Character Description of King Duncan and Macbeth
One of the smaller, yet important, characters is King Duncan. Duncan is an intelligent, generous, trusting and simply, a good king. Especially his goodness contributed to the doubt of Macbeth to actually kill the king. Complimenting his companions for all their nobleness demonstrates Duncan’s love to the people around him and effects their compassion for him.
“O valiant cousin! Worthy gentlemen!” (Act I, Scene 2) is Duncan’s response to someone he barely knows and just explains what had happened during the battle and how Macbeth saved Duncan’s kingdom. Of course it is logical that Duncan is very content with the news of a victories view on the battle. However, to call someone a valiant cousin and a worthy gentlemen if he does not know who this men with the news is, shows Duncan’s respect to a man who is of much lower class than himself. As well it gives the audience the feeling that Duncan is a man who rather lives in a peaceful country than in a country that often fights for land. Besides men he does not know very well, his appreciation of his noble follower Banquo is more than once expressed by Duncan. Firstly he “infold thee (Banquo) and hold thee to my heart” (Act I Scene 4) and not much later expresses again his thankfulness of Banquo’s loyalty when he compliments him (to the audience) by calling him truly worthy. And by naming Macbeth thane of Cawdor he demonstrates his generosity and appreciation for a, in his eyes, noble man. Duncan really is a loving and generous man; he wants the very best for his people and recognizes loyalty and the good side in people. Maybe that is his tragic flaw. Perhaps Duncan is naïve, or perhaps he wants to set the example for his country since he is the king, and by doing so he does puts his own status in a dangerous position. His real intentions for being the person that he is are not obvious. Although Duncan is too naïve to suspect anybody from hurting him, which is not necessary because he is well respected for his deeds, he admits his mistake. When Banquo and he are talking about the man that deceived him and fought the battle against him he explains that “there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face: he was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust” (Act I Scene 4). His intelligence, on the other hand, is a little bit more obvious. Duncan has not shown any knowledge about a possible assassination, but still tells the people his son Malcolm is going to be the king after him (Act I Scene 4). Duncan is intelligent enough to understand that he will not be king forever. And although he has no real signs of diseases or death, there is something that drives him to the point where he officially announces that his son is going to be king before he departs to visit the person who caries the same title as his last traitor. It is ironic that the thane of Cawdor is his traitor and his murderer. Despite the fact that Macbeth wants to kill Duncan for his own sake, he acknowledges Duncan’s goodness and intelligence in his soliloquy in which he doubts whether or not he should kill Duncan. “This Duncan hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against the deep damnation of his taking off” (Act I Scene 7).
A completely different character is the direct half that murdered king Duncan. The direct half is the part of the conspiracy that actually murdered the king, the other half, the indirect part, is the person that helped thinking about and inspiring the assassination. Macbeth himself is the direct and Lady Macbeth the indirect half. Macbeth, a worthy warrior, deals with his ambition in conjunction with his conscience. His ambition leads him to think about ideas his conscience disapproves, but since his ambition is shared by the indirect part, Lady Macbeth, his ambition conquers his conscience.
As soon as Macbeth has the chance to understand what happened to him after the three “witches” told him he would be thane of Cawdor and king, his imagination leads him to think it is possible that his sons could become king. “Do you not hope your children shall be kings, when those that gave the thane of Cawdor to me promis’d no less to them?” (Act I Scene 3) are his thoughts when he releases that the witches gave him what they promised, the title of thane. How great would it be if his sons could become rulers of the country? Soon his ideas about his sons change to the idea that he could become king himself if the king would die before announcing the next king. When Duncan does announce that Malcolm should be king after his dead, Macbeth demonstrates to the audience that this means he needs to fight him as well. He thinks that “in my way it lies” (Act I Scene 4), it is his destiny to become king. But a couple lines before that he tells the king that the victory was his duty to the king. Clearly he does not have any problem by wearing a mask over his thoughts, or as he states in Act I Scene 7; “false face must hide what the false heart doth know”. His ambition is there, he wants to be the king, now he knows he is destined to be king he feels more tendency to murder than to be loyal. However, his conscience is at some points stronger than his will. In his soliloquy he is persuading himself that he should not murder because of many reasons. The part where his conscience plays a huge role is concerning the fact that “we still have judgment here; that we but teach bloody instructions, which being taught return to plague th’inventor” (Act I Scene 7). Ironically, since he is the murder, Macbeth is the only one who doubts himself so often. The other characters know what they wanted; the king wants all the good for his country, Banquo wants all what is good for the king, and Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s “dearest partner of greatness” (Act I Scene 5), wants to see her husband becoming the king. Macbeth admits that his greatest weakness is his “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other” (Act II Scene 7). Having ambition is one of those things in life you can’t afford it too have too little, but neither can you have too much or it will work against you. In Macbeth’s case there is enough to make him consider killing his king, but not enough to actually act the murder out. He needs someone who can persuade him to do it. Lady Macbeth fits in this picture perfectly. She is supportive enough to ask Macbeth if he rather lives as “a coward in thine own esteem” (Act I Scene 7) or that he becomes king. If Lady Macbeth would not continue to push him and give him orders, he would probably not have done the job without big mistakes. Even after the “deed” Lady Macbeth needs to calm him down. She needs to tell him that he should “consider it not so deeply” (Act II Scene 2) when he was not able to pronounce the word “amen”.