Macbeth - Characters in the First Three Acts

Compare and contrast the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the first three Acts of Macbeth.

Macbeth, the tragedy, is a penetrating, concentrated, and harrowing study of ambition. The play itself tells the story of a man, urged by his wife and foretold by prophecy, who commits regicide in order to gain power. His ostentatious appetite for domination only leads to his triumphal downfall deeming he and his wife naught but the, "dead butcher and his fiend like queen." However, the final analogy is a product of circumstantial change made evident in the first three acts.

Macbeth is a basically good man who is troubled by his conscience and loyalty though at the same time ambitious and murderous. He is led to evil initially by the witches' prophecies, and then by his wife's provocation, which he succumbs to because of the unrequited love he has for her. In retrospect, Lady Macbeth, whilst appearing patronising and manipulative, is in essence, a good wife who loves her husband. She is also ambitious but lacks the morals and integrity her husband posesses. To achieve her ambition, she rids of herself of any kindness that might stand in the way. However, she runs out of energy to supress her conscience and commits suicide.

A foundation reputation for Macbeth is fashioned before he comes on to the stage. The Sergeant who has fought on his side harps about Macbeth?s valour in war, "But all?s too weak | For brave Macbeth ? well he deserves that name"(Act I, scene II). We then hear from Ross, who consistently speaks of Macbeth?s courage in battle, "The Thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict | ?Point against point, rebellious arm ?gainst arm | Curbing his lavish spirit: and to conclude | The victory fell on us - "(Act I, scene II). These accounts imply a mighty, patriotic warrior and a loyal subject to the King. As the plot thickens, Macbeth falls short of these expectations, as a cloud of suspicion hangs over his conspicuous relationships with the Three witches. The suspicion grows when he (aside) confesses his "black and deep desires"(Act I, scene IV). Macbeth knows in order to obtain the throne he must kill Duncan yet acutely acknowledges the duty he owes to Duncan. He knows to kill Duncan would ultimately be an enormous sin, a crime against heaven and therefore Macbeth is restrained. "He?s here in double trust | First, as I am his kinsman and his subject | Strong both against the deed; then as his host | Who should against his murderer shut the door | Not bear the knife myself."(Act 1, scene 7).

Lady Macbeth?s conscience is incomparable to that of her husbands. She is even more ambitious than her husband and exhibits no sense of morality. In many instances, she uses emotional blackmail to seduce her husband to proceed with this ambitious enterprise, "when you durst do it, then you were a man." She makes an analogy to emphasise the importance of Macbeth keeping his promise. "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 this"(Act 1, scene VII).

Lady Macbeth?s pressure reaches its zenith in Act II in which Duncan is murdered. All the insecurities surrounding Macbeth are stamped out by the domineering foot of Lady Macbeth and in a state of obvious hallucination Macbeth is lead towards the "fatal vision" (Act II, scene I) and hence to the murder of Duncan oblivious of his conscience. As soon as the murder is committed, Macbeth realises that he has "murdered sleep," and for the rest of the play he is haunted (quite literally, in his visions of Banquo's ghost) by the psychological (as well as political) consequences of the act that has obliterated his peace of mind. While his wife seems at first to be less remorseful than Macbeth, it is she who exhibits classical Renaissance symptoms of mental disturbance. Never the less, Lady Macbeth remains bold and confident because lack of morale; her only concern being the destroyal of evidence: "Infirm of purpose! | Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead | Are