Similarities and differences between Frankenstein and Macbeth
The stories of “Macbeth” and Frankenstein are two texts depicting the life and tragic flaws of the two main characters, which bring them to an eventual downfall. Despite the different time periods that they were written in, both of the stories contain a dark and supernatural atmosphere that evokes feelings of terror in readers. “Macbeth” and Frankenstein share similar quests and tragic flaws. Macbeth was a ‘noble’ warrior who over ambitious which led to serious consequences. He also is highly influenced by those around him and eventually becomes a monster himself. Frankenstein is a knowledge hungry man who lusts for any new information in the world of sciences. Both characters make mistakes, which causes severe consequences. In addition, both characters also make these mistakes without thinking of the consequences thoroughly before acting on them. Both characters are insatiable. In Macbeth, upon being told by the three witches that he will become King of Scotland, he becomes obsessed over the idea. He desperately wants to be King of Scotland that he even dreams of it.
As well as being under the strong influence of his wife, Lady Macbeth, the audience can feel sympathetic to this because Lady Macbeth is irrational about the situation and due to the strong relationship between the two Macbeth follows his wife’s commands. Lady Macbeth is completely behind the idea of Macbeth being King that she plans the death of Duncan and then belittles Macbeth for not being able to process it. Clearly Macbeth is not ready to kill a King whom was ‘here in double trust’. In Frankenstein, Victor is a very intelligent scientist. His unquenchable thirst for the ‘spark of life’ has never seemed to end. He wants to know everything there possibly is to know, which is far too much for a normal person. However, when describing himself victor says he is a ‘creature’ which suggests something supernatural or nonhuman, this could link to his ‘passion’ for knowledge of natural decay and the corruption of the human body. He uses this thirst to create a life himself, which he absolutely repulses after creating it. In reality, it is a big stepping stone in the field of science but it was completely blasphemous and un-natural. In comparing Macbeth and Victor Frankenstein, it is apparent that both men suffer from what Macbeth calls his “vaulting ambition.”
Macbeth’s thirst for ambition originates when he meets three witches, who say to him ‘All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis, all hail Macbeth, Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor, all hail Macbeth that shalt be king hereafter.’ Macbeth’s ambition is driven by the ‘prophecy’ he obtains from the witches, which gives him power. The ‘prophecy’ gives him power because he is given a prediction on the future which gives him a accurate anticipation on what is to come, so he can act upon it for his own selfish reasons. After hearing the ‘prophecy’ Macbeths first thought is to murder the current king of Scotland. However, Macbeth ponders the reasons he has to kill and not to kill Duncan, he finds there are more reasons not to kill the Duncan than to do so. Duncan is the King, and killing him is a mortal sin and the King is supposed to be protected by the almost universal law of hospitality by Macbeth. Macbeth knows the King has been especially good to him, giving him the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’. However, Macbeth recognizes that his need for power, his ambition to be King, overshadows all else. ‘I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself.’
This quote shows that even though Macbeth knows of the reasons not to kill the kind his obsession to ‘fulfil’ the prophecy told by the witches overpowers his ‘noble warrior’ mind set. In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein is also overly ambitious. While he searches to discover the secret of reanimating dead flesh to create life. Frankenstein is excessively irresponsible in never considering the ramifications of his actions. He creates life and then rejects the creature due to its horrific appearance, and Frankenstein is overcome with second thoughts, ‘But now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanishes, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.’ The quotation shows rejecting his own creation because he cannot take responsibility for his actions. The term ‘breathless horror’ suggests that Frankenstein is so scared that he can’t breathe and he is physically traumatised.
However, in abandoning his creation, Frankenstein allows the creature, he has given life too, to roam the countryside and to find his own way, as innocent as a child, with face and physical stature that terrifies everyone he meets. More than anything else, Frankenstein’s ambition pushes him to play God. When Frankenstein recounts his experiences and the loss of all he loves to Walton, he warns the explorer to avoid the mistakes he made by pursuing dangerous knowledge, by trying to achieve what Walton believes will make him successful in the eyes of the world without considering the cost to those around him, a mistake Frankenstein made. ‘Learn from my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own.’
Although Frankenstein did wrong to create life and ‘play God’ in the end he accepts his wrongs and advises Walton to keep his ambitions realistic and positive. Macbeth and Victor are men who are too ambitious, and it costs them everything in the end: happiness, those they love, and their lives. Their ambitions were so unrealistic that when achieved a major downfall happened afterwards, due to them not knowing what to do with their lives and where to go.
