Saturday, December 22, 2012

Macbeth: "I have liv'd long enough; my way of life"

of I have liv'd long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.

These words are uttered by Macbeth close to the end of the play. Macbeth strides into the hall of Dunsinane with the doctor and his attendants, boasting that he has nothing to fear from the English army or Malcolm since 'none of woman born' can harm him. He calls his servant Seyton, who confirms that an army of ten thousand Englishmen approaches the castle. Here, Macbeth says this famous expression of despair.

Out of pessimism, the image is of a leaf dropping, dray and yellow, from a tree in autumn. Like this leaf, Macbeth's life has come to its autumn and will soon fall. He looks as if he says; 'The course of my life has fallen as a dry yellow leaf in autumn.' Besides this dark picture, he must not expect to have what accompany old age such as 'honour, love, obedience' or even friends. Instead, what he has are curses and honour spoken but not felt; words breathed but not meant. All these his poor heart would gladly reject. Yet, he does not dare because all support whether honourable or not, is now necessary. Thus, Macbeth's bitterness is increased by realization of the motive from which people serve him.

This picture of Macbeth's downfall is the most tragic event of the whole play. Most of Macbeth's men, servants and soldiers begin to leave him joining the rightful king, Malcolm. As a result, he gets a terrible sense of panic, especially after his wife has died leaving him alone. Above all, he accuses his servant of being 'lily-livered' with fear when he tells him that the English force has arrived and is lined up against him. Yet, Macbeth seems to see his servant's face as an embodiment of his inner feelings, so he wants to say to himself; 'over-red thy fear.'

Macbeth's state of mind can be judged from his late actions. First of all, he tells Seyton to put his armour on, then to pull it off, then to bring it after him. Macbeth seems to swing between despair and ridiculous bravery, making his own dissolution rougher and more complex than that of his wife. Seduced into a false sense of security by the final prophecies of the witches, he gives way to boastfulness and a kind of self-destructive arrogance. When the battle begins, Macbeth clings, against all apparent evidence, to the notion that he will not be harmed because he is protected by the prophecy. Yet, whether he really believes it at this stage, or is merely hanging on to the last thread of hop he has left, is debatable.

As things fall apart from him at the end of the play, he seems almost relieved as he can finally return to live as a warrior, and he displays a kind of reckless bravery. In part, this stems from his fatal confidence in the witches' prophecies, but it also derives from his return to where he has been most successful; the battlefield. Unlike many other tragic heroes, Macbeth never seems to contemplate suicide; "Why should I ... die / On mine own sword." Instead he goes down fighting, bringing the play full circle; it begins with Macbeth winning on the battlefield and ends with him dying in combat.

In conclusion, however, Macbeth ceased to be a sympathetic hero once he made the decision to kill Duncan. By the end of the play, he has become so morally repulsive that his death comes as a powerful relief. Ambition and bloodlust must be checked by virtue for order and form to be restored to the sound of fury of human existence. Only with Malcolm's victory and assumption of the crown can Scotland, and the play itself, be saved from the chaos engendered by Macbeth.