Developing (or dynamic) character. A character who during the course of a story undergoes a permanent change in some aspect of his/her personality or outlook.
Static character. A character who is the same sort of person at the end of a story as s/he was at the beginning.
“They met me in the day of success: and I have learned by the perfectest report, they have more in them than mortal knowledge” (1.5.1-3). Lady Macbeth is reading the letter in which Macbeth tells of his meeting with the witches. After she has read the letter, Lady Macbeth is determined that she will make the witches’ prophecy come true. She prepares herself to work her husband into a murderous state of mind. She also gets hereself into a murderous state of mind, crying out, “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty!” (1.5.40-43) When Macbeth arrives, she advises him to put on an innocent face in front of the King and to leave the rest to her. Scene Summary
See, see, our honour’d hostess!” (1.6.10). Thus King Duncan greets Lady Macbeth at the gates of Macbeth’s castle. In a display of consummate hypocrisy, Lady Macbeth gives a warm welcome to the man she is planning to murder. Scene Summary
While King Duncan is having supper in Macbeth’s castle, Macbeth steps out to think about the plan to kill the King. When Lady Macbeth finds Macbeth, she exclaims, “He has almost supp’d: why have you left the chamber?” (1.7.29). Then, in order to keep Macbeth committed to the murder plan, she verbally assaults his courage and manhood. This is the scene in which she brags that if she had made a vow to do a murder, she would follow through. Even if it were her own baby, she “would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you / Have done to this” (1.7.56-59). In a few minutes, Macbeth sees things her way. Scene Summary
Banquo tells Macbeth that the King has been very pleased with the hospitality shown to him, and that “This diamond he greets your wife withal, / By the name of most kind hostess” (2.1.15-16). We never learn if Lady Macbeth receives that diamond, but we do learn that she rings the bell that tells her husband it’s time to murder the King. Scene Summary
As she waits for her husband to come with the news that he has murdered King Duncan, Lady Macbeth says to herself, “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold” (2.2.1). She’s referring to the fact that she has given possets (wine and milk) to King Duncan’s grooms. Apparently, she’s had a posset herself, so that she’s experiencing a kind of drunken courage. The grooms, on the other hand, aren’t feeling a thing, because Lady Macbeth drugged their possets. Not only that, but she made sure that King Duncan’s door was ajar, and that the grooms’ daggers were in plain sight, so that Macbeth could easily go in, kill the King, and leave the bloody daggers on the grooms.
However, things don’t go quite as she has planned. To her mind, Macbeth is too slow, and she fears that he won’t get the job done. Then, after murdering the King, he comes to her with his hands all covered with blood and carrying the grooms’ daggers. Not only that, but he’s so unnerved that all he can do is stand and look at his hands. Finally, she has to do what he should have done. She takes the daggers from him, carries them back to place them with the grooms, and smears the grooms with the King’s blood. After all of this, she has to lead Macbeth away to wash his hands, telling him that “A little water clears us of this deed” (2.2.64). Scene Summary
After Macduff discovers the body of King Duncan and rings the alarm bell, Lady Macbeth comes in and calls out: “What’s the business, / That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley / The sleepers of the house? speak, speak!” (2.3.81-83). Of course she’s only pretending that she doesn’t know what’s wrong. Later in the scene, just after Macbeth explains why he killed the King’s grooms, Lady Macbeth faints, which keeps anybody from actually thinking about Macbeth’s explanation. Scene Summary
In his report of Macbeth’s victory over the rebels, a sergeant emphasizes Macbeth’s courage. Even when it looks like Fortune is smiling on the enemy, “brave Macbeth–well he deserves that name– / Disdaining Fortune” (1.2.16-17) plunges fearlessly into battle and wins the victory. Scene Summary
Just after Macbeth hears the witches’ prophecies, Ross and Angus tell him that he has been named Thane of Cawdor. Upon hearing this, Macbeth goes into a trance-like state as he tries to sort things out. He tells himself that the witches’ prophecies can’t be bad, because they have foretold a truth. On the other hand, if the witches’ prophecies are good, he asks himself, “why do I yield to that suggestion / Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair / And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, / Against the use of nature?” (1.3.134-137). “Suggestion” means “temptation,” so Macbeth is asking himself why he feels himself giving into temptation, especially a temptation that makes his heart race and his hair stand on end. He goes on to reflect that “Present fears / Are less than horrible imaginings” (1.3.1137-38). He means that the fear that you feel in the face of actual danger is not nearly so bad as the fear of imagined danger. Apparently he’s trying to talk himself into believing that the murder which he is tempted to do can’t possibly be as frightening as he now feels it is. Scene Summary
