Promoting Family Values in Macbeth
The play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, was first printed in 1623, and is a play that is confrontational and disturbing to the values of the audience. Values such as truth, masculinity, security and goodness are all implied in the play, as their opposites are shown to be destructive and life shattering.
Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth is the one most obsessively concerned with evil. It is dark, brooding and bloodthirsty; by way of illustration, the only function of the messenger to Lady MacDuff is to prepare the audience for bloodshed. Blood in itself is considered an evil image and it aids in character development, as seen in the description of Macbeth at the start. According to Duncan, gutting someone like a fish is worthy of praise such as “Oh valiant cousin, Oh worthy Gentleman!” To the people of the age, being able to kill someone with such skill is a good thing… of course, it does mean that Macbeth has the potential to snap. The evil imagery in the play also helps with the rising tension – the old man’s description of the horses devouring each other is a prime example of this.
Macbeth himself is essentially evil as well; when he knows he is going to die, instead of taking the honorable way out by committing suicide he decides to take as many people with him as he can. It is somewhat ironic therefore that “Macbeth” means “son of life”.
The evil that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth create within themselves means that the audience is made to experience the psychological emptiness involved in committing a murder. Evil is inevitably destructive, but it is also self-destructive. By murdering Duncan, Macbeth is destroying himself; his “single state of man” is shaken by his inner conflict.
Macbeth steeled himself to murder only by repressing everything that gave him worth as a human being so that he “moves like a ghost”. Eventually his repressed feelings strike back violently with the hallucination of the dagger and the uncontrollable self-accusations, due to which he completely disintegrates. He is totally alienated from himself – “To know my deed, ‘twere best not to know myself”. His moral feelings are no longer under control because he has expelled them from his consciousness, and they continue to haunt him in his dreams and with the ghost of Banquo that forces him to betray himself. However much he represses it, his self-condemnation is implanted deeply in his mind, as Merteith says:
“Who then shall blame
His pestered senses to recoil and start,
When all that is within him does condemn
Itself for being there?”
For most of the last half of the play Macbeth is in a neurotic state, alternating between black melancholy and outbursts of “valiant fury”.
“Some say he’s mad. Others, that lesser hate him,
Do call it valiant fury…”
These lead him to totally irrational actions, such as the massacre of MacDuff’s family and the suicidal act of abandoning the defenses of the castle.