Macbeth by William Shakespeare is a play that portrays Macbeth, who is an ambitious character, being manipulated and motivated by female powers. Macbeth is initially depicted as a brave and capable warrior but his physical courage is joined by a consuming ambition- to become King of Scotland. It was his encounter with the witches, or otherwise referred to as the “weird sisters”, that motivated and inspired Macbeth to murder Duncan and therefore become the King of Scotland. However, it was mainly Lady Macbeth’s persuasion that had influenced Macbeth to perform his actions which had lead onto other regretful actions including the murder of Banquo and MacDuff’s family. It was the witches who were accountable for Macbeth’s tragic downfall as their apparitions did not only confuse Macbeth but had caused him to misinterpret his future as predicted by the witches. Lady Macbeth and the witches were responsible, to a great extent, for Macbeth’s actions.
During the first Act of the play, Macbeth and Banquo, who were returning victorious from battle, encounter three witches who greeted Macbeth as the “Thane of Glamis”, “Thane of Cawdor” and “Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter” (Act I Scene III line 49). It is evident that Macbeth had thought of becoming King prior to meeting the witches, but it was their greetings that had reinforced his thoughts and ambition. Banquo was quick to reassure Macbeth that “The instruments of Darkness tell us truths; win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence” but Macbeth was able to learn some truth from the prophecies as he was later greeted by Ross and Angus claiming that he had become the Thane of Cawdor- just like the witches had prophesised.
It was at this point where Macbeth felt excited and the truthful prophecies had bought him joy yet inner turmoil. The terrible weather when he meets the witches reflects corruption in moral and political order and is a sign of foreshadowing used to indicate that Macbeth’s knowledge about his future could possibly cause his downfall. Therefore, it was the witches’ prophecies that had motivated Macbeth and had got him thinking about becoming King which involved the murder of Duncan.
Lady Macbeth without doubt was the most powerful influence on Macbeth not only because she’s his husband but also because her ambition for power is greater than Macbeth’s desires to become King. This is shown by introducing Lady Macbeth immediately planning Duncan’s death in her soliloquy by preparing to give Macbeth all her persuasive support. “All that impedes thee from the golden round, which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have thee crowned withal” (Act I Scene V lines 27-30).
When Duncan had arrived Macbeth felt apprehensive and reluctant to kill Duncan as he feels that he had a moral obligation to serve to Duncan and that he had been a good friend to him. At this point, Lady Macbeth was able to persuade Macbeth by questioning his manhood and also implying that Macbeth was a coward for planning to withdraw from the murder. “And live a coward in thine own esteem, letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, like the poor cat i’the adage?” (Act I Scene VII lines 43-45). Here Lady Macbeth is referring to a proverb in which a cat wanted to catch fish but didn’t want to get its feet wet. It is effective and persuasive because Lady Macbeth is suggesting that Macbeth won’t be able to have self-respect if he doesn’t commit the murder.
Lady Macbeth makes a bizarre appeal to the spirits to make her less effeminate and more masculine and courageous. She demands for supernatural help, which links her to the witches at the beginning of the play, by demanding to vindicate her conscience of any evils that she may commit. An example of this is in her appeal to the spirits: “Come, you spirits that tend on moral thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.” (Act I Scene V lines 38-41) It was Lady Macbeth’s persuasion that influenced Macbeth into murdering Duncan and this implies that women can be as cruel and ambitious as men but social constraints and natural order deny them of carrying out their own ambitions.
During the course of the play, Macbeth became acquainted to the witches as he demanded that they tell his future. The apparitions shown to Macbeth caused great confusion as he had misinterpreted them by taking its meaning literally. The first apparition which had warned Macbeth of MacDuff was contradicted by the second apparition which told Macbeth to “Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn, the power of man; for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth” (Act IV Scene I lines 78-80). Macbeth had immediately thought himself as being invincible since everyman was woman born. However, little did he know that MacDuff was born from the Caesarian section which eventually proved to be a fatal mistake.
The witches and Lady Macbeth played a major role in the play by influencing and motivating Macbeth into initially murdering Duncan, and then believing that he was invincible from anyone. The witches’ prophecies had given inspiration and had exercised Macbeth’s thoughts of becoming King whilst Lady Macbeth’s evil nature had persuaded Macbeth by playing on his emotions and questioning his man hood. Therefore, it was to a great extent that Macbeth’s actions were caused by the manipulation of female powers.