When King Duncan announces that Malcolm is heir to the throne, Macbeth sees that as a roadblock, then says to the heavens, “Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires: / The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, / Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see” (1.4.50-53). He’s thinking about committing murder. He wants his own eye to blind itself (“wink”) while he’s doing it, but he wants it done, even if his eye will be afraid to look at it afterwards. It doesn’t appear that he afraid of getting caught and being punished. His fear of murder seems to be like the fear of the sight of blood — irrational and instinctual. Scene Summary
When she receives Macbeth’s letter about the witches’ prophecies, Lady Macbeth says to her absent husband, “Thou wouldst be great; / Art not without ambition, but without / The illness should attend it” (1.5.18-20). She, like the witches, believes that foul is fair. Ambition “should” be accompanied by “illness.” Yet she does not believe that Macbeth is really good. She says that he “wouldst not play false, / And yet wouldst wrongly win” (1.5.21-22). In her view, he’s something of a coward, because he has that within him that tells him what he must do if he is to have the throne, but he’s afraid to do it. She tells her absent husband that he should hurry home so that she can “chastise with the valour of my tongue / All that impedes thee from the golden round” (1.5.27-28). In other words, she plans to nag him until he’s ashamed of himself for being afraid to be bad. After all, it’s only that fear that’s keeping him from wearing the crown. Scene Summary
In the midst of a feast that he’s giving for King Duncan, Macbeth steps aside to think about the murder he’s planning. He says to himself, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well / It were done quickly (1.7.1-2). That is, if everything could be over with as soon as Duncan is killed, then it would be best for Macbeth to kill him quickly. If only, Macbeth thinks, the assassination could be “the be-all and the end-all–here / But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, / We’ld jump the life to come” (1.7.5-7). Where Macbeth says “but here,” we would say “just here” or “only here.” In other words, Macbeth knows that he can get away with murder only here on earth. In the afterlife he will certainly be punished. He also knows that the afterlife is very long; it’s like a boundless ocean, and our life is only a “bank or shoal” on the edge of that ocean. Nevertheless, if one murder could be the last murder, he would take his chances with the afterlife.
The problem is, it’s not very likely to be “done when ’tis done,” and Macbeth knows this, too. He knows that–as we say–what goes around comes around, that acts of violence are “Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return / To plague the inventor” (1.7.9-10). Of course, Macbeth has good reason to be afraid. In a warrior society such as his, there would be plenty of kith and kin eager to avenge the murder of any man, even if he weren’t a king.
To put it bluntly, Macbeth thinks that he’s likely to get caught, and he’s about to chicken out. Only at this point does he start thinking of other reasons that he shouldn’t kill his king, and when his wife comes looking for him, he tells her he’s decided not to do it. She responds by telling him that if he’s going to go back on his word, he doesn’t really love her, and he’s a coward, no better than the “poor cat i’ the adage” (1.7.45), who wants a fish, but doesn’t want to get its feet wet.
Macbeth tries to defend himself by saying, “I dare do all that may become a man; / Who dares do more is none” (1.7.46-47). Macbeth also asks what will happen if they fail, and his wife pooh-poohs the very idea, exclaiming, “We fail! / But screw your courage to the sticking-place, / And we’ll not fail” (1.7.61). She wins the argument. Scene Summary
After Macbeth murders King Duncan, he comes back to his wife with the bloody daggers in his bloody hands. She tells him that he must return and place the daggers with the King’s grooms. Macbeth, however, is paralyzed with the horror of what he has done. He says, “I’ll go no more: / I am afraid to think what I have done; / Look on’t again I dare not” (2.2.47-49). This makes Lady Macbeth scornful of her husband. She takes the daggers from him and tells him that it’s childish to be afraid of the sleeping or the dead. And she’s not afraid of blood, either. She says, “If he King Duncan do bleed, / I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal / For it must seem their guilt” (2.2.52-54). With these bitter words, she goes to finish her husband’s job for him.
