In the final speech in Macbeth, Malcolm proclaims the Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, “this dead butcher and his fiendlike queen” (V.viii.69). We know that those who win get to tell history (Or as in Hamilton, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”). According to our ol’ friend the Oxford English Dictionary, a butcher is “One who slaughters men indiscriminately or brutally; a ‘man of blood’; a brutal murderer” (“butcher, n.; 1.a.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press, June 2016. Web. 30 June 2016.).
But is that really an apt description of the man we meet in the play?
As a soldier, Macbeth is absolutely a ‘man of blood.’ When we first hear of him, it’s of his exploits in battle (complete with one of my fave phrases in all of Shakespeare: Macbeth “unseamed [Macdonwald] from the nave to th’chaps” [I.ii.22]). And in the last act of the play, we see him kill Young Siward in combat.
But that’s it. That’s all we see him do on stage.
Sure, we see the results of his orders of murder in the attacks on Banquo and the Macduff family, but Macbeth doesn’t participate in those killings himself (I’ve seen some versions of the play where Macbeth does join in on the Macduff slaughter, but it’s not in the text).
And of course, we know he murders Duncan; there can be no doubt of that.
But we don’t see it (again I’ve seen versions that mime this action, but–again–not in the text).
Shakespeare purposefully keeps this from the audience. Why?
Does this undercut Malcolm’s depiction of Macbeth as a “butcher”?