In his narrative in chapter 4, Frankenstein comes to the realisation that one of his major flaws is the development of his plan that finally destroys him. Frankenstein calls his plan ‘birth of that passion’. The use of the word ‘birth’ suggests that the ‘passion’ is natural as birth is a part of nature, this shows that at the beginning Frankenstein thought that his plan to create life was natural and good. However it also connotes life and growth, which implies that the ‘passion’ started off small but grew and developed into something else with its own personality and mind. This links to Frankenstein finally accepting that he went against the power of nature, but he recognised that nature will always prevail. In the quotation ‘It became the torrent, which in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys’ the use of the word ‘torrent’ suggests a current of a river, which is ultimately his destiny, which he is getting dragged along by. ‘Swept away’ implies that things are being taken away from Frankenstein like his loved ones, which were his life.
This parallels to the way that the monster destroys Frankenstein’s life. Also another flaw of Frankenstein is the unnatural deed he commits, and the consequences of him not taking responsibility. In Chapter 5, Mary Shelley uses hyperbole in describing Victor’s reaction to the monster’s coming to life. For example, at the moment of the Monster’s ‘birth’, Victor describes this event as a “catastrophe.” The author is, perhaps, suggesting that as the Monster comes to life, Victor finally realises that the work he has been engaged in is deeply unnatural. The word “catastrophe” conveys ideas of great misfortune, upheaval and even devastation. Victor’s use of exaggeration here suggests the depth of his horror as he becomes aware of the reality of his unnatural deed. It also encourages the reader to predict that the consequences of this deed may be catastrophic both for Victor and for society at large. It is indeed likely that a contemporary reader of Frankenstein would have felt unease when reading about Victor’s creation of the Monster, making links between Victor’s experiments and experiments conducted by contemporary scientists such as Aldini.
In 1803, for example, Aldini conducted a public experiment in London where he attempted to reanimate the corpse of the murderer George Foster. On learning about the catastrophic consequences of Victor Frankenstein’s experiments, contemporary readers may have feared that similar, terrifying events could take place if scientists such as Aldini were successful. One possible interpretation of Frankenstein, therefore, is as a warning against meddling with nature.
In a similar way, the theme of the unnatural is presented and developed through Macbeths flaw of his incapability to take responsibility for his actions due to his weak mindedness. In Act 2 Scene 2, Shakespeare uses the lexical field of religion to emphasise that Macbeth has committed an unnatural act, which is against God in killing King Duncan. For example, Macbeth is troubled that after the murder, he is unable to say the holy word, ‘Amen.’ Macbeth knows he is committing the ultimate sin by stabbing and murdering Duncan. Macbeth tries to say ‘Amen’ along with the prayers in the next chamber but can’t. Macbeth knows he is going to Hell and can’t seek any absolution from God for what he is about to do. When Macbeth says ‘Balm of hurt minds’, we can infer that he feels psychologically damaged. Kings were seen as being chosen by God to represent him; therefore the crime was seen as one of the worst possible.
Consequently, this would have horror-struck the audience; the severity of the crime was colossal, punishable by God. After committing the ‘sin’ Macbeth says ‘Macbeth doth murder sleep’. The alliteration of the ‘m’ sound at the beginning of the words ‘Macbeth’ and ‘murder’ forges a link between the character of Macbeth and the act of murder. This linking suggests that from this point onwards, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘murder’ will be inextricably linked. This indeed turns out to be the case. Far from enjoying a happy reign, Macbeth, in his role as king, is plagued by intense paranoia. This paranoia causes him to embark on a brutal killing spree, alienating those around him and ultimately leading to his own death. As such, Macbeth could be read as a cautionary tale in which Shakespeare warns any would-be traitors of the fate that would await them if they attempted any attack on James I. This interpretation is supported by the fact that Macbeth was written only one year after the Gunpowder plot of 1605 in which a group of Catholic plotters attempted to kill King James.
This is shown as we read ‘I hear a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!/Macbeth does murder sleep’, the innocent sleep’. Earlier in the play, the king was congratulating Macbeth on his battlefield valour, and his killings were something to be celebrated, yet now his murders are seen in a negative way. Saying ‘the innocent sleep’, stresses that he has murdered someone innocent, and thus his guilt is reflected in this comment. The mention of sleep is metaphorically important; sleep symbolises peace and tranquillity, and thus the constant reiteration of no longer being able to sleep: ‘Sleep no more!’ demonstrates Macbeth’s turmoil. The prophecy creates a sense of fear, that he will no longer be able to sleep and regain sanity, as all the prophecies have come true so far.
Macbeth says ‘Glamis hath murder’d sleep, and therefore Cawdor/Shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more.’ This almost directly correlates back to Macbeth’s encounter with the Witches, as he practically recites their predictions. Nevertheless, for this to truly correspond with the parallel, we expect the third statement to say the ‘King shall sleep no more’; therefore the fact that he has substituted the king’s name for his own is shocking and horrific. It reiterates that he has now done the deed and emphasises his guilty conscience. The four words ‘shall sleep no more’ are also monosyllabic, to accentuate how heavy the words are and make them sound more forceful and thus more fearful.