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“this Dead Butcher”, How Far Do You Agree with Malcolm’s Description of Macbeth?

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From the start of Macbeth, the title character and play’s protagonist has a shocking capacity for violence which presents him as a “butcher” from the outset. This is shown when the captain describes Macbeth’s sword which is “smok[ing] with bloody execution”, Shakespeare’s use of satanic imagery from the verb “smoked” implies that Macbeth’s sword was being used to vanquish his foe so much that it metaphorically smokes and also shows how bloodthirsty Macbeth is. The captain also praises Macbeth by saying that he “unseamed [his enemy] from the nave to th’ chops”. Shakespeare’s use of the words “nave” and “chops” do not present Macbeth’s foe as being human, they create the image that Macbeth is cutting a piece of meat. This is further exemplified by the use of the word “chops” which is usually used to describe a pig and it is the use of these images presents Macbeth as a butcher.

Though Macbeth is presented as being a butcher in Act 1, the initial butchery is justified because he is doing it for his nation and as a result he is respected and esteemed by his king and countrymen. He is esteemed so much that King Duncan calls him a “valiant cousin”, he is also known as “noble” and “brave” Macbeth “for he deserves that name”. One major way in which Macbeth does not seem butcher is the way in which he fights valiantly for his nation, this is seen when he “doubly redoubles strokes upon the foe”. Macbeth is “doubly” energized and “redoubles” his attack on the east instead of being fatigued. In addition to this when Duncan asks if Macbeth was “dismayed”, the captain says “yes - as sparrow’s eagles or the hair the lion”. The use of animal and predatory imagery here shows Macbeth’s determination and how much of a great warrior he is, it also shows how proud Macbeth’s countrymen are of him and how much they value his presence in battle. However this predatory image of a lion foreshadows Macbeth’s potential to be a butcher.

Even though Macbeth commits many murders, he is initially persuaded by his wife to do so because he was “too full o’th’ milk of human kindness” to commit these murders on his own. Initially Macbeth does not want to commit regicide because first he is Duncan’s “Kingsman and his subject” and as a result, does not give heed to the witches’ prophecy, which he states “make [his] seated heart knock at [his] ribs”. The way Shakespeare makes a previously “seated” object “unfixed” shows just how much Macbeth is tormented by the thought of regicide. We see Lady Macbeth manipulates her spouse by questioning his manhood. She tells Macbeth that he would be “so much more the man” if he murdered Duncan, to which Macbeth replies “I dare do all that may become a man”. This shows how Macbeth is so easily manipulated by Lady Macbeth and how much he wants to be respected and appreciated by her. Lady Macbeth is under the influence of the “spirits” and “thick night”, she states “Hie thee hither, / That I may pour my spirits in thine ear”. This again demonstrates how Lady Macbeth intends to manipulate Macbeth into committing more murders by “pouring” her warped view of the world into Macbeths head. Shakespeare’s use of Lady Macbeth influencing Macbeth, suggests that he cannot commit such deeds on his own accord and thus is not entirely a butcher. However, the use of the word “pour” shows that there is fluidity and that Macbeth might be easily manipulated

Even though Macbeth becomes more impulsive, he still retains parts of his humanity. He feels huge remorse about killing Duncan, and he also feel somewhat guilty about killing Banquo After killing Duncan, Macbeth says “this is a sorry sight” to which Lady Macbeth, quickly responds “a foolish thought”. This again shows how Lady Macbeth is manipulating Macbeth into not feeling remorse. A key trait that makes Macbeth not a butcher is remorse, he states;

“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.”

Shakespeare implies that there is purity to the sea and that if Macbeth washes his hands in it then it will become impure. The transition from polysyllabic words to monosyllabic words further presents



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