EN 4366WA, Dr. Curet
March 8, 2001
You are probably wondering why in the hell an old guy like me is writing you a letter. Truth is, I heard a rumor that you were an expert in analyzing plays written by William Shakespeare, and I wanted to know your opinion of Macbeth. I have finished reading the play and have concluded that it is about ambition and about how the effects of war help to shape human character traits.
In the beginning of the play, Macbeth returns to Scotland, having defeated in battle the Thane of Cawdor. Duncan, the King of Scotland, after being told of the victory, declares his satisfaction by ordering the death of the Thane of Cawdor. The king’s generosity is exhibited when he awards the Thane of Cawdor’s title and possessions to Macbeth by proclaiming, “What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.” (I, ii, 67)
Macbeth has not yet been made aware of Duncan’s orders. He is walking with his friend, Banquo, when they happen to cross paths with three witches. The witches predict that Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor, and ultimately, the King of Scotland. Macbeth dismisses the witches’ predictions at first but reconsiders this “look into the future” when he later learns of the King’s instructions.
Macbeth is feeling good about himself. He has the witches’ prediction of his ascension to the throne of Scotland and has received the “spoils of war.” These have indeed had a positive influence on Macbeth’s self-esteem. The plot changes drastically. Shakespeare makes Macbeth appear ambitious when, in an aside, Macbeth muses,
“The Prince of Cumberland: that is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap
For in my way it lies. 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.” (I, iv, 49-54)
Macbeth is not happy with Duncan’s decision to make Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland--the next king. Henceforth, Macbeth will stop at nothing to see that the witches’ predictions become his true destiny.
The euphoria that Macbeth was experiencing prior to this point has waned. The feelings of anger and paranoia are now introduced into Macbeth’s character. These two human emotions are common outgrowths in someone who has been in battle. They are often the cause of future abnormal behaviors.
Anger and paranoia can manifest themselves in the forms of hallucinations or nightmares. Both the quality and quantity of sleep also can create a sense of hallucination when a person is awake, as Macbeth seemed to experience at times. Macbeth’s actions throughout the latter part of the play seem to indicate that he was suffering from this illness, most often associated with battle, known in today’s age as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Lady Macbeth is behaving in such a manner that one might also conclude she, too, suffers from this illness, but by association. This is known as Secondary PTSD.
In a sense, both Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s actions and ambitions are being influenced by something beyond their control and comprehension. In my opinion, they cannot be blamed entirely for their violent demise. Robert, what do you think about my conclusion regarding rage-controlled ambition?
In all candor, I really didn’t write to you because of your knowledge of Shakespeare. I lied. It was the three witches in our class who made me do it.