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Macbeth: babies and children

APE project on babies and children motif in Shakespeare's Macbeth
by

Austin Ryals

on 25 January 2013

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Transcript of Macbeth: babies and children

Responsibility In many ways, babies symbolize responsibility. Parents are responsible for their children. They're responsible for caring for them, loving them, and giving them good lives.

Duncan cared for his subjects like a father should care for their children. Macbeth says to him, "Your highness' part is to receive our duties; and our duties are to your throne and state, children, and servants" (1.4.23-25).

When Macduff hears of his family's death, he as though he has a responsibility to avenge them. "Your castle is surprised, your wife and babes savagely slaughter'd" (4.3.204-205) Innocence In Macbeth, babies and children portray innocence or in some cases, the lack of it.

Lady Macbeth says, "I have given suck, and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, and dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this" (1.7.54-59) She's showing the innocence of babies and the lack of innocence she has because she would have killed her own child. Babies and Children In Macbeth, we often have this idea of babies or children affecting the play. For Macbeth, babies are a symbol of innocence, responsibility, and what is to come. What Is to Come Several times in the play babies and children are used as part of a premonition.

A bloody child is the second apparition. It warns Macbeth, "Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth" (4.1.81)

The third is a child wearing a crow. Upon seeing it, Macbeth says, "What is this that rises like the issue of king and wears upon his baby brow the round and top of sovereignty?" (4.1.86-89)

Not only are children what Shakespeare uses to deliver the predictions of the future, but part of the future is that Banquo's children will take the throne. "Older scholars usually regulate Lady Macbeth's mention of having had a child as being a dramatic convenience, so that she can conform to Shakespeare's notion of an evil woman bereft of maternal love; but when we consider the importance of other children in the play and that Lady Macbeth's invoking the direst image she could think of to spur Macbeth, it would be folly to ignore the importance of this baby and its absence to Lady Macbeth's character; it is much more than just a convenient signifier of her evil."-Scott McAteer, "Lady Macbeth and the Loss of a Child." Conclusion Shakespeare uses motifs to help readers relate to situations. We realize quickly that Lady Macbeth is evil when she says she would kill her own child because we, as humans, connotate babies with something that should be protected and cherished. We also contrast our idea of babies' innocence with Lady Macbeth's evilness.
We are used to the idea of parents caring for and protecting their children, so it's easy for us to make connections between Banquo and Fleance, Duncan and his subjects, or Macduff and his children.
Also, when we think of the future we tend to assume things will be taken over by future generations. we know that our children will be the basis of what is to come. Austin Ryals Macbeth "We can say that a great poet like Shakespeare can introduce a theme-'baby' we shall say-and let Lady Macbeth say she would have dashed the brains out of her own child. Then Macbeth can speak of cherubim, see bloody babies at the witches' cauldron, slaughter Macduff's children, and so on. But all the while the basic concept of 'baby' is kept constant in the audience's mind."-Frank Behrens, "Shakespeare's Symphonies"
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