Creating Sympathy for Macbeth
The dark aura surrounding Shakespeare's Macbeth is well deserved, as is the darkness shrouding its title character. Although Macbeth is certainly a villainous, evil man based solely on his actions, a fuller examination of his character's portrayal leads to a more sympathetic view of him. The play does not portray Macbeth simply as a cold-blooded murderer, but rather as a tortured soul attempting to deal with the atrocities surrounding him.
Before any of the murderous activity occurs, Macbeth does not experience small, ambiguous premonitions, he is directly told by mysterious, dark figures things that are "ordained" to happen. Although these mysterious prophecies seem doubtful at first, after Macbeth is named Thane of Cawdor, the third prophecy, his ascending to the throne, no longer seems remote. The fact that Macbeth sees his ultimate goal, his childhood dream, as an attainable thing that he simply must reach out and take should serve to evoke some sympathy from the audience. "I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself / And falls on the other-" (I vii 25). Failing to act now would only be a show of Macbeth's cowardice and failings. Everyone has an ultimate goal; not everyone gets the chance to attempt to reach it, and fewer still actually achieve it. Examining the brutal, bloody, repeated stabbing of Duncan as Macbeth's one chance to finally realize his childhood dream of becoming king sheds a different light to the normal horror of his act.
Before the murders, Macbeth has no positive guidance to help deter him from the killings. His closest confidant, Lady Macbeth, is portrayed as a crazed, conniving, woman who willingly asks evil spirits to grant her power and help her with her murderous schemes. With a wife such as this, some of Macbeth's guilt would seem to fall on her, leaving him less than wholly responsible. Although it certainly does not excuse his actions, the fact that she planned the murders, encouraged him to lie and deceive the other nobles at the banquets, basically convinced him to carry the initial murder out, and repeatedly attempted to make him "forget" the act and move on, would seem to partially incriminate her. If Macbeth had a wife who was a stark contrast to him, one who abhorred murder and attempted to talk him out of it, then his crime would have seemed all the more horrendous since even his closes confidant advised him...