Book Review of Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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Book Review

Macbeth

by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is one of most famous plays and a great tragedy of Shakespeare. It is also named as ‘The Scottish play’. The title itself suggests the name of the protagonists. The whole play revolves around the protagonists Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth. “Macbeth” means “son of life”, and is a Christian name rather than a patronymic. The themes that are depicted in the play are that of fate, ambition, treachery and deception. The drama is rich in imagery. Moreover, the idea prevalent is that the state of nature affects the state of the world, where there is thunder, lightning, doom and gloom. Shakespeare’s main source for Macbeth, written in c.1603-1610, was Raphael Holinshed’s “Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland”. Holinshed got inspiration from Hector Boece’s Scotorum Historiae, written in 1527. Moreover, Shakespeare’s portrayal of Holinshed’s “weird sisters” were derived from the portrait of other fictional witches. He was also inspired by King James VI/I’s book “Daemonologie”.

Comprised of five acts, “Macbeth” starts by depicting a tragedy. The book starts with the brief appearance of the three witches and then moves to a military camp, where the Scottish King Duncan hears the news that his generals, Macbeth and Banquo, who defeated two separate invading armies—one from Ireland, led by the rebel Macdonald and another was from Norway. While returning from battle, Macbeth and Banquo encountered the witches as they cross a moor. The witches predict that he will become king one day by killing Duncan. This prediction leads Macbeth to murder the king. Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth accompanies him in his plan. Lady Macbeth is an integral part of this thematic web and is the most memorable character. Like her husband, Lady Macbeth’s thirst for power leads her to practice an unnatural, phantasmagoric realm of witchcraft, insomnia and madness. But while Macbeth reacts to the prophecies of the witches, Lady Macbeth moves even further by figuratively transforming herself into a desexualized, unnatural evil spirit. After Macbeth kills Duncan, Lady Macbeth smells the blood of Duncan on the daggers of the sleeping guards. A pious soul Macduff discovers the body. Macbeth kills the guards insisting that their daggers smeared with Duncan’s blood are proof that they committed the murder. The crown passes to Macbeth. It was followed by a series of murders. These murders ensue that the bloodied ghost of Banquo appears to Macbeth. Lady Macbeth’s conscience tortures her and she visualizes blood everywhere, which leads her to commit suicide. Finally, in the great battle, Macbeth is killed by Macduff. Malcolm becomes king and the order is restored. Good wins over evil and corruption and human greed were slain.

Macbeth was compiled from the earlier sources like The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1054), The Prophecy of St. Bercan and The Chronicle of Melrose (731-1270). The play ‘Macbeth’ is considered by many scholars to be Shakespeare’s darkest work and is a relatively a short play without a major subplot. Compared to the other tragedies, in Macbeth, Shakespeare adds a supernatural dimension that purposively conspires against Macbeth and his kingdom. The current trend of critical opinion is toward an upward reevaluation of Lady Macbeth, who is said to be dehumanized by her insanity and her suicide.  Moreover, the books recount different events in Macbeth’s life in a fragmentary fashion. We have seen that an authentic aspect about the medieval sources is that they are all much more positive compared to the 16th century sources that Shakespeare eventually used. Shakespeare portrayed a doughty king typical of his age, and not a tyrant at all. Macbeth is easy to read and is accessible. Moreover, it identifies itself with the timeless themes – the corrupting nature of power and greed, and the terrible affects this can have. It is surely an absorbing read with a fascinating, yet thrilling sensation.                                                                         ~Bipasha Chowdhury

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