April 20, 1996
In the play, Macbeth, Shakespeare uses contrasts of nature in various ways. He consistently shows us that Macbeth and his wife's actions go against nature.
The first lines of the play are a condensed version of the unnaturalness of things to come. "In thunder, lightning or in rain?" ( I, i, 2). In nature, thunder, lightening and rain occur together, but Shakespeare's use of the word "or" infers the unnatural occurrence of one without the others. "When battles lost and won" ( I, i, 4), is also not a natural occurrence. Battles are either lost or won. Shakespeare is implying the future opposites of nature in the forthcoming play. "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" (I, i, 11), further shows the use of inversions and paradoxs in nature that Shakespeare will use throughout the play.
One of the main controversies of nature for the reader is that in spite of Macbeth's evil deeds, we still find him likeable. We see him in the same way that the King does when he welcomes him by saying, "O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman" (I, ii, 24). We perceive him as valiant, because he is afraid of sacrificing his humanity. "My thought, whose murder yet is but fantasticle. / Shakes so my single state of man that function / Is smothered in surmise and nothing is / But what is not" (I, iii, 139-41). Macbeth has doubts about the predictions of the witches. He knows that it could be a trick and his misgivings make him seem to be a better person.
Another thing that makes Macbeth likeable to the reader is the contrast with his
wife. It is clear from her beginning that she is evil. She has reservations about Macbeth not being evil enough. "Yet do I fear thy nature" (I, V, 14). She fears he is too good to do the kind of evil deeds that she is planning.
After Macbeth murders the King, he realizes the extent of evil that he has committed, but also realizes that the deed is done and there is nothing that he can do to rectify it. "As they had seen me with these hangman's hands / List'ning their fear. I could not say 'Amen!' / When they did say 'God bless us!'" (II, ii, 27-29). The fact that Macbeth is very troubled, and continues his tirade, "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather / the multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red" (II, ii, 59-62), evokes compassion for him from the reader. He seems more human, especially when compared to his wife. "Retire we to our chamber. / A little water clears us of this deed. / How easy it is then!" ( II, ii, 65- 67). Her nonchalance over the matter shows her unnaturalness and magnifies the contrast between Macbeth and herself.
Lady Macbeth is unnatural throughout. She fails as a woman when she shows her cold-blooded, unnaturalness. "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 plucked my nipple from his boneless gums / And dashed the brains out, had I sworn as you / Have done to this" (I, vii, 54-9). As a wife she is also a failure. "Wouldst thou have that / Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life, / And live a coward in thine own esteem, / Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would' / Like the poor cat i' th' adage?" (I, vii, 41-5). She shows Macbeth contempt instead of support, which is supposed to be the natural
role of a wife. And as a human being , she also falls short. "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. Make thick my blood; / Stop up the access and passage to remorse, / That no compunctious visiting of nature / Shake my fell purpose nor keep peace between / Th' effect and it. "Come to my woman's breast / And take my milk for gall, your murdering ministers....." (I, V, 38-46). This pledge to evil commits her as entirely unnatural.
Shakespear's use of garments or clothing can be seen to point out things that are contrary to nature. When Macbeth receives the title of Thane of Cawdor, he does not feel comfortable with it. "Why do you dress me in borrowed robes" (I, iii, 8-9)? He wants the position, but is afraid that he did not come by it naturally since it was predicted by the witches. "This supernatural soliciting / cannot be ill, can not be good.... and make my seated heart knock at my ribs / Against the use of nature" ( I, ii, 131,136-7). Shakespear uses garments to show the aspects of appearance versus reality. Even when Macbeth becomes king, he does not feel like a king because he came by it unnaturally. A murderer calls him by name and he allows it. If he had become king naturally, he would not have allowed being addressed without his title by so common a person.
To begin the end of Macbeth and the play. Shakespear uses nature. "For none of woman born shall harm Macbeth" (IV, i, 80). No natural person is not born by a woman. "Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him" (IV,i,93-5). This is nature itself. Macbeth Hampton 4
feels secure in knowing that nature could not go against him. "That will never be" (IV, i,
94). But the fact that he went so far against nature in his evil deeds, allows nature, in this case, to make its reprisal with the downfall of Macbeth.
The play starts with unnatural acts and ends with unnatural acts. Shakespear uses this beginning and end to surround the unnatural contents in between; the unnatural acts of Macbeth and his wife.
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