The Responsiblites Of Macbeth In The Play English Literature Essay
In the play, Macbeth is ultimately responsible for the decisions and actions that lead to his downfall. However, as opposed to this argument, we understand that Macbeth is not totally to blame because his destruction was in some ways caused by his weakness to be easily influenced by others. The misleading prophecies of the Witches and the persuasiveness of Lady Macbeth clouded Macbeth’s own judgement. Duncan’s murder is also a factor to consider as it became a point where Macbeth believed that there was no turning back because he had already destroyed the natural order in Scotland.
The opening of a play is particularly important for establishing a mood and in Macbeth; we are first introduced to three Witches. The fact that they are traditionally evil, barely human creatures suggests that the play will have a dark, perhaps mysterious twist. The use of rhymes in the witches’ speech generates a sense of curiosity: in line 4, “When the battle’s lost and won”. This example of an oxymoron is a contradiction and creates confusion because how can a battle be won and lost? Again in line 9, another curious paradox is offered: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”. From this line we can guess that it is going to be hard to distinguish between good and evil. Things that look good may turn out to be evil. The line may be referring to characters in the play, possibly Macbeth because in the middle of Act I Scene 1 (line 7), comes the startling line “There to meet with Macbeth”. Therefore, at the end of the scene, it is made clear who is to be the witches’ target as they make an appointment to meet again to lure Macbeth to destruction. This is significant because it shows that the witches are beginning to meddle with fate and destiny.
In Act 1 Scene 3, for the first time, the world of witches and the world of men have been brought together. One of the witches describes how she will “give thee a wind” in order to punish a sailor because his wife would not give her some of the chestnuts she was eating. This shows how spiteful the witches are and how they can do a lot of harm. However, it is made clear that the sailor’s “bark cannot be lost” (bark representing the sailor’s ship) indicating that there are limitations to the witches’ powers because the witch isn’t powerful enough to sink the ship. The ship is in fact a metaphor, representing the State of Scotland, which is going to suffer a “storm” under Macbeth’s reign. Therefore, from the quotes I have explained above, the witches can only create the climate for evil; Macbeth alone would cause the chaos in Scotland by destroying order. Thus, this “prediction” of Macbeth’s future indicates that he is responsible for his own actions.
Macbeth enters to the sound of a beating drum: “a drum, a drum, Macbeth doth come”, a sound effect which indicates to the audience his growing status and importance. The fact that the “drum” was cast by one of the witches indicates that they have already predicted Macbeth’s rise to power. Macbeth says that he has never seen “so foul and fair a day”, meaning that the day is foul due to the witches raising a storm but fair due to his victory on the battlefield. His words are paradoxical and echo those spoken earlier by the witches, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”. These similar sentences demonstrate the inseparability of Macbeth and the forces of darkness. Macbeth’s first words could be interpreted in a way such that things that seem fair such as becoming king are also foul because it could lead to his own downfall. Therefore from this quotation, it seems as if Macbeth is responsible for his own downfall because Shakespeare depicts him to be associated with evil forces.
The witches’ prophecies have a powerful effect on Macbeth. Banquo notices this and asks him “why do you start and seem to fear”. (Start: flinch) Banquo cannot see why Macbeth, a great warrior should be afraid when he is promised only good things. What the witches say seems to strike a thought in Macbeth’s mind, especially the prediction that he will become king. The witches vanish and Macbeth wonders if they have disappeared “into the air”- what he thought was solid has melted away. This could be interpreted in way such that under the evil influence of the witches, things around Macbeth that he thinks are solid, like his loyalty to the King will also melt away.
In his asides, Macbeth says that “greatest is behind”, meaning that all he has to achieve is to become king. The word “behind” is significant because it seems to suggest the sneaky and deceitful way in which Macbeth seizes the crown. Also, Macbeth seems worried about the prediction that Banquo’s children will be kings, as though this is a threat to his future. Macbeth’s ambitious nature is overtaking his decisive personality and he reveals his deeply disturbed mind; the witches’ words have caused him to feel concerned. Therefore, the witches’ appearances have made a great impact upon Macbeth as they have caused him to feel confused and concerned about his future. Even though Act 1 Scene 3 was the first meeting of the witches and Macbeth, the witches can be seen as accountable for Macbeth’s destruction because the witches’ words strike a chord in Macbeth’s mind and he starts to become more selfish and deceitful as he sees Banquo and the king as obstacles to his new hidden ambition of becoming King.
