As Shakespeare’s tale of tragic ambition Macbeth progresses, Lady Macbeth undergoes a metamorphosis moving from a stable, loving wife, into a power hungry woman driven to madness by her own obsession for complete control. Although when the question who is ultimately responsible for Duncan’s death is asked, many will point the finger at Lady Macbeth. While she played a role in manipulating and deceiving Macbeth into committing the first act of evil in the book, we are all given free will and with that it was ultimately his final decision to kill Duncan.
In the beginning it started with Macbeth being given the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’ in Act 1 scene 2 when Duncan said ” and with his former title greet Macbeth, what he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won” (Shakespeare, I,ii, 3,5). This was the first feeling of power that Macbeth had in the play. It did not change him in the way you would think it should have, he was humble and accepting of the new title but the moment the witches told him the prophecies is when I believe he subconsciously started to desire more power than he already had.
In Act 1 scene 2-3 when Macbeth meet the three witches and they gave him the prophecies; “All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Glamis! ” then “All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! ” and finally “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter” (Shakespeare, I, ii, 50-53)! After hearing this Macbeth sent a letter explaining to his wife, Lady Macbeth about the three prophecies. When she read that one of the prophecies had already came true and the next one was for Macbeth to be king she wanted to kill the king and knew how she would do it.
She could taste the power that she could have, and it was the only idea driving her thoughts. As William Pitt once said “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it. ” Lady Macbeth had yet to posses the power yet it had already bastardized her thoughts. In Act 1 scene 5 when Lady Macbeth says “Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty” (Shakespeare, I,V,41-44)! She was asking for them to make her strong, to take away her morality and in its place leave pure cruelty.
When Macbeth finally returned home to his wife she already had a plan to kill Duncan so that Macbeth would be king and more importantly she would be queen. As much as Macbeth tried to plea with his wife not to kill the king, that they had what they needed and the king had just recently honoured him by giving him the title of Thane of Cawdor. However no words could change her mind. It was not until she questioned his manly hood by saying in Act 1 scene 7 “What beast was’t then that made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it, then you were a man; and, to be more han what you were, you would be so much more the man” (Shakespeare I,VII,53-57). At this point Macbeth felt like he had no other choice but to please his wife, so he agreed to the plot to assassinate Duncan and with that threw away any morality he had left in him.
While Lady Macbeth might have been the driving force behind the assassination, it was ultimately Macbeth who chose to kill Duncan. While it might not have been clear in the beginning he had a deeper thirst for power than his wife which is prominent in Act 3 scene 1 after he has been crowned king and is peaking to two murders to go kill Banquo and his son because they are the only ones who threaten his seat on the throne. “Both of you know Banquo as your enemy”(Shakespeare III,i,124-125). Macbeths craving for power drove him mad and caused him to kill many people, and while it’s not clear the reason for the third murderer, it is believed Macbeth sent him to kill the other two once the job was done. He became so paranoid with the power that he had that he began to trust no one but himself and would do anything to keep his new title as king.
As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. ” Macbeth was tormented by what he had done that he began to have delusions which ultimately lead to his own murder. As Shakespeare said “and a long farewell to all my greatness” (Henry The Eighth Act 3, scene 2, 351). Due to Macbeths obsession to gain power and retain it, led to the death of Duncan, Banquo and many others. Also more importantly the death of himself, causing him to have to leave the greatness and power he strived so hard to obtain.
Courtney from Study Moose
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