Macbeth: Shakespeare\'s Comparisons and Contrasts

Throughout Macbeth Shakespeare uses comparison and contrast to bring out
characteristics of his main character, Macbeth. Shakespeare uses comparison
with Duncan, Lady Macbeth, and Banquo to bring out aspects of Macbeth\'s
After hearing of Macbeth\'s courageousness on the battlefield, Duncan, a
good and honest king, bestows the tittle of Cawdor on Macbeth. The king then
proclaims his son Malcom to be Prince of Cumberland, in effect designating him
as successor to the throne of Scotland. This dramatic announcement of Duncan\'s
chosen successor marks the beginning of an ironic story. It is at this point in
the play that we, the audience, become fully aware of Macbeth\'s intentions to
murder the king. Duncan hails Macbeth as his "worthiest cousin" and blindly
entrusts his fate to one whom he considers his "peerless kinsman." Shakespeare
concentrates on Macbeth\'s courage so that he can contrast it later on with the
terror and panic of Macbeth\'s psychological anguish.
Lady Macbeth will stop at nothing -not even murder- to satisfy her driving
ambition. She worries that Macbeth is "too full of the milk of human kindness"
to go after the throne. She wants to be tough and begs the spirits to "unsex me
here." Macbeth, on the other hand, hesitates to murder Duncan for several
reasons. Among these reasons the earthly consequences frighten him the most.
How would his new subjects react? Would the kingdom disrupt in chaos?
Furthermore Macbeth cannot escape present punishment if he fails. We see Lady
Macbeth\'s persuasiveness producing a new courage in her husband and that courage
is manly enough to perform murder. Therefore, Macbeth has no reasons for
murdering Duncan except for his "vaulting ambition," his lust for power.
Throughout the play we see Lady Macbeth\'s and Macbeth\'s conscience, or lack of,
change places. Macbeth transformed from having a guilt ridden conscience to
having no conscience what so ever. However, Lady Macbeth changes from having no
conscience at all to becoming so guilt ridden that she took her own life.
Like Macbeth, Banquo is courageous. The sergeant who reports to Duncan
regards Banquo as being Macbeth\'s equal in physical bravery. However, after
Macbeth murders Duncan he fears Banquo. For Banquo, besides being Macbeth\'s
brave and courageous friend is an honorable man; Banquo will avenge the king\'s
murder. Macbeth struggles with a guilty conscience and a fear of Banquo\'s
After contrasting Macbeth with these three characters it is easy to see how
Shakespeare created within his hero a growing fear of both the physical and
moral consequences of murder.

Category: English