The question of morality goes well in hand with the story of Macbeth, the wayward man who chose, at the encouragement of his wife, to kill the king. Morality is more than just the typical right and wrong, it’s also about good and evil. “The only elements that have proved satisfying in Shakespeare’s ending is the clear and unambiguous triumph of good over evil” (Orgel and Braunmuller, 2002, p. 1620). So, with the question of good and evil swinging in the balance and Macbeth losing sight of his morals, were his wrongs truly righted?
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Initially, Macbeth disputed the witches’ prophecy that he would be king, but upon telling his wife the news, she could not let the idea die. She was determined that not only would her husband succeed, but so would she. She derived the plan to rid the world of dear King Duncan and after some difficulty persuading Macbeth to follow through with it, all plans were a go. Harry Jaffa wrote, “Lady Macbeth had been the force driving her husband’s ambition” (Jaffa, 2007). This seems to be true. After all, Macbeth was deadest on not killing Duncan. The king had been good to Macbeth, good to everyone in fact, and there was no reason to kill him. Nevertheless, Lady Macbeth gets what Lady Macbeth wants. Relaying the plan to Macbeth she says, “And we’ll not fail. When Duncan is asleep,/ Whereto the rather shall his day’s hard journey/ Soundly invite him, his two chamberlains/ Will I with wine and wassail so convince/ That memory, the wander of the brain, Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason/ A limbeck only” (Orgel and Braunmuller, 2002, p. 1628). She’s a conniving little madam, thinking things through so far that she has a scapegoat, two poor guards that never knew what hit them.
Almost instantaneously, guilt begins to enrapture Macbeth and his wife, maybe even before the murder, with Macbeth vision of a dagger. This initial hint of remorse is not recognized by the pair, for they are still focused on what they have just done. Perhaps, it is also not recognized because they have not felt shame like this before. Immediately after the killing of King Duncan, the couple begins to notice the sounds of an owl, but there is really nothing to be heard. This is the first of their strange hallucinations brought on by unconscious guilt. Later on, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo sitting in his chair at dinner after he [Macbeth] is named King. He believes that someone is playing a joke on him, but his dinner guests believe he has gone mad. Other visions present themselves as the play progresses, and Macbeth seems to lose his grip on sanity each time one occurs. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth is dealing with her own guilt, which she is feeling only during sleep while sleepwalking. As she sleeps, she believes she is talking to herself and then to her husband, but a doctor and gentlewoman are with her. She says, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One- / two-why then ’tis time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my/ lord, fie! A soldier and afeard? What need we fear who/ knows it, when none can call out power to account? Yet/ who would have thought the old man to have had so/ much blood in him? (Orgel and Braunmuller, 2002, p. 1646). Clearly, despite the way both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth appear, they know the difference between right and wrong. Lady Macbeth all but says that she doesn’t care what has to be done as long as her husband becomes king. They may not outwardly show that they feel remorse over the conspiracy, but their conscience is certainly telling them what they did was wrong. It’s as if they had Jiminy Cricket tagging along with them saying “you really shouldn’t have done that.”
Ultimately, justice was served to Macbeth and his lady. They conspired to kill a beloved king, and in the end, they got what they deserved. Rightly so, Lady Macbeth took her own life. As readers, this isn’t known until the very last scene of the play when Malcolm makes his speech. He says, “Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands/ Took off her life” (Orgel and Braunmuller, 2002, p. 1650). Macduff, seeking his revenge on Macbeth for his family being slaughtered, served Macbeth his justice. Afterward, Macduff chops Macbeth’s head off and brings it to Malcolm. Malcolm’s closing statement is, “As calling home our exiled friends abroad/ That fled the snares of watchful tyranny, /Producing forth the cruel ministers /Of this butcher and his fiendlike queen” (Orgel and Braunmuller, 2002, p. 1650). Some argue that justice was not served since it was Macduff and not Malcolm that delivered Macbeth’s death sentence. “Historically, this is what happened: Macbeth was killed in battle by Malcolm, not Macduff” (Orgel and Braunmuller, 2002, p. 1620). While Justice may not have been served the way everyone wanted, it was served accordingly.
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Justice always prevails in some way, be it in the form of death or some other tragedy. While this justice may not have occurred the way some people wanted, or even expected, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth paid for their crime. Morality is being able to distinguish the difference between right and wrong and good and evil. The pair knew what they were doing was both evil and wrong, yet they chose to proceed anyway because they wanted to succeed. It is only appropriate that the couple be punished for the murder of King Duncan. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth will be punished with eternal, fiery torment in hell, the lady for taking her own life and Macbeth for taking Duncan’s. After all, the old saying goes, there’s no rest for the wicked.
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