"Stars, Hide Your Fire" | a persuasive speech on Macbeth

Sunday, 2 October 2016

(This is one of the many sample essays, I have been working on in preparation for an important English exam that will be coming up soon. In this particular one, I am writing a persuasive speech as an informed reader to other readers defending the actions of one of the characters in a play of my choice. I decided to go with Macbeth by William Shakespeare. As it is for a secular examination, I have avoided drawing overt Christian themes/messages in the debate/discussion, though I imagine there can be so much to analyse and draw from through a Christian worldview perspective. I hope you enjoy, and if you have any thoughts/suggestions/tips/ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments below! Thank you!)
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Hello my fellow theatre-lovers! Today, with the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death not too far behind us, I invite you join me in a discussion on the actions of one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, “Macbeth”. From a cultural standpoint, when we think of Macbeth, we picture an ambitious, weak man who treacherously murders King Duncan and seizes the Crown. In our debate today, I invite you to look at Macbeth from a different perspective, as we ask ourselves whether perhaps Macbeth is actually a good man with great valour and courage, but who eventually succumbs to the temptation laid before him by the evil of the witches and the manipulation of his wife?
            In the opening Acts of the play, Shakespeare invites us, his audience, to view Macbeth as a brave and noble hero, just come back from defeating the foes of the king in battle and loyally defending him against a treacherous rebellion. Macbeth is a man who fought valiantly and wins the praise of his king. King Duncan sets him in contrast to the former Thane of Cawdor when he rewards him, saying, “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won.” This presents the honest trust the king has in the loyalty and courage of Macbeth.
            But what leads this loyal soldier to commit regicide against his own king? When the three strange sisters appear to Macbeth and his friend Banquo, and foretell that he will be king, Macbeth is startled by their words. We witness the beginnings of a major conflict within Macbeth himself, when the first part of the prophecy seems to come to pass and the king’s men name Macbeth “Thane of Cawdor”. His soliloquy, “Stars, hide your fire; let not light see my black and deep desires,” reveal the ambition rooted in his subconscious, that perhaps has been hidden before but which the witches now expose. The vision of becoming king is not one he can shake off easily.
But what haunts Macbeth even more is the prophecy itself, with the lure of the supernatural words spoken by the witches. Their words are prophetic, hinting at the conflict of fate and free will, and whether he has it in him to bring about the fulfilment of the witches’ words. He is immediately tempted with a “horrid image”, for the first time glimpsing his opportunity of killing the king to achieve his “vaulting ambition”. But this he resists, knowing he cannot abuse his better nature by nurturing such murderous thoughts. At the end of the first Act, Macbeth concludes “if chance will have me king, why chance may crown me without my stir” and chooses to not to commit such an evil. Shakespeare thus gives us a glimpse into Macbeth’s nature, and lets us see his wish to do what he knows is right, despite the lurking temptation in his heart.
            His fault now lies in telling his wife, whom he clearly is devoted to, about the prophecy of the witches. Unlike him, Lady Macbeth is not bound by scruples of loyalty or integrity, and takes it upon herself to convince her husband to bring about his own predestined glory. Her estimate of her husband’s character being “too full o’ the’ milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way” demonstrates that she knows he is keenly conscience of his moral obligations. In her ambition, she sets about demolishing his scruples, by appealing to his masculinity, daring him to “screw [his] courage to the sticking place” and be a man. The interplay of the meaning of gender roles plays a significant part in the play. It is clear that such goading of his manhood cannot but have an effect on the insecure, emotional Macbeth. Having never put to rest the gnawing ambition and the seduction of the prophecy of the witches, Macbeth succumbs to the manipulation of his wife and commits the act of regicide against his king.
hehe, silly Shakespearean puns
            What Shakespeare achieves in his portrayal of Macbeth’s fall into evil is phenomenal, however. We cannot but see that despite Macbeth committing such an evil deed, there is something deeply human and universal about his character that we can relate to. As he becomes tormented by a frenzy of ghostly visions and hallucinations, he cannot silence the workings of his conscience. He sees blood on his hands, and with it he realises the enormity of his offence – against God, against humanity and against himself. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?” A further manifestation of his conscience, and the weight of his guilt, can be witnessed in his immediate knowledge that he has ‘murdered Sleep’. He knows he has sacrificed his soul to the devil, and every treacherous action he consequently commits, demonstrates his knowledge that he is beyond redemption.
            Perhaps that is the greatest tragedy about Macbeth. It is his tacit knowledge of the evil in his heart, his inability to firmly resist temptation when it was thrust on him, and his realisation that there is no undoing his first Crime, that makes him rise above the ordinary villain. He could have been so much more, and he knows it. But it is this very consciousness that there is no going back, which leads him irrevocably down a path of destruction. He distances himself from his beloved wife, seeks the council of the demonic witches and becomes paranoid of those closest to him. He clings to the beguiling promises of the witches, that no man born of woman can kill him, yet in his soliloquy at the death of his wife, he reveals the emptiness of his life, that
“Life but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
            In conclusion to our discussion today, I challenge you to see that Macbeth is essentially a good man at heart, courageous and valiant in battle with a keen sense of moral obligation and conscience, but through the weakness of character and the temptation brought on by the witches, he listens to evil council and goes down a way of unescapable evil and damnation.