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An examination of the role of retributive justice

An eye for an eye’, ‘what goes around comes around’, and ‘all in good time’. All of these sayings have the same meaning, which is basically; you get what you deserve. This is also known as revenge, or in this case, the main topic of retributive justice. In Macbeth, there are many murders committed and in a Shakespearean play with murders there is, without a doubt, going to be some examples of revenge. Retributive justice plays no role in the murders of Duncan or Macduff’s family but it plays a significant role in the murder of Macbeth.

Duncan was the King of Scotland and he was a righteous leader who was loved by many. He had many loyal companions. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth and Banquo met three witches who prophesied that, among other things, Macbeth would eventually become King of Scotland. Macbeth was very loyal to Duncan having just fought and won a war for him against Norway and the Scottish rebels.

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Regardless of his loyalty, with the witches’ prophecies in mind, Macbeth murdered Duncan in order to become King. Once he killed Duncan he regretting ever listening to the witches. He feels that since he has killed Duncan, the thought of it will haunt him the rest of his life “…Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore / Cawdow / shall sleep no more” (II.ii.55-57) Retributive justice played no role in the murder of Duncan, nor did it have a role in the murder of Macduff’s wife and child.

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From what we saw in the Act 4 Scene 2, Macduff had a good life with his family and a good relationship with his son. Macbeth sent murderers to Macduff’s castle to kill Macduff because he felt threatened. Macbeth’s reasoning for this was because Macduff was suspicious of Macbeth with regard’s to Duncan’s murder. Also, because the witches told him, through the first of three apparitions which they had appear to Macbeth, that he should beware of him.”…Beware Macduff! Beware the Thane of Fife…”(IV.i.81-82). Macduff did not do any actions that directly affected Macbeth but once again, he took the witches prophesies to heart. This murder is significant because it gives further motive for Macduff to seek revenge on Macbeth.

As previously stated, ‘what goes around comes around’, is an ideal phrase to describe Macbeth’s murder. Macbeth had killed countless people in order for him to succeed as king. Among these people are innocent women and children. Retributive justice plays a significant role in the murder of Macbeth because he had committed so many crimes and justice must be served. Macduff stepped in to kill Macbeth because he felt that if he did not kill Macbeth himself, the ghosts of his wife and child would haunt him forever “…if thou beest slain, and with no stroke of mine, / My wife and children’s ghosts will haunt me still.”(V.vii.20-21).

An appropriate saying for this topic is to not throw stones if you live in a glass house. That is exactly what Macbeth was doing. He was killing all of these people when he too is only human and able to be killed just as easily as his victims. Macbeth ended on a good note with good prevailing over evil and the infamous Macbeth receiving his just retribution, the ultimate retribution, death.

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An examination of the role of retributive justice. (2016, Jun 19). Retrieved from

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