is a tragedy where the setting is a remote castle and the audience bears witness to the plan that takes the life of the king at the hands of his host and hostess. The castle is in Scotland, where feudal relations continued in Shakespeare's time to be a direct threat to the government of England. According Sylvan Barnet, among others, the history is that the play was written to please King James I, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, Mary Stuart. The Stuarts claim to be the heirs of Banquo, a character killed by Macbeth. The Witches tell Macbeth and Banquo in Act 1 scene 3 that Macbeth will be king but that Banquo's children will be kings. They say that Banquo will be "Lesser than Macbeth, and greater." (1.3.65) Macbeth writes a letter to his wife explaining the strange events, whereupon she decides that they should kill the King and take his crown based on the belief that they can rule if they just eliminate Duncan. Unfortunately for them, fate has other plans for them. Macbeth must murder many others, including Banquo, to protect his rule. The inner workings of court provide the backdrop for this play. We see the head of the house, Lady Macbeth, make plans to receive her guests. This is a rather ordinary task in a noble house. What we also see is the plan to kill the king as it is conceived. Events thereafter tell of secrecy, murder, and madness. Macbeth, who truly believes he is meant to be king, kills Duncan, then Banquo, and then is haunted by the ghost of Banquo. The descent into madness for Lady Macbeth is a fascinating study. Lady Macbeth is haunted by the image of blood on her hands representing the murder of the king in her house for which she is responsible. She ultimately goes mad and kills herself. Macbeth by this time seems unaffected by much of the doom and destruction around him. His reaction to the suicide of his wife—"She should have died hereafter;" (5.5.17)— reveals an almost passive acceptance of her death. The speech that follows, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow…," shows Macbeth's belief that humans only live to perform certain functions; and when that role is complete, we die. This notion is reinforced in Macbeth's ultimate realization that he is doomed to die when he learns that he is not invincible as he thought. True to his character, he does not yield; he goes out fighting. The symbolism of the witchcraft and occult images can be the motivation for the characters' actions as well as their ultimate doom. It is interesting to note that King James I wrote a book on the occult called of which Shakespeare was aware. Much of the occult imagery in the play can be attributed to the idea that the play was written to please King James I.
However, without the occasional tune-up, Macbeth demonstrates how unchecked ambition can quickly become a speeding, out-of-control, vehicle that ultimately leads to destruction.
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