Macbeths Decent To Hell 

The decent into hell is easy. Truly it was easy for Macbeth, who, after an initial resistance toward the murder of Duncan, seemed to slide into the role of a cold blooded murderer unconsciously and effortlessly.  As Macbeth made this decent, his people and subjects opinion of him with in turn – tarnishing from ‘golden’ to black. Even Scotland, which, through the monarchy system belonged to Macbeth, and in a way was Macbeth (through his absolute control of it) reflected his violent nature. After Macbeths first murder of King Duncan thunder and lightening reigned, chimneys were blown down, and the ‘ earth was feverous and did shake’. Shakespeare effectively used metaphor and pathetic fallacy to communicate to us that, as hell grew within Macbeth and his greed and dire ambition gained him greater material things and status, it in turn lost him friends, honour and his own sanity.

In act one, scene two of the text Macbeth we are introduced to a brave, valiant, honourable man. Macbeth had been in the battle between Norway and Scotland, leading Scotland to victory and triumphing over the treacherous Macdonwald. Because Macbeth was written and performed in the seventeen hundreds, without the use of the cinematic effects that we have today Shakespeare had to relay information, thoughts and opinions through dialogue.  We are told of Macbeths valour by a wounded soldier, who delivers a speech about Macbeths part in the battle, praising him like a king. When he says “disdaining fortune” Shakespeare means that Macbeth is defying fate. Though the Scottish and the Norwegians were both failing like ‘ two spent swimmers, that do cling together’ and it seemed that the Scotts were fated to be defeated, Macbeth fought against fortune, refusing to be a slave to this outcome. The wounded soldier goes on to say “his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution” In these eight words Shakespeare uses metaphor to show us that Macbeth is a powerful, fearsome warrior, with fighting skills so great that his very sword ‘smokes’ with the blood of those that fell under it. At this point if there was any room for doubt about Macbeths courage and heroism it is banished by the line “Like valor’s minion”. Shakespeare is using a simile to communicate to us that it is as though Macbeth is an agent for valour, and shows extreme bravery, courage and determination. At this point in the text Macbeth has only the title ‘thane of Glamis’ and has a fairly low status, but he does have honour, respect and ‘golden opinions’.

 In act two, scene three Macbeth has taken two cautious, remorseful steps toward hell. He began his journey by murdering King Duncan in cold blood. Unlike in the battle between Norway and Scotland when Macbeth was honoured for the death that he brought – the assassination of the king was treacherous, violent and inequitable. The murder was not described in the text, and considering Macbeth was a play performed in the seventeen hundreds and the tools were not around to make the death convincing, Shakespeare would have wanted to uphold the suspension of disbelief – therefore he had to communicate how despicable and dark the deed was through speech. At the beginning of act two scene four Ross and an old man discuss the previous nights events ( in which Macbeth killed Duncan). Ross delivers a few lines, saying that the day – which should be bright- is dark, as though the light has been strangled or killed. This is an example of pathetic fallacy. Pathetic fallacy is a writing convention often used by Shakespeare to draw a connection between nature and the events, or moods of the characters. Through the murder of Duncan Macbeth becomes king, the (perhaps not so) god appointed ruler of Scotland. With this title Scotland belongs to Macbeth, and Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy to have Scotland reflect its owners deeds and mental state. So when Ross says the “dark night strangles the travelling lamp” it is a representation of Macbeths murder of Duncan. Duncan being the traveling lamp or daytime – due to his goodness and honour – and the ‘dark night’ is the now murderous Macbeth – who’s inner blackness led him to take the life of Duncan, and in turn quench the light with dark. Ross goes on to say “That darkness does the face of Earth entomb” The idea of darkness – which is Macbeths dire ambition, cruelty and black actions – entombing the face of the earth, is a beautiful way of Shakespeare’s to show that because of Macbeths inner blackness Duncan is now dead. It is as though the darkness has wrapped itself around the earth (symbolising Duncan) thus trapping it in a cold prison for the dead – such as a tomb. At this point during act two of the text Macbeth has the titles thane of Glamis and Cawdor – soon to join the list, King of Scotland. He is rapidly gaining status, and the material wealth that comes with it, however, already Scotland is showing the effects of his growing greed and inner blackness in the form of untimely darkness, as well as the earth being ‘feverous’ and shaking, with ravening winds and lamentings heard in the air.