However, Macbeth could be seen as responsible for his own downfall because it is he who mentions “murder”, whereas the witches said nothing about murdering anyone. Even though Macbeth thinks the idea of murder is “fantastical”, meaning that it only exists in his imagination, it is him who links the ideas of kingship and murder. Thus, the witches’ words are only tempting Macbeth, it is Macbeth who further develops ideas relating to the prophecies.
Lady Macbeth contributes towards Macbeth’s downfall as she is seen to be very persuasive, particularly in encouraging Macbeth to kill the King. She knows that murder is the only way to make the witches’ prediction come true, but she also believes that he is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness”. Although Macbeth is a great warrior, he is sensitive and caring. Thus, Macbeth does not lack ambition but he is squeamish about the methods to be used to achieve his ambition of becoming king. When in Act 1 Scene 7, Macbeth decides to cancel the plan of murdering king Duncan, Lady Macbeth uses several techniques to in order to convince him to carry out the plan. She asks him, “was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?” She uses the metaphor of alcohol to imply that Macbeth’s courage is the result of intoxication and not real determination. Macbeth is a strong, brutal warrior, so by insulting his status, she is offending his manliness. Lady Macbeth accuses Macbeth of being too timid and “afeard” to do something to make his ambition come true. She also accuses Macbeth of being feeble and scared: “green and pale”; thus, Macbeth is accused of being a coward. Through Lady Macbeth’s powerful and violent speech, Macbeth’s decision earlier not to kill King Duncan crumbles under the scornful attack of his wife. Therefore, L. Macbeth could be seen to be responsible for Macbeth’s downfall because through her persuasiveness, she convinces Macbeth to commit murder.
Lady Macbeth is depicted to call upon evil spirits in order to fulfil Macbeth’s ambition and her desire to be Queen: “fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direct cruelty”. She is addressing the evil spirits to take her natural womanliness and to fill her instead with bitterness, wickedness and cruelty. The fact that Lady Macbeth is ordering the spirits and that she has to ask to be made evil, indicates that she is desperate to support Macbeth but also suggests that she is not as strong as she wants to be. The use of the words “fill” and “direst” is effective as it shows that she wants to be completely evil as well as a being the very worst. Unlike Macbeth, L. Macbeth does not want any natural feelings of regret or conscience to get in the way of what she intends. Thus, Lady Macbeth is seen to be the evil force driving Macbeth to do all the horrific deeds he does.
Duncan’s murder could be seen as the initial step to Macbeth’s downfall because Macbeth knows that there is no turning back as he has already destroyed the natural order in Scotland. It is suggested that nature has turned upside down after King Duncan’s murder as the horses “broke their stalls” and “ate each other”. The balance between good and evil has been tipped in favour of evil due to Macbeth’s crime of murdering a divinely appointed King. When Macbeth is crowned King, he knows that there is no going back: “We are yet but young in deed”. This shows that Macbeth is willing to maintain his high position because he has already changed fate by electing to murder Duncan.
In Act 4, the witches’ contribute to Macbeth’s downfall as they deceive him through twisted words. The first apparition warns Macbeth to “beware Macduff” however Macbeth remains confident because the second apparition informs him that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”. From this Macbeth believes he is invincible because he assumes that all people are born from a woman. The third apparition tells Macbeth that he “shall never vanquish’d until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him”. As a result, Macbeth becomes extremely overconfident however due to his readiness to know his future, he does not realise that the Witches are in fact leading Macbeth into a false sense of security. The witches are showing him visions which they know he will misinterpret because they have double meanings. Macduff, unknown to Macbeth, was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped” indicating that he was born by a Caesarean section and therefore, he was not of woman born. The third apparition actually represents Malcolm, who orders his army to conceal its size by hiding behind branches from Birnam Wood. Therefore, it would seem as if the forest is moving up to Dunsinane Hill. Thus, the witches play a big part in Macbeth’s downfall as they clearly confuse him and as Macbeth can be easily influenced, the witches show Macbeth future visions that he misinterprets.
