeth's] ear" and "chastise with the valour of [her] tongue" to ensure her plan results as expected. The image created by the phrase "pour my spirits" is an effective one. It portrays the spirits or bad-wills of Lady Macbeth as being of a fluid, thick form. This allows the reader to see that what she plans to do is not a hollow threat; it has substance to it. It also provides the idea that her spirits will, in Macbeth's head, infect his reasoning and cause him to act as she wishes. In the second quote, the use of the word "chastise", meaning to punish, conveys that Lady Macbeth is not just motivated; she is willing to cruelly treat anyone who stands in her way. Together, these quotes allow the reader to understand the extremes to which Lady Macbeth will go to fulfil her desires; and as these desires involve forcefully obtaining the throne of Scotland, upsetting the natural order as well.

Each of these roots causes of Macbeth's actions leads him to lose his sense of self and the honour he once held at the start of the play. He falls to the depths of ordering the murders of Macduff's innocent family in his delusional state and threatens the entire country's leadership by upsetting the natural order and stability between God, the King and the land. However, Macbeth is conceivably not the primary cause of this instability in the play. The Witches plant the idea of ruling the Kingdom in Macbeth's head which does not attract him at first. He needs the additional influence of his wife who infects his mind with her blood-lust and hunger for power. It is these things which cause his final downfall and the major conflict in the play.


Reading time: 06:04 Written by Graham Macphee