The soliloquies contribute to Macbeth's characterization as a tragic hero rather than a villain. Because we are able to know Macbeth's thoughts as verbalized in the soliloquies, we understand his dilemma and temptation as he contemplates killing Duncan. We realize that this murder is not easy for him and that he is fully conscious of the fact that this murder is wrong on many levels. But the temptation to be king is so great that it overrides his scruples.
As we see Macbeth succumb more and more to the forces of darkness, we see the accompanying sorrow and pain, and Macbeth's poignant realization of the horrible consequences of his actions. One of the more powerful soliloquies occurs in Act 5, when Macbeth feels that
My way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf,
And that which should accompany old age,
As honor love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have . . .
Tragic heroes, according to Aristotle, in their tragic falls develop a heightened sense of self knowledge so that they understand the justness of their fate. It is through these soliloquies that we see Macbeth painfully aware of his losses and the fact that his existence now is meaningless. Through these expressions, pathos for Macbeth is developed.
Macbeth’s soliloquy at the start of Act 1, Scene 7, introduces us to a side of Macbeth that has not yet been portrayed earlier in the play. Here, instead of being the courageous and valiant soldier, Macbeth reveals himself to be a man who is being slowly tempted by ambition and power, though not determined enough to take the risks in order to achieve his goal, thus resulting in the repetition of “ifs” throughout the beginning of Macbeth’s soliloquy. Macbeth is also very much aware of the lack of reason for the murder of Duncan. The soliloquy effectively adds to our understanding of the internal conflict that plagues Macbeth as he struggles to determine whether or not he should kill Duncan, who is a virtuous man as well as his kinsman and king. He believes that it is against the nature of man to kill someone who is of such a status and relation to him and that it is immoral to do so, “he’s here in double trust: first, as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed” and that it would be a breech of Duncan’s trust in him if he decides to go through with the murder. We see Macbeth’s reluctance to murder Duncan himself as he is a guest in his own home. “…as his host, who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself.”
Macbeth knows that his weakness is the desire he has to seize the crown. He knows that although he does not wish to murder Duncan but for the fulfillment of his own ambition, “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition…” it is something that must happen in order for Macbeth to achieve what he wants. The audience sees the conflict within Macbeth and the horrible imaginings he has for his own downfall and his fate. He knows that he is drinking from a “poisoned chalice” which symbolizes Macbeth’s yearning for moral desecration. Another aspect of Macbeth that the audience witness is the reluctance to mention the murder of Duncan. Instead, he uses euphemisms such as ” it, assassination, this blow, the deed, bear the knife, his taking off, horrid deed, my intent” This gives the audience the impression that Macbeth is scared to name his fate and his intentions of murdering Duncan in fear of “jinxing” himself.
Macbeth’s tone throughout his soliloquy is one of confusion, frustration and is filled with hellish images which are associated with what may become of Macbeth’s soul. “Bloody instructions, which being taught; return to plague th’inventor, deep damnation, poisoned chalice” Macbeth recognizes the guilt which may come with the murder of Duncan and we find ourselves feeling pity for him as he struggles with morals and his own ambition. Personification and metaphors are also effective in Macbeth’s soliloquy. Through personification, various aspects of humanity such as virtues, justice, and pity have been exaggerated so that the audience may treat these aspects as humans, and feel the vulnerability of human goodness- pity is portrayed as a newborn babe, and virtues are portrayed pleading like angels.
Through Macbeth’s soliloquy, the audience sees that this man, who was supposedly a virtuous, valiant person, has become a weak character, giving in to the temptations brought on by ambition, greed and power, even if it means having to abandon his morals. The audience recognizes that Macbeth is human and he is plagued with a troubled conscience but we are disappointed to see Macbeth slowly drifting towards corruption and his own downfall. He will eventually “o’erleap” himself.