Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Macbeth's courage

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One person said of Macbeth “Macbeth’s courage is his redeeming feature. Not all the blood he spills can distinguish his native humanity or blot out his splendour.” Another said “Macbeth looses his humanity and descends into bestial.” Do you agree with either person? Explain why or why not.


Macbeth may in fact be courageous. Anyone who has the guts to kill their King and their best friend must be either courageous or slightly mad, neither of which qualify as redeeming features for Macbeth. At certain times during the play, Macbeth’s momentary loss of his native humanity results in his making impulsive decisions. Despite this, Macbeth’s humanity still remains strong throughout Macbeth, depicted by his guilty conscience. The audience is more likely to sympathize with Macbeth’s ‘tragic hero’ character than to be swayed by Macbeth’s courage. However, one could say that courage is not Macbeth’s redeeming feature at all, as courage could be said to be a quality that Macbeth does not possess.


The most apparent changes in Macbeth’s courage and humanity are around the times of his four different murders. Before committing any murders, Macbeth is described by Lady Macbeth as being “too full o’th’milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way”, meaning that he would not do wrong to become King. However, by the time it comes to murder his next victim, Banquo, Macbeth has begun to put his own safety before his moral values and thus enters the ‘dog eat dog’ world. The brutal murder of Lady Macduff and her son is an extremely low point in Macbeth’s humanity, as Macbeth orders their execution for no apparent reason at all. By the end of the play, Macbeth’s level of humanity has begun to increase, as we see when he tells Macduff that he does not want to spill any more of the Macduff family’s blood, yet as a contrast in the same scene, Macbeth fights and slaughters Siward’s son.


In several circumstances, Macbeth’s courage is limited to physical nature, not emotional or mental. In the opening scenes, we see that Macbeth is physically brave and well deserves the praise bestowed upon him. In the second scene of the play, when Duncan is told about Macbeth’s battlefield bravery, he exclaims “O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman”. Macbeth may be confident defending himself on the battle field, however we see later in the play that Macbeth is easily influenced by other people, such as the witches brewing the idea of killing the King, and Lady Macbeth talking Macbeth into murdering Duncan by challenging his manliness and courage. How can we say Macbeth is courageous if he cannot stand up to his own wife, nor defend the morals he has previously lived by. Not only does Macbeth murder Duncan, but also the guards in Duncan’s chamber. How much courage does it take for Macbeth to murder innocent, defenseless guards?


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Macbeth’s courage seems to be at its greatest just before Banquo’s murder. Macbeth feels no need to consult his wife about the murder, whereas Lady Macbeth had previously been Macbeth’s backbone of strength. However, during the play, Macbeth’s apparent courage walks a fine line between true strength and a selfish fear of losing what he has. The latter seems more probable. Macbeth fears for his safety and he fears to lose all that he has. Macbeth sees his situation as “to be thus is nothing;/But to be safely thus”, and hence Macbeth is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his safety.


Some may say that Macbeth’s courage in the face of death in the last Act of the play is a sign of strength. Inversely, Macbeth’s apparent audacity is a sign that he is unable to admit his faults and accept the penalties for his atrocious behaviour, which furthermore shows weakness of character. Macbeth’s false courage seems to be a redeeming feature, as the audience pities his yo-yoing confidence and courage.


Macbeth’s remorse more so than his lack of courage is a redeeming feature. Guilt is a human quality that plays a big part in showing that Macbeth still possesses humanity. Even before Macbeth has murdered Duncan, Macbeth’s guilt ridden hallucination of the bloody dagger epitomizes his feelings that killing Duncan would not be morally right. The ‘dagger of the mind’ that Macbeth sees is not ghostly or supernatural so much as a manifestation of the inner struggle Macbeth feels as he contemplates murdering Duncan. Macbeth’s appreciation of human morals also contributes to his remorse and disgust after he realizes what he has done to Duncan. Though Macbeth is a fearless soldier in battle whose sword has been “smoked in bloody execution”, he, like any other morally correct human, feels guilt after committing murder in cold blood. In the feast scene where Banquo’s ghost appears to haunt Macbeth’s conscience, we see that the consequences of Banquo’s murder have diminished Macbeth’s courage significantly.


Macbeth is a character often devoted to evil, yet his soliloquies are so full of eloquent speech and pathos that the audience can not help but sympathize with him. Macbeth is the tragic hero. He may have committed evil deeds, but not necessarily of his own free will. Without influences such as the Witches and Lady Macbeth, it is unlikely that Macbeth would have murdered Duncan, and hence the audience pities him. During the play, Macbeth tries to work fate to his advantage, but to no avail. Macbeth gives a heart-wrenching speech in Scene 1, Act 5, where he recounts his betrayal and loss of friends.


“I have lived long enough my way of life


Is fall’n into the sear, the yellow leaf;


And that which should accompany old age,


As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,


I must not look to have…”


Macbeth’s realization that all he has done is terribly wrong is his biggest redeeming feature, but it cannot make up for his behaviour.


Courage does not serve to compensate for Macbeth’s faults and murders. None of Macbeth’s actions or emotions could possibly make up for his treason, lies and murders of several innocent people, however, Macbeth’s conscience, feelings of guilt and role of the tragic hero play some part in redeeming him in the eyes of the audience, and show that Macbeth has not fully descended into the bestial.





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