The protagonist Macbeth

Macbeth’s development throughout the play

The main character of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the nobleman and warrior Macbeth. What we know about him is based on three things: what he does; what he says; and what others say about him. All these elements change over the course of Shakespeare’s play. Note that there is no narrator in a play, unlike in short stories or novels.

We never learn anything about Macbeth’s physical characteristics, but we hear of his inner characterisation before we first meet him, and it is all praise. In Act 1, Scene 2, a sergeant who has fought alongside Macbeth against a rebel army refers to him as “brave Macbeth” (1.2.18). Shortly after, King Duncan refers to him as “valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!” (1.2.26). Right from the start, we understand that Macbeth is a brave soldier, a nobleman, and the King’s relative.

As we read on, the description of how fiercely Macbeth fought for his king and country reveals another characteristic: Macbeth is a warrior. When killing Macdonwald, the rebel leader, Macbeth “unseam’d him from the nave to the chops,/ And fix’d his head upon [the] battlements.” (1.2.24-25). This suggests that brutally killing people is no problem for Macbeth, at least when it happens in battle.

However, as we read on, we see a more reflective side of Macbeth’s character. We finally meet him when he and Banquo encounter the witches. The very first words Macbeth speaks are: “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” (1.3.39). This line tells us two important things about him. F...

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