Saturday, December 22, 2012

Macbeth: "She should have died hereafter"

She should have died hereafter. 
There would have been a time for such a word. 
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day 
To the last syllable of recorded time. 
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools 

These words are uttered by Macbeth after he hears of Lady Macbeth's death with the last scene of the play. Shocked, Macbeth speaks numbly about the passage of time and declares that there may be a better time for such news. For him, time creeps along in such small movements; one tomorrow after another. All the last day of their life have only given light to fools on the way. Life, like the light of a candle, gives light to death which turns bodies to dust.

Like Duncan's death and Macbeth's ascension to the kingship, Lady Macbeth's suicide does not take place on stage; it is merely reported. Macbeth seems numb in response to this news of his wife's death, which seems surprising, especially given the great love he appears to have borne of his wife. Yet, it segues quickly a speech of such pessimism and despair that the audience realizes how completely his wife's passing and the ruin of his power have undone Macbeth. His speech insists that there is no meaning or purpose in life.

The 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 servants 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. 

However, 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 hope 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.

Above all, 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.