Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy:
Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.

Thesis: Bradley begins his two chapters on Macbeth with a general introduction which compares it to Shakespeare's other great tragedies, and which comments on the general effect of Macbeth, in which "we are shown a soul tortured by an agony which admits not a moment's repose, and rushing in frenzy towards its doom" (332-333).

Bradley's next section concerns the horrific atmosphere created by the imagery of darkness, blood, and violence, and by dramatic irony, a "device which contributes to excite the vague fear of hidden forces operating on minds unconscious of their influence" (340).

In his section on the Witches, Bradley carefully considers the Witches' effect on Macbeth, denies that they make him do anything, and concludes:

The words of the Witches are fatal to the hero only because there is in him something which leaps into light at the sound of them; but they are at the same time the witness of forces which never cease to work in the world around him, and, on the instant of his surrender to them, entangle him inextricably in the web of Fate. If the inward connection is once realised (and Shakespeare has left us no excuse for missing it), we need not fear, and indeed shall scarcely be able, to exaggerate the effect of the Witch-scenes in heightening and deepening the sense of fear, horror, and mystery which pervades the atmosphere of the tragedy.  (349)

Bradley concludes his first chapter on Macbeth with a long analysis of the character of Macbeth, emphasizing the ambition he shares with his wife and his guilty conscience.

Bradley's second chapter is mainly concerned with the other characters — Lady Macbeth, whose "greatness . . . lies almost wholly in courage and force of will" (371); Banquo, whose silent acceptance of Macbeth's crime creates a sense of "the incalculability of evil" (386); and Duncan, Malcolm, and Macduff, none of whom Bradley considers to be particularly individualized. Bradley also provides commentary on four much-discussed passages: the Porter at the gate immediately after the murder of Duncan; the killing of Lady Macduff and her children; Macduff's reaction to the news of the murder of his family; and Lady Macbeth's sleep-walking.

Evaluation: Bradley's book, now more than 100 years old, was immediately hailed as a great achievement. It still is. Later critics have complained repeatedly that he puts too much emphasis on character analysis, but after all, we do go to the theater to see what people do, and why, and what happens to them.

Note: The complete text of Bradley's book is reproduced on another part of the Shakespeare Navigators site. Here is a link to the first page of the first chapter on Macbeth. (Clicking on the link will open a new browser window.)

Bottom Line: Justly famous.