By just over halfway through the text – Act four, scene three Macbeth has been responsible for the slaughter of Duncan, Banquo, Lady Macduff as well as all her children and household. He has begun to slide uncontrollably towards hell, making no move to stop himself or show any remorse as he makes his dark decent. As this happens his subjects and ‘friends’ opinions of him plummet in turn. Alone Macduff speaks to Malcom and openly says that Macbeth is a ‘tyrant’ and an unfit ruler, with only stolen riches. He laments ” Bleed, bleed, poor country!” – this is another example of pathetic fallacy, Scotlands wounds weeping from the damage and destruction that Macbeths actions have inflicted on it. When Macduff says “Wear thou thy wrongs;” He is bitterly inviting Macbeth to parade his evil deeds, to enjoy what he has gained through treachery, and let his actions be exposed for all to see. At the end of his speech Macduff says “I would not be the villain that thou think’st For the whole space that’s in the tyrant’s grasp,” He is saying that, not for everything that belongs to a king – land, power, status – would he ever sink to be as Macbeth is – treacherous, conniving, and hellish. Through the blood of his country, and the secret conversations of those who once looked up to him, Shakespeare is showing us that, like “two spent swimmers that do cling together” once one begins to sink deeper – Macbeths growing evil dragging him towards hell – it pulls the other – his ‘golden opinions’ – right on with it.

 As we reach the end of the text, Macbeth is nearing the end of his decent toward hell. He falls, plunging Scotland, his subjects and himself into darkness. Macbeth has everything that he craved: he is king of Scotland, holds unquestionable status, has slaughtered his fears, and won the crown. However, despite this immense wealth and power, Macbeth has lost his treasured friends, his subjects opinions and the peace of his country. In act five, scene two Angus is speaking with four other Lords, who prepare for battle against Macbeth. He says “Now does he feel His secret murders sticking on his hands” By this Shakespeare is illustrating to us through metaphor that the blood of the slaughtered is plaguing Macbeth, staining him, something that he will never be able to wash away. He goes on to say “Now minutely revolts upbraid his faith breach. Those he commands move only in command,  Nothing in love.” This line exhibits the irony of the circumstance; once Macbeth had love, and no army. Now, in hell, he has an army who follow him because they must “Nothing in love.” When Angus says “his title Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe Upon a dwarfish thief.” Shakespeare is showing us how, though his titles are large and grand, Macbeth himself is nothing but a small man, shrunken by his deeds. Now he is too cowardly and conniving to fit such honours, and they hang lose about him, like a child trying to don a mans crown. Macbeths actions leave him descending toward the dark depths of hell and Shakespeare has used the dialogue of others illustrate his journey.

 Shakespeare has shown us that truly ‘the decent into hell is easy’ – or was for Macbeth, when coupled with dire ambition, paranoia and a lust for power. When we were first introduced to Macbeth he was a heavenly man, with honour and loyalty – being described as ‘valors minion’. But once he was given a little push – in the form of a wild, wonderful idea, planted by the witches, he began to tumble down, falling faster and with less resistance every murder he committed and lie he told. Shakespeare had Scotland, as well as Macbeths friends and subjects illustrate to us his decent and their darkening opinions of their king through dialogue, metaphors and pathetic fallacy. The text has shown us that great ambition is the breeding-ground for greed and insatiableness, and where such selfishness grows, nothing good will follow. It was Macbeths own dire ambition that caused him to make the decent into hell. He fell through the darkness, his very soul becoming blacker and blacker… until he reached the bottom, the lowest he could have possibly sunk…. and died at the base of a hell of his own making.

Ruby Burke


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Join the conversation! 5 Comments

  1. Hi Mr Waugh! I would like to do my hour of work at 4;20 today (tue 29 may) if that is alright with you?

  2. Hi Ruby – that sounds good. I checked the logs and you kept to the timeframe perfectly.

  3. As we discussed today:

    1) You have demonstrated a strong appreciation of the purpose of this task – which is to use your own ability with language to convey your ideas about Macbeth. You’ve done this with some confidence in the draft so far.

    2) Once your work is more complete, I encourage you to put your main focus on this aspect. The task is an assessment of your skill as a writer, and there’s no question that you have a nuanced understanding of the play (which means that you have plenty of material to fuel a strong essay), so now the job is to make sure your writing is well crafted and controlled.

    3) Have someone read your work to you so you’re able to take a more objective ‘ear’ to your writing. This is a very useful method of identifying lapses in the style, or points where an effect is over-done – or where your ideas are over- or under-explained. Pay particular attention to any struggle the reader has in decoding your piece.

    You’re going well!


  4. Achievement Achievement with Merit Achievement with Excellence
    Develop and structure ideas in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas convincingly in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas effectively in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control to command attention in formal writing.

    Reading your work is like drinking a glass of cool water on a hot summer’s day.


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