When Lady Macbeth returns, she comments, “My hands are of your colour; but I shame / To wear a heart so white” (2.2.61-62). She means that her hands are red, too (because she has been busy smearing the King’s blood on the grooms), but that she would be ashamed to have a heart as white as Macbeth’s. A white heart is white because it has no blood, and the person with a white heart is a coward. Scene Summary
After Macduff discovers the body of King Duncan, he rushes out to announce the horror, and Macbeth rushes up to the king’s chamber and kills the sleeping grooms. When Macduff asks him why he killed the grooms, Macbeth replies, Who could refrain, / That had a heart to love, and in that heart / Courage to make’s love known?” (2.3.116-118). No one asks just how much courage it takes to kill two defenseless men. Scene Summary
Macbeth and Fate
In the second scene of the play, a Sergeant tells the story of Macbeth’s victory over the rebel Macdonwald. At one point it looked like Macdonwald was getting the upper hand, and the Sergeant comments, “fortune, on his Macdonwald’s damned quarrel smiling, / Show’d like a rebel’s whore” (1.2.14-15). It was a clich of Shakespeare’s time that fortune, or good luck, was a whore, loved by all men, faithful to none. However, on this occasion, not even fortune could give Macdonwald the victory, because Macbeth held her in contempt and won the battle anyway. Scene Summary
One of the witches is going to take out her spite on a sailor, and she and her sister witches will control the winds so that the sailor won’t be able to come into port. She boasts that, “Weary se’nnights nine times nine / Shall he dwindle, peak and pine: / Though his bark cannot be lost, / Yet it shall be tempest-toss’d” (1.3.25). Although these witches can control winds, there is something stronger than them that keeps the sailor’s ship (“bark”) from sinking. Scene Summary
Later in the same scene, Macbeth, after hearing the witches’ prophecy, says to himself: “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, / Without my stir” (1.3.144). This seems to indicate that he doesn’t regard the witches as the voice of fate, but of “chance.” Also, Macbeth is right. Like King Duncan, Macbeth is the grandson of a king, so he has a legitimate claim to the throne, and war or disease could easily kill off other claimants. However, Macbeth eventually decides that “chance” needs some help, and so he murders Duncan. Scene Summary
The first use of the word “fate” in the play occurs when Lady Macbeth receives Macbeth’s letter telling of the witches’ prophecies. She is afraid that he will not take advantage of his opportunity to take the crown, “Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem / To have thee crown’d withal” (1.5.29-30). It’s interesting to note that she assumes that fate doesn’t make things happen. In order to be king, Macbeth is going to have to murder Duncan, and his wife is afraid that he won’t do it. Scene Summary
Just after King Duncan’s bloody corpse is discovered, Macbeth exclaims that he killed the King’s grooms out of passionate grief, and Lady Macbeth faints. Malcolm and Donalbain, the King’s sons, notice that everyone seems to be expressing more grief than they are, and they suspect that something is fishy. Donalbain asks his brother, “What should be spoken here, where our fate, / Hid in an auger-hole, may rush, and seize us?” (2.3.122). He means that this is no time to talk, because they could be murdered next. The two of them flee, and escape the “fate” that Donalbain speaks of. Scene Summary
Macbeth’s Relationship with Lady Macbeth
In his letter to his wife about the witches’ prophecies, Macbeth writes, “This have I thought good to deliver thee, my dearest partner of greatness, that thou mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing, by being ignorant of what greatness is promised thee”(1.5.10-13). He knows that his “partner” will like the idea of being Queen and seems to offer the news as a kind of present.
Lady Macbeth does indeed like the idea of being Queen, but she’s afraid that her husband is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way” (1.5.17-18). But she’s sure she has no such problem, and she’s eager for the chance to make him see things her way. Holding the letter, and speaking to Macbeth (even though he hasn’t arrived yet) she says, “Hie thee hither, / That I may pour my spirits in thine ear; / And chastise with the valour of my tongue / All that impedes thee from the golden round,” (1.5.25-28). We might say that she’s going to nag him, but she believes that she is going to enable him to reach his potential. She will “chastise” (make him ashamed of) everything in him that prevents him from being evil enough to be king.
Shortly, Macbeth arrives. She greets him as “Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor! / Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!” (1.5.54-55), and tells him that she feels “The future in the instant” (1.5.58). In other words, she already feels like a queen. Macbeth then says that Duncan is arriving that night, as though he’s just telling her the news. However, Lady Macbeth already knows about Duncan’s arrival, and Macbeth probably knows that his wife knows, because he’s the one who sent the messenger. Given this, it seems likely that he’s sounding her out, that he wants to know if she’s thinking what he’s thinking.
