When Contrasts Breathe In Macbeth’s Character; A Small Study

William Shakespeare
contrasts in Macbeth’s character

Using contrasts as a promising dramatic tool, especially in the realm of characterization, is, no doubt, the popular artistry of William Shakespeare. And, the greatest playwright applied this dramatic device to portray the character of Macbeth.

There is no denying that placing two contrasting characters together and emphasizing the different traits of both these characters are not an easy task. However, Shakespeare did this with exceptional perfection while making the character of Macbeth alive forever.

Readers are aware that Macbeth is one of the greatest works of Shakespeare, dominated by a series of contrasts. It includes contrasts in both a single character and different characters. Moreover, a sharp contrast is visible between evil and good. One big reason behind incarnating these contrasts is to help readers understand the actual essence of the drama as a whole.

Now, Macbeth’s character in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” offers so many unique Shakespearean traits and portrays a significant study in contrast. Macbeth’s courage and valor stand out in sturdy contrast to his moral cowardice, which is prominently visible through his fear of the moral superiority of Banquo. Also, readers can witness the study in contrast between Macbeth before the murder of King Duncan and Macbeth after the murder of King Duncan.

The earlier or previous Macbeth emerges with a sensitive conscience, which exists in his sincere efforts to combat the prophecies’ temptation. However, all those sincere efforts ultimately become futile, and Macbeth, with clear hesitation, thinks of murdering Duncan who is at once his king as well as a guest.

On the other hand, the later Macbeth appears with a savage character and criminal mind devoid of any sign of earlier scruples. His moral thoughts and human courage is now replaced by wildness, even his cruelty knows no bounds. No dilemma is visible in his character when he orders Banquo’s assassination. With a brutal sense of savage frenzy, he even sends men to kill innocent children and the wife of Macduff.

There is no denying that readers feel pity for the earlier Macbeth who is eager to lead a virtuous life. But, weakness in his character and reluctant submission to the brutal will of his wife bring hate and dislike in readers’ minds. In a word, the later Macbeth acquires only contempt.

For centuries both readers and critics consider Shakespeare as the pioneering playwright. And, Macbeth is, no doubt, a great example that unfolds why Shakespeare is gifted with that title. Most probably, Macbeth in the drama, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”, for the first time shows how two contrasting characters in one human being can be evident with striking sharp differences. Without any hesitation, one can easily opine that the presence of completely opposing natures in a single person is very rare in the portrayal of characters in a drama.   

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