The presentation of choice in Macbeth (Shakespeare), My Last Duchess (Browning)
and The Laboratory (Browning)
Macbeth’s choices are essentially presented through the soliloquys and asides, and basically boil down to “To murder or not to murder?”. As soliloquys and asides are effectively what is going on in a character’s mind, we know that what is said is what the character believes – characters do not consciously lie in soliloquy or aside, though they may be wrong or even self-deceiving.
Act 1 Sc. 3
Immediately after the witches’ prophecies, M cannot decide whether it is something to happy or fearful about. B tells us that M’s first reaction is fear (has he already thought about becoming king, does his fear stem from thinking that the witches have read his mind? It would explain why the witches have chosen now to appear to him). In his aside, his reaction is to think of murder, but he sees this in terms of horror “present fears/ Are less than horrible imaginings” (1-3-37/8) and comes to a conclusion based on rationality – if it is his fate to become king, then he does not need to do anything but let it happen naturally. Everything will eventually run its course.
Act 1 sc. 4
Fate seems to be taking a hand in an unwelcome way (Malcolm becomes Prince of Cumberland). M immediately reverses his decision and decides he does need to murder D. There is no consideration of choices “in my way it lies”. The anger of the moment banishes all else.
Act 1 sc. 5
When LM introduces idea of murder “O never/Shall sun that morrow see” (1-5-59/60) the journey to Inverness has already made M start to cool on his hot blooded decision to murder; his face betrays him. But he feels unprepared to argue with LM, so puts it off “We will speak further” (1-5-70). His choice is no longer definite.
Act 1 sc. 7
His first actual soliloquy. M comes up with 3 different types of reason not to kill D
- practical – if I kill him I set a precedent and...