Macbeth's Downfall in William Shakespeare's Play
'Macbeth' by William Shakespeare is a play set in 1040 about a
Scottish general named Macbeth. It explores the transformation and
effect of his ambition upon his life. Although it is set in 1040, it
is written in the 1606 under the reign of James 1st. James' very
recent accession to the English throne would have been of great
contemporary importance and a play which focuses on Kingship would
have roused interest too.
The first characters we are introduced to in the opening of the play
are the witches. The witches immediately give the sense of a
supernatural presence that creates fear and confusion for the
audience, who would at that time have believed in witches. The witches
use rhyming blank verse:
'When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightening, or in rain?'
This rhyming blank verse stands out from the blank verse spoken by the
other characters. This line in the play also emphasizes that whenever
the witches 'meet' or appear there is always 'thunder', 'lightening'
and 'rain,' this links with the stage directions that also change to
'thunder and lightening' whenever the witches appear. This emphasizes
that with the chaotic change of weather in the natural world it breeds
unnatural beings. The witches speak in rhymed verse combining
alliteration and assonance also to emphasize that they are
'Double double toil and trouble;
fire burn, and cauldron bubble'
In addition to the rhyming verse the witches also use language of
contradiction, 'fair, is foul and foul is fair,' and 'lesser then
Macbeth and greater.' These verses add to the plays moral confusion
and suggest that nothing is what it seems. The last verse said by the
witches in Act 1 Scene 1:
'Fair, is foul and foul is fair
Hover through the fog and filthy air'
Shakespeare combines alliteration, repetition and an oxymoron, not
only to create a sense of confusion, but also, using a rhyming couplet
that foreshadows something evil is going to occur. Although it is the
witches who say this verse, Macbeth's first line upon meeting the
witches is 'so foul and fair a day I have not seen.' This line echoes
the witches' line and creates a link between the witches' evil and
Macbeth. The witches do not immediately convince Macbeth that he is
going to be king however, when he realizes that the 'instruments of
darkness' tell the truth and he is Thane of Cawdor 'horrid imaginings'
begin to plan out evil in his head.
The witches' presence as the primary scene casts the mood for the
entire play. The audiences' beliefs of the supernatural power of
witches that threatens their religion and society would provide an
excuse for Macbeth's downfall. The audience would interpret that the
witches' power overpowered Macbeth and would...