Of course she is. When he says that Duncan will leave “to-morrow,” she responds, “O, never / Shall sun that morrow see!” (1.5.60-61). The sun will rise, but not on a tomorrow in which Duncan is alive. She goes on to give him a little advice, which is that “Your face, my thane, is as a book where men / May read strange matters” (1.5.62-63). In other words, he’s not a very good hypocrite. Now we use the word “matter” a little differently, and we would say that just by looking at his face, anyone could see that something is the matter with Macbeth. He should, says his wife, “look like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under’t” (1.5.65-66).
Macbeth answers, “We will speak further” (1.5.71), but if he intends to appear noncommittal, he hasn’t fooled his wife. She tells him that all he has to do is put on a pleasant face, and “Leave all the rest to me” (1.5.73). With that, the partners in crime hurry out to welcome the King they are going to kill. Scene Summary
While King Duncan is having supper in Macbeth’s castle, Macbeth steps out to think about the plan to kill the King. When Lady Macbeth finds Macbeth, she exclaims, “He has almost supp’d: why have you left the chamber?” (1.7.29). Then, in order to keep Macbeth committed to the murder plan, she verbally assaults his courage and manhood. She accuses him of being the kind of person who can dream of wearing kingly robes only when he’s drunk. She asks sarcastically, “Was the hope drunk / Wherein you dress’d yourself? Hath it slept since?” (1.7.35-36). This is harsh enough, but it gets worse. She says that it apears that the thought of killing the king is making him sick, and “From this time / Such I account thy love” (1.7.38-39). In other words, if he won’t follow through on their plan, he doesn’t really love her, and he’s a coward, no better than the “poor cat i’ the adage” (1.7.45), who wants a fish, but doesn’t want to get its feet wet.
Macbeth tries to defend himself by saying, “I dare do all that may become a man; / Who dares do more is none” (1.7.46-47), but Lady Macbeth declares that she’s more man than he is:
I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.”(1.7.54-59)
After this, it’s really all over. Lady Macbeth wins. Macbeth asks what happens if they fail, and his wife pooh-poohs the very idea. She will get King Duncan’s two attendants drunk, so they won’t be able to protect him, and then they’ll take the blame for the King’s death. Macbeth replies with admiration (or fear?), “Bring forth men-children only; / For thy undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males” (1.7.72-74). Scene Summary
As she waits for her husband to come with the news that he has murdered King Duncan, Lady Macbeth says to herself, “I laid their daggers ready; / He Macbeth could not miss ’em” (2.2.11-12), but she’s worried he won’t get the job done. Then, after murdering the King, Macbeth comes to her with his hands all covered with blood and carrying the grooms’ daggers. Not only that, but he’s so unnerved that all he can do is look at his hands and talk about voices that he heard. She tries to be reasonable, saying, “Why, worthy thane, / You do unbend your noble strength, to think / So brainsickly of things” (2.2.41-43), but he’s paralyzed with horror. Finally, she has to do what he should have done. She takes the daggers from him, carries them back to place them with the grooms, and smears the grooms with the King’s blood.
When she returns, Lady Macbeth hears Macbeth talking about his bloody hands, and she comments, “My hands are of your colour; but I shame / To wear a heart so white” (2.2.61-62). She means that her hands are red, too (because she has been busy smearing the King’s blood on the grooms), but that she would be ashamed to have a heart as white as Macbeth’s. A white heart is white because it has no blood, and the person with a white heart is a coward. As she delivers this insult, we hear the knocking again, and Lady Macbeth takes her husband away, telling him that “A little water clears us of this deed” (2.2.64).
At this point in the play, it appears that Macbeth would be helpless without his wife. Scene Summary
After the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth does all she can protect herself and her husband from suspicion. When Macduff discovers the body of King Duncan and rings the alarm bell, she comes in and calls out: “What’s the business, / That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley / The sleepers of the house? speak, speak!” (2.3.81-83). Of course she’s only pretending that she doesn’t know what’s wrong. Later in the scene, just after Macbeth explains why he killed the King’s grooms, Lady Macbeth faints, which keeps anybody from actually thinking about Macbeth’s explanation. Scene Summary
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Developing (or dynamic) character. A character who during the course of a story undergoes a permanent change in some aspect of his/her personality or outlook.