Macbeth Main Characters Analysis

Antonia Blankenberg
Note by , created almost 2 years ago

Learn about the main characters in Macbeth with this helpful study note. This note details the main traits of the protagonists and charts how their behaviours change as the action unfolds.

Antonia Blankenberg
Created by Antonia Blankenberg almost 2 years ago
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Page 1


Macbeth is the main character and namesake of the play.    Macbeth acts as a warrior throughout the play, despite being disloyal to the crown. Even when he knows that he is going to be defeated in the final few scenes of the play, he still stands up to face Macduff and dies a warrior's death.   We see that Macbeth is heavily affected by guilt in the first half of the play, but this soon fades towards the final scenes.    Macbeth is a character who is heavily controlled by his wife, Lady Macbeth, throughout the beginning of the play. This changes as Macbeth becomes more powerful.        Macbeth is introduced as a valiant war hero at the beginning of the play. His gruesome victories on the battlefield win him great honour with King Duncan. This introduction warns the audience of his violent nature, which appears throughout the second half of the play.    His acts of violence in battle at the beginning of the play are praised by the king, lines such as "Valour's minion" and "Bellona's bridegroom" emphasise Macbeth's heroism. These murders are particularly graphic; ""unseam'd him from the nave to the chops, / And fix'd his head upon our battlements". The murders further on in the play are much less graphic, but are treated as tyranny and evil; "Not in the legions / Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned / In evils to top Macbeth".   Though his first murder (King Duncan) is a moral struggle, he has no problem committing murders throughout the rest of the play. This trait is particularly notable in the final scenes, where he murders Young Siward, a child, with his own hands and without second notice.        It is clear that Macbeth is ambitious from the start of the play, he fights for the king and already has the title of Thane of Glamis when he is introduced in Act 1. However, it is also clear that he doesn't do much to act on his ambition, as shown by his reluctance to kill Duncan.   It is the witches who heighten Macbeth's sense of ambition in their prophecies, he is filled with confidence when the first of the prophecies comes true, and this pushes him to murder Duncan.   Though he is ambitious, Macbeth is also filled with self-doubt in the first half of the play. Once he kills Duncan, he doubts himself and is filled with guilt. Throughout the second half of the play, he is much more assured and confident. The only time we see his self-doubt is when he briefly considers killing himself instead of dying in battle.

Page 2

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is Macbeth's wife and closest relationship. She is one of the most famous female characters in literature and is extremely untypical of her time.   Unlike her husband, she lacks all humanity, as we see well in her opening scene, where she calls upon the "Spirits that tend on mortal thoughts" to deprive her of her feminine instinct to care. She is known to break gender roles and favours success over being a woman. This is shown by the lines;                               " Does unmake you. 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 the brains out, had I so sworn as you                               Have done to this."  - Lady Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 7).   Lady Macbeth is extremely ambitious, even more than her husband, and she is willing to do anything to succeed. Lady Macbeth persistently taunts her husband for his lack of courage, even though we know of his bloody deeds on the battlefield. But in public, she is able to act as the consummate hostess, enticing her victim, the king, into her castle. She faints when the news of Duncan's death is revealed to take attention from Macbeth.   Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband with remarkable effectiveness, overriding all of his worries and objections. Lady Macbeth’s remarkable strength of will persists through the murder of the king—it is she who steadies her husband’s nerves immediately after the crime has been perpetrated.    Despite being a strong character, Lady Macbeth is far more affected by guilt than her husband. We see her slow decline into madness in Act 5, Scene 1, where she sleepwalks, discussing Duncan's death. She feels that she will never wash his blood off of her hands and she eventually kills herself in guilt. "Out, damned spot! Out, I say! . . . Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him."

Page 3

The Three Witches

The Three Witches, also known as the Weird Sisters, are the drivers of the plot in Macbeth.    The mischief they cause stems from their supernatural powers, but it is also the result of their understanding of the weaknesses of their specific interlocutors; they play upon Macbeth’s ambition like puppeteers. Their rhyming passages and repeated phrases make it obvious to the audience that they are beings of the supernatural.    The audience is left to ask whether the witches are independent agents toying with human lives, or agents of fate, whose prophecies are only reports of the inevitable. Some of the prophecies are self-fulfilling, while others depend on Macbeth to be pushed. For example, it is doubtful that Macbeth would have murdered his king without the push given by the witches’ predictions.

Page 4


Banquo is seen as Macbeth's fighting partner in the opening act of the play. While he is his partner, he is regularly shunned and doesn't receive the same awards as Macbeth.   Banquo is loyal to King Duncan and is noble throughout his life. These traits cause Macbeth to fear him;  "Our fears in Banquo Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature Reigns that which would be feared. 'Tis much he dares, And to that dauntless temper of his mind He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor To act in safety. " - Macbeth (Act 3, Scene 1)   While Banquo hears the same prophecies as Macbeth, he is not as quick to act on them. He is a less ambitious character and is clearly happy in the position he holds from the beginning of the play.

Page 5

King Duncan and Malcolm

Duncan is described as a fair and just ruler of Scotland. His language is formal and his speeches full of grace and graciousness, whether on the battlefield where he talks about honor, or when greeting his hostess, Lady Macbeth, in Act I, Scene 6.    Duncan also expresses humility (a feature that Macbeth lacks) when he admits his failure in spotting the previous Thane of Cawdor's treachery: "There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face".   Duncan is the representative of God on Earth, ruling by divine right, a feature of kingship strongly endorsed by King James I, for whom the play was written and performed.     Malcolm's loyalty to Scotland is questionable when he flees after the death of his father. However, the audience are relieved to see that he made connections with King Edward in England to take Macbeth down.   Malcolm, like his father, is also the embodiment of good kingship, and this is seen particularly in Act 4, Scene 3, in which he tests the allegiance of Macduff. His testing of Macduff, although dramatically longwinded, is psychologically accurate. By pretending to be what he is not, he hopes to coax from Macduff a confession of his loyalty. 

Page 6


Macduff is introduced as a counterpart to Macbeth. While Macbeth is viewed as a tyrant, Macduff is loyal and settled with a happy family.    Macduff is the archetype of the avenging hero, not simply out for revenge but with a good and holy purpose. In the final combat between hero and anti-hero, his humanity is seen when he cries out, "I have no words; my voice is in my sword." This contrasts with Macbeth's empty rhetoric.   He is more sensible than many of the other characters of the play; when Duncan is revealed to be dead, he is shocked but manages to put grief aside to manage the situation. He's the only one who asks why Macbeth killed the guards senselessly. He's also the first to see that Lady Macbeth is fainting.   Macduff is extremely loyal, we see just how much Macduff loves his country when Malcolm tests his loyalty by pretending that he'd be an even worse king that Macbeth. He finally breaks down, saying "O Scotland, Scotland". He tells Malcolm that he's not fit to live, and then decides to leave Scotland forever rather than see her ruled by a man who "By his own interdiction stands accursed".