Hook. These are all entertaining stories in which the antagonist or villain is also portrayed as valiant, compassionate, or even remorseful. Antagonists are often painted in a positive light when they regret their actions, making the reader empathize with and feel sorry for them.
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In Macbeth, Shakespeare introduces Macbeth as one of King Duncan’s generals who suddenly becomes ambitious after hearing the witches’ prophecy. Throughout the course of the play, Macbeth is seen not only has a harsh villain who will commit horrible actions to acquire what he wants, but also as a human being who regrets his ghastly deeds.
At the start of the play, Macbeth is viewed as a brave and courageous warrior. He is praised by King Duncan as a “valiant cousin” and “worthy gentleman” (I.ii.24). The king commends Macbeth for his successes in the battle against Macdonwald. The warrior has shown not only his remarkable value for Scotland but also his support from Duncan. Macbeth was also known for his loyalty to his country. “Till he faced the slave, which ne’er shook hands nor bade farewell to him till he unseamed him from the nave to the chops, and fixed his head upon our battlements” (I.ii.20-23). Describing Macbeth’s magnificant actions during the battle, the wounded captain on the battlefield can only speak praises in admiration of the heroic Macbeth. When Macbeth first hears the prophecy from the three witches in Scene 3 of Act 1, he is unsure whether to believe their words. At the time, he was satisfied to be the mere Thane of Glanis, content with his responsibilities. But to become the Thane of Cawdor seemed illogical to Macbeth since the thane was alive and “a prosperous gentleman” (I.iii.73). Becoming the King of Scotland was considered impossible by Macbeth: “to be king stands not within the prospect of belief, no more than to be Cawdor” (I.iii.74-76). Macbeth had no ambition whatsoever to acquire those titles or to climb higher on the ladder of hierarchy in Scotland; he was just leading his own simple life as the Thane of Glanis. The tables turned, however, when Macbeth is named Thane of Cawdor for his bravery in the recent battles of Scotland.
Attributing King Duncan’s reward of making him Thane of Cawdor to the witches’ prophecy, Macbeth’s mind was filled with eager, ambitious, and greedy thoughts. This sparked the villain side of Macbeth’s personality to show itself. His evil thoughts promote him to commit immoral actions, bringing harm to those around him. Determined to fulfill the second half of the witches’ prophecy, Macbeth hatched a plan with his wife to kill Duncan. Murdering the king in the dead of night, Macbeth broke the laws of chivalry, attacking a foe in a cunning manner. The wicked Macbeth stole a father from Malcolm and Donalbain, pushing the blame into their hands. After Macbeth’s first murder, the porter to his mansion Inverness foreshadows the scary future. The drunk porter imagines himself to be the gatekeeper to Hell when he says, “If a man were porter of hell gate, he should have old turning the key” (II.iii.1-2). If this porter is securing the doorway to Hell, this implies that Macbeth’s residence Inverness is none but Hell itself. Macbeth, the once celebrated heroic legend, is now the deceitful tyrant committing a series of murders. The porter pictures himself welcoming “a farmer that hanged himself on th’ expectation of plenty,” “an equivocator … who committed treason,” and “an English tailor” that stole “out of a French hose” (II.iii.4-5,8-10,13-14). All of these people performed similar immoral deeds to Macbeth, all worthy of being sent to Hell.
Continuing his trend of murders, Macbeth assassinated Banquo, his fellow general, in fear that he would expose him for his conceited activity. Once again disobeying chivalry, Banquo was killed in the dark, when he least expected an attack. Furthermore, Macbeth finished off Macduff’s innocent family, who had no role in Macbeth’s life. By this time in the play, the tyrant is definitely considered a villain for deceitfully killing many of his advisors and even faultless people who caused him no harm.
It is important to take into consideration Macbeth’s motives for beginning his reign of terror. When she heard of the prophecy and her husband’s unwillingness to commit murder, Lady Macbeth challenges her husband to “be so much more the man” (I.vii.52). She questions his masculinity in an effort to encourage him to steal the throne of Scotland; she was the integral reason that Macbeth killing Duncan that dreadful night. If Lady Macbeth had no role in this play, Macbeth might not have lost his heroic qualities in return for these demon-like actions. In addition, Macbeth could have avoided gathering so much blood on his hands. When he seeks out the witches for the second time, they show him three horrific apparitions. He interprets the apparitions as signs of his success and invincibility – that no harm will ever come to him. However, if he had understood the true meaning behind the witches’ warnings, he would apprehend that he was actually in mortal danger. At that moment, Macbeth could have realized his mistakes and repented his wrongdoings, but he choose to continue his killing spree as a villain.
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