Doubt in Macbeth
The play Macbeth contains doubt in many different ways. In the beginning of the play, we are struck by a very insecure Macbeth. He is indeed curious about what would happen if he were to take Duncan’s place and become the king of Scotland. If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly. If th’assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success: that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all, here,
But here upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions which, being taught, return
To plague th’inventor. This even-handed justice
Commends th’ingredience of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips. He’s here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off,
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubin, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself
And falls on th’other.
We find Macbeth really struggling whether to kill Duncan is the right thing to do or not. He does feel that murdering a man is a great sin, and the fact that this man, Duncan, is someone who trusts him, and also someone that Macbeth himself has showed loyalty to, makes it even worse. /I am his kinsman and his subject/ (1.7.14). Even though this is the case, Macbeth is not completely reluctant towards the idea of killing Duncan. I find that what really haunts him is that it’s more than just the act of murdering Duncan; it is the aftermath that bothers him. What he really is afraid of is that him doing a bad deed, will do come back to him in the end. The thought of becoming king is however tempting, but he is insecure about whether or not this ambition of his is enough to justify the murderer of another human being. This shows very much self-doubt, and in this particular quote Macbeth is really dealing with some ethical problems. On his one shoulder, is the angel telling him that it is not the right thing to do, but there’s also the devil who feels that perhaps it could work out. Although, he the angel takes over and he decides that his motives are not enough to kill Duncan.
Something that is very interesting is how fast he changes his mind about this. As soon as he announces his decision to the one that I find is the one who is really willing to do anything in order to become the Queen of Scotland, his wife Lady Macbeth that is. Her doubt lies more in the ambitions and morals of her husband, because they are /are too full of the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way/ (1.5.13). It is as if she feels that she is more of a man than her husband is. When Macbeth tells her he will not be murdering Duncan, knows him well enough to know which buttons to push in order to get what she wants. She questions his manhood immediately, and even though he at first stands up for himself by saying /I dare do all that may become a man:/Who dares do more is none/ (1.7.50-51). Lady Macbeth does not experience the antagonist, protagonist discussion in her head that Macbeth does. Her ambitions and morals are a lot clearer, and her single-mindedness ends up being what really convinces Macbeth that murdering Duncan is what he must do. This makes Macbeth characteristic of being incredibly full of self-doubt even more obvious. He is easily persuaded by his wife, into doing something that he deep down knows will end up leaving him with feelings of guilt and anxiety.
M: One cried ‘God bless us’ and ‘Amen’ the other,
As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands.
List’ning their fear. I could not say ‘Amen’,
When they did say ‘God bless us’
Lady M: Consider it not so deeply.
M: But wherefore could not I pronounce ‘Amen’?
I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’
in my throat.
Macbeth has murdered Duncan. Before killing him, he expressed a worry of this giving him bad karma. In this particular quote, I find that his worry has almost developed into paranoia. It is almost as if he starts to question his belief, and whether or not he can rely on God for guidance, the way he may have done before. He realizes most certainly that this deed will be on his conscience for the rest of his life, and I think that wishes he had not done it. His wife on the other hand still shows no signs of doubt, regret or any other feelings one may expect to feel after a murderer. However, I feel that she must doubt the action too. If she had been completely convinced that it was what they had to do, she could have done it herself. In Scene 5 of Act 2, she claims she cannot commit murderer because she is a woman. The era in which this play takes place is definitely different in many ways from the way we live today, but I believe that would not have been impossible for Lady Macbeth to murderer Duncan herself. I believe that it is an ethical dilemma for her as well, she wants to be Queen, but she doesn’t want a murderer on her conscience. Therefore she decides that she can persuade her husband to do it. 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 our power to
account? Yet who would have thought the old
man to have so much blood in him?
Lady Macbeth’s doubt and regrets regarding the murderer really become obvious. She’s sleepwalking, and she is filled with guilt and doubt in whether or not she will actually be able to let go of the crime committed. Earlier on, as mentioned, she was the one convincing Macbeth that the blood, or the guilt that is, would go away /with a little water/ (2.2.65). Now she is not so sure anymore, saying /Here’s the smell of blood still. All the/ Perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand/ (5.1.51-52). She feels doubt that she will ever be able to live her life as she did before, even though she is now the queen. Is a title really enough to protect her and her husband from what they have done? She is starting to realize that they have created a hell of their own, filled with regret, doubts, sleepless nights that will never end. I feel a lot of desperation in this part of the play, as the consequences of her actions is catching up to her, and her soul is eaten by doubt.
Doubt really is one of the great themes of Macbeth. Throughout the novel one finds both small and large elements of doubt. Besides from the quotes and parts that I have chosen to analyze, there are a lot more to find. There is a doubt going around about who committed the murderer, and if there is such cruelty and hunger for power as it seems Macbeth has. What it all comes back to, is his self-doubt and that I really believe is a message from Shakespeare. One must trust their instinct, or a lot of things could go terribly wrong.
Courtney from Study Moose
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