When writing Macbeth, Shakespeare used real events to base the play on but changed the details so not to cause offence.
He got a lot of inspiration from James I. Macbeth was the first and only play of Shakespeare's to be based on a Scottish subject, maybe this was to flatter the king. In Act 4 scene 1 when Macbeth goes to see the witches they show him eight kings and he replies to them "...
That two fold balls and treble sceptres carry ..." this could be seen as a hugely flattering reference to the king, symbolising the two orbs he carried at his two coronations and the three kingdoms he ruled.Many of the king's interests are echoed in the play, one being his interest in witchcraft which was well known at the time. The king was known to have attended at least one witch trial.
He also published a book called demonology. He set out to prove that the 'unlawful arts' of witches have been and may be put into practice.Sir Everard Digby was one of the conspirator's of the Gunpowder plot, he was a favourite of James, this could be represented in the play with the treachery of the Thane of Cawdor at the start of the play, "Assisted by that most disloyal traitor, The thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict". In 1606 a catholic priest Henry Garnet was accused of treason for his involvement in the Gunpowder plot.
He was found to have committed perjury, but in self defence claimed to have the right to equivocate. Equivocation is a major theme in the play and Macbeth is frequently troubled by it, fearing that the witches may have lied to him.The opening scene of the play is important to establish the mood and atmosphere for the main action in the play. The witches meet in an 'open place', a place removed from the ordinary business of men and the usual social rules. The weather is extravagant and hostile to men, "Hover through the fog and filthy air" suggesting darkness and unhealthiness.
The witches' conversation is again removed from the interchange of ordinary men, the use of rhyme in their speech is a feature throughout the play, it intensifies a sense of incantation of magical charm. Every detail of the short opening scene urges our imagination to sense a confusion of the usual human order, a world of darkness and foulness, a sinister challenge to ordinary goodness.In the 16th century it would have been difficult to represent witches on the stage in a believable way. Their presence would have been familiar to the audience but also problematic when the play was first performed. The nature and power of the witches being debated even while persons convicted of witchcraft were being pilloried, imprisoned, hanged and burnt alive.
In rural areas co called witches might be laughed at or visited for minor cures and fortune telling. But in courts of law the practice of witchcraft was a capital offence.They were reputed to become invisible, transport themselves and work their will over chosen victims. Audiences may well have believed they were evil spirits or possessed. Although nowhere in the play is witchcraft clearly associated with the devil, theatre was forbidden to deal with the matter of religion but there is a suggestion to it.
Act 5 scene 5 Macbeth begins to doubt the witches' message as the lying tricks of the 'fiend' this could be referred to the devil.Shakespeare made the witches broth in Act4 scene1 as unpleasant and unchristian as possible; they could hear the spell being prepared which would develop vivid and dramatic images for the audience without them actually seeing magic on the stage.In Act 1 scene 2 we are told of Macbeth's bravery on the battle field. The battle is given a size and an importance which magnify the qualities of Macbeth. The focus for this scene is Macbeth's virtues as a loyal soldier to King Duncan, but in scene 3 Macbeth's first line stops us, it is very close to the manner of the witches "So foul and fair a day I have not seen". Macbeth is disturbed and frightened by the witches which is different from the image portray in the previous scene.
He is concerned that men are easily tempted into sin by the 'instruments of darkness'.In his asides Macbeth reveals a deeply disturbed mind, something in himself seems to have been echoed in the witches words and it is this that gives him most concern. The witches have been proven right about the first of their predications, what will happen about the next, it may be inevitable. Macbeth reveals a strong power of imagination and already at this early stage is deceiving people.For the first half of the play Banquo is very obviously presented by Shakespeare as a parallel figure to Macbeth. Both distinguish themselves by fighting for their king, both have promises made to them by the witches but that is where the similarity end.
Banquo's reply to the king's praise is brief and self effacing, "There if I grow The harvest is your own"; Macbeth's is fuller and from our knowledge of him we should suspect to be dishonest.Banquo's reaction to the witches is noticeably more casual than Macbeth's but he does not ask the witches if they see anything in the future for him. In the play he is morally superior to Macbeth and he is not unhappy in the tortured manner of Macbeth. Banquo's puzzlement of the predications of the witches takes the form of scepticism and deep distrust of the witches who he sees as the 'devil' or the 'instruments of darkness'. This distrust later becomes fear when in Act 2 scene 1 he tells of the 'cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose' and we find out he has dreamt of the witches.
The strength of character, of Banquo is a rebuke to Macbeth's weaker character and Macbeth can not tolerate the thought that he has sacrificed his soul to profit Banquo by allowing his descendants to become king.The witches prophesies introduce Macbeth to ideas of greatness, Macbeth follows on to killing king Duncan, a destruction of the natural order, something witches were know to do, you can wonder if Macbeth ever had a chance of doing what was right after he met the witches. It is more realistic to believe Macbeth was responsible for his own actions throughout the play as in the end it was him who made the final decisions.Banquo says "The instruments of darkness tells us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray's In deepest consequence" He might believe that these prophesies will only bring harm even before anything begins to happen. So Macbeth is warned by his friend before he makes any decisions that the witches are evil and what they suggest is evil.The witches add temptation and influence Macbeth, because they have told him he will be king he becomes impatient and tries to hurry it as quickly as he can, but the witches can not control his destiny.
Macbeth creates his own misery when he is driven by his own sense of guilt. This causes him to become insecure as to the reasons for his actions which in turn causes him to commit more murders. The witches are only responsible for the introduction of the ideas and the future forming of ideas in Macbeth's head.Lady Macbeth is shown early in the play as an ambitious woman with a single purpose. She can manipulate Macbeth easily; this is shown in the line "That I pour my spirit in thine ear". She is selfless and wants the best for her husband.
Before the speech Lady Macbeth gives in Act1 scene 5 Macbeth is resolved not to go through with killing Duncan. However Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth's self esteem by playing on his manliness and his bravery. This then convinces Macbeth to commit regicide.Macbeth has the final say in whether to go ahead, he love his wife and wants to please her. Lady Macbeth is the dominating figure in the relationship which is shown in her soliloquy in Act 1 scene 7. It seems that she can convince him to do anything as long as she push's the right buttons.
She says "art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour, as thou art desire?"As the play progresses, Macbeth becomes the dominating partner again. Lady Macbeth becomes subservient. She becomes pathetic and a shadow of her former self. Ambition plays a large role in the tragedy. Lady Macbeth's ambition drives her to manipulate Macbeth.
The combination of both his ambitious nature and the initial prophesies lead Macbeth to commit murder. The killing of Duncan starts an unstoppable chain of events.Lady Macbeth is a controversial figure, she is seen as having strong will, who is ambitious for herself and who is astute enough to recognise her husband's strengths and weakness, and ruthless enough to exploit them. She seems to be the better criminal; she remembers the details that Macbeth has overlooked, "Why did you bring these daggers from the place?" She does however begin to realise that the crown has not brought happiness, "Nought's had, all's spent, where our desire is got without content".