Is the message of Macbeth one of despair, or of hope? You decide.
After you decide which side of the issue you are on, write an argumentative essay that proves Macbeth is either a study of the meaninglessness of life, or that Macbeth is a study in the meaningfulness of life.
Is the Message of Macbeth one of Despair or Hope?
The message of Macbeth is one full of despair. As such, Macbeth can best be classified as the study of the meaninglessness of life. Act 5 reveals Macbeth’s view on the meaningless of life. Macbeth is overwhelmed by the need to become a leader that he is forced to plot the death of the King. In scene 5, Macbeth pours out his thoughts about life. This is after learning about Macbeth’s death. Even though he appears calm on receiving the message, it is clear through the speech he gives which is full of despair and pessimism. Macbeth feels that life is short and unpredictable, one that is meaningless and fragile. It is at this juncture that he compares life to a number of items all of which allude on life’s meaninglessness.
As earlier mentioned, Macbeth compares life with a number of things. To him, life is like a “brief candle” (Shakespeare, 82). This shows the brevity of life. This stems from the fact that he has witnessed the deaths of many men that he associates life with vulnerability – one that can easily disappear just like brief candle does. Macbeth goes further to say that “life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage” (83). This also gives a sense of the brevity of life. From these allusions, it is clear that Macbeth is detailing the emptiness of life. His speech, which is motivated by grief and the apparent danger ahead, indicates that there is no purpose in life. It is important to note that Macbeth is also incensed by the advancing armies, another reason why his speech is full of despair. Following Lady Macbeth’s death, he is left with no hope of ever finding happiness.
Lady Macbeth also depicts despair in the scene where she sleepwalks in the castle. This occurs before the night of the battle against Malcolm and Macduff. Earlier on, she played a critical role in convincing Macbeth to kill Duncan. Earlier on during the play, Macbeth believed that his hand was covered in bloodstains that could not be washed off. Lady Macbeth offered that water could clear the deed. In the sleepwalking scene, she too is covered with blood and does not know how to wash it off. The sleepwalking scene reveals her emotional state which had worsened over time. Lady Macbeth’s inability to sleep represents despair she was undergoing. She asserts that the murders they commit cannot come back to haunt them as long as Macbeth is in power. Her death is foreshadowed when she says in her sleep that hell is murky (Shakespeare, 33). Lady Macbeth is tormented by guilt which makes her life meaningless.
The battle in scene 7 also highlights the meaningless of life. Many soldiers lose their lives as the battle rages on, including Lord Siward’s son who is slain by Macbeth himself. In the battle, Macbeth is fearless because he believes in the three prophecies. However, he begins to fear for his life after an encounter with Macduff. The play depicts hopelessness and despair. Macbeth had already come up with a great vision of the things he planned to accomplish, but all of this came crushing down following the defeat in the battle.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Irvine: Saddleback Educational Pub, 2010. Internet resource.