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Starting with Act III, Scene I, explain how Shakespeare explores fear in Macbeth.
In Act III, Scene I, Shakespeare attempts to explore fear in Macbeth through reverse gender stereotypes, animalistic imagery, use of exclamations and the ideology of the divine right of kings and how God may have abandoned Macbeth, causing fear as Macbeth may feel as if he has lost his religious beliefs which were extremely important during the time of the play. Furthermore, throughout the rest of the play up until Act 5, scene 5, Macbeth’s fear appears to ultimately be what drives him to commit his actions, such as the fear of witches’ prophecy and how Macbeth attempted every possible action in order to protect himself.
To begin with, Shakespeare intentionally implements the idea of gender stereotypes in order to show fear in Macbeth. As we know, the typical stereotype of a female usually refers to a weak, gentle soul and can be related to Macbeth with quotes such as ‘keep the natural ruby of your cheeks’ where we see Macbeth potentially describing the innocence of Lady Macbeth, as ‘natural’ often has connotations of pure and clean as Mother Nature intended things to be. However, Macbeth appears to overlay this stereotype onto himself in the quote ‘when mine is blanched with fear’. We can suggest here that Macbeth has adopted the ‘fear’ that women were known for having at the time due to the sight of Banquo’s ghost.
Furthermore, Shakespeare attempts to explore ‘fear’ in Macbeth through the use of animalistic imagery when describing Banquo’s ghost. The use of predatory animals such as ‘bear’, ‘rhinoceros’ and ‘tiger’ all appear to share dominance in the food chain and help evoke fear as the animals typically appear very frightening and evil. Additionally, each of the animals tends to be the ‘king’ of their pack as the primary predator. We can relate this to Macbeth as he is the alleged ‘king’ of Cawdor and is essentially the peak of hierarchy in society at the time. However, Macbeth’s fear in Banquo’s ghost shows that Macbeth does not match the dominance of these animals and how he is not as powerful as he originally thought himself to be. Macbeth is a coward when faced with the consequences of his actions as he fails to face up to what he has done.
Similarly, Shakespeare attempts to present fear and paranoia in Macbeth through the use of exclamations. When we are fearful, we typically wish for the thing we are fearful of to go away and in Macbeth’s case, ‘avaunt!’ clearly shows Macbeth’s fear in Banquo’s ghost. The exclamatory gives us a sense of urgency, as Macbeth appears so frightened by the sight that he is essentially pleading in mercy for the ghost to leave him. The same fear can also be depicted with ‘let the earth hide thee!’ where Macbeth is once again wishing for the ghost to disappear and take rest in its grave. Lastly, the quote ‘no speculation in those eyes’ allows us to infer that Banquo’s ghost is certain of Macbeth’s involvement in his death which in turn, causes Macbeth to fear discovery. It helps show that Macbeth is paranoid of the other lords finding out about his tyrannical methods and so Macbeth appears weak and helpless at the situation and foreshadows how Macbeth is prey to a greater predator, that being Macduff later in the play.
Moreover, the ‘fear’ appears to disappear in the quote ‘I am a man again’ right after the vanishing of Banquo’s ghost. This helps us to infer that Macbeth fears the supernatural as ghosts and ghouls can be related to the Devil. In accordance with the divine right of kings, the king is believed to have been chosen by God and act as a servant of his power. The idea of the Devil making Macbeth fearful could imply that Macbeth is not a true servant of God, as this is recognised by Macbeth’s traitorous ascension to power. However, this could also suggest an infringement on Macbeth’s beliefs as a Christian, shown in the quote ‘unreal mockery, hence!’. The noun ‘mockery’ could have been used by Shakespeare to depict how Banquo’s ghost is essentially ‘mocking’ Macbeth’s religious beliefs due to their connection with evil and the Devil. It could also support the idea that Banquo’s ghost is making a fool of Macbeth and his contradicting beliefs, such as claiming to be a servant of God, yet killing the king, similarly killing God. Shakespeare explores fear in Macbeth through this as religion was viewed as sacred at the time and any actions that defy those religious beliefs were seen as blasphemous. This helps indicate how Macbeth is fearful that his actions could be seen as sacrilegious which, at the time, would have fatal consequences.
In conclusion, Shakespeare addresses many factors to explore fear in Macbeth. Ultimately, Macbeth’s fear is the result of his horrific actions due to the witches’ prophecy and is thoroughly depicted during the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. Macbeth’s fear allows the audience to coherently view the possible punishments of God for Macbeth’s regicidal actions.