However after Duncan’s death, Macbeth could be seen as responsible for his own downfall because he becomes more independent and relies less on Lady Macbeth as he no longer needs reinsurance for the evil deeds that he carries out. In Act 3 Scene 2, Macbeth tells L. Macbeth to “be innocent of the knowledge”. He made this statement in reference to the murderous fate in store for Banquo and his son, Fleance. The significance of the statement is that Macbeth is planning to carry out the deed on his own, without the guidance and support from his wife. Macbeth’s tyranny is shown in this scene because he is confident that his wife will agree with the murders after they are accomplished and “applaud the deed”. Macbeth has detached himself from his reliance on his wife and now is carrying out murder on his own accord, indicating that Macbeth is responsible for his own destruction.
Macbeth is clearly responsible for his own downfall as he calls for the murder of his trusted friends and allies in order to remain King. Macbeth’s ambitious nature goes to the extent that he becomes a “bloody tyrant” and a “butcher”. In Act 4 when Macbeth believes he is invincible, he still decides to kill Macduff: “but yet I’ll make assurance double sure and take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live”. Macbeth’s own fear and rage of losing his throne expresses itself in the pointless plan to massacre Macduff’s family. Macbeth doesn’t care who or how many people he kills, but as long as he is able to eliminate threats according to the witches’ prophecies. After Duncan’s murder, Macbeth is clearly ruthless and decisive and has no time for the kind of soul searching he engaged in earlier in the play. Therefore, he no longer listens to his inner thoughts and doesn’t share his plans with his wife. Thus, Macbeth is very much a ruthless dictator who is corrupt and knows no moral quandary. From this interpretation, I believe that Macbeth is responsible for his own destruction.
Macbeth’s downfall is in some ways caused by his guilty conscience as throughout the play, he sees many visions and has hallucinations. In Act 2 Scene 1, Macbeth says: “Is this a dagger I see before me”. He is hallucinating and sees a bloody dagger in the air, which is his instrument to murder the King. This indicates that Macbeth is full of guilt. His mind is full of dark thoughts and he is tormented by images of blood and fear of the unknown. Again in Act 3 Scene 4 Macbeth hallucinates when he claims that the “table’s full” as he sees Banquo’s ghost sitting in a chair at the banquet. Banquo’s ghost pricks Macbeth’s conscience by reminding him that he murdered his former friend. Macbeth tries to suppress his guilt but this only leads to psychological illness. Therefore, Macbeth claims that to be able to ignore his conscience, he needs to continue his violence and tyranny. At the end of the play, Macbeth has “almost forgot the taste of fears” meaning that he has lost the sense of fear. Macbeth feels he can no longer be frightened because he has seen so many supernatural things and horrors. It is also revealed that Macbeth’s guilt drives him mad: “his secret murders sticking on his hands”, suggesting that his senses are numbed because he commits a vast number of crimes. Thus, the supernatural elements in the play take their toll on Macbeth- there are consequences when meddling with the forces of right and good by embracing evil and darkness.
In conclusion, the witches, Lady Macbeth and Duncan’s murder all have a significant impact on Macbeth and contribute to his downfall. At first, Lady Macbeth has the greatest effect on Macbeth because she was the one who persuaded him to carry out his first murder however, I believe that if it wasn’t for the witches, Macbeth would never feel the need to “stab” the rightful king because in the play, Duncan is very grateful and is seen to reward Macbeth for his bravery when he makes him Thane of Cawdor. After Duncan’s death, Macbeth starts to isolate himself from his wife and becomes suspicious of his allies, particularly Banquo. The bloody dagger and Banquo’s ghost, though playing a small part, attack Macbeth’s conscience, confusing him and leading him to near insanity. The witches, who Macbeth depends on throughout the play, deceive him and lead him to a false sense of security. If the witches hadn’t tricked Macbeth, he might have survived longer. However, this is irrelevant because Macbeth was already doomed for destruction when he announced himself as king because a true king is one that can maintain the balance of order and not give in to dark forces. Also, no one encouraged Macbeth to murder Banquo and Macduff’s wife; it was Macbeth’s corrupt behaviour and his heavy reliance on the witches’ prophecies that lead him to take the lives of innocent beings. Therefore, I believe that Macbeth is responsible for his own downfall because his own actions transformed him from “Noble Macbeth” to “this tyrant” and “hellhound”.
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