Is the supernatural wholly responsible for the tragedy that occurs or is Macbeth fatally flawed and responsible for his own heinous crimes?
It is my contention that all of the central characters have some integral part to play in the tragedy that occurs. Each have some function in the heinous crimes, and hence one individual cannot be held completely responsible for the bloodshed that occurs.
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. His father was named John Shakespeare; he was originally a glove maker before eventually becoming a politician.
His mother, Mary Arden, belonged to the ranks of high society, being from a wealthy family, she subsequently inherited a great deal of money and farmland. Shakespeare was the third child born to the couple, but was the first to survive. The Shakespeare’s went on to have four children, Gilbert, Richard, Joan and Mary.
Shakespeare’s family was quite wealthy, and when Shakespeare was four, his father was established as High Bailiff of Stratford.
Shakespeare’s first school was Petty school and when he was seven, it is believed that he went to the local grammar school until at the age of twelve, when he left to help his father who had run into financial trouble. At the age of eighteen, Shakespeare met Anne Hathaway who was the daughter of a local farmer. She was twenty-six. They married in November 1582 and in May 1583 gave birth to their first child Susanna, she was followed two years later by twins Hamnet and Judith.
Shortly after this, Shakespeare left Stratford, leaving his family behind.
Sometime between 1585 and 1592, Shakespeare arrived in London and found a job in the theatre. He began to act and write a variety of plays and they were hugely popular, though many considered him to be intellectually insecure given that he was not university educated. In 1956, sadly young Hamnet died. By the age of 33, Shakespeare was making vast amounts of money and had been propelled to success, thus gaining country wide fame. He bought the second biggest house in Stratford, lots of land and a share in London’s finest theatre, ‘The Globe’.
When James 1 became king he displayed a huge interest in the theatre given that he was patron of the arts. He ordered Shakespeare’s company to change their name to the ‘King’s Men’. In June 1613, Shakespeare’s play ‘Henry V111’ was put on at ‘The Globe’. During the play, a live cannon shot out a burning ball of paper, which landed on the thatched roof of the theatre. The whole building caught fire and within an hour it had burnt to the ground. After this, Shakespeare decided to retire and move back to Stratford. He was forty-nine and had written thirty-seven plays. He died on the 23rd of April 1616 at the age of fifty-two. He was buried two days later in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.
‘Macbeth’ was an old Scottish legend and according to the ‘Holinshed’s chronicles of England, Scotland and Wales’, Macbeth became king of Scotland in 1040 after having defeated an inadequate, weak and youthful leader. Shakespeare’s Duncan was much older and demanded respect from Thanes; his murders were more heinous in the dramatic interpretation. The historical Macbeth reigned as king for 17 years. James 1, formerly a ruler in Scotland, was the eighth descendant of the Banquo-Fleance line and because of this Shakespeare presented Banquo in a more honourable light than the historical Banquo actually was.
James 1 was intrigued and terrified by witchcraft. In 1597, he produced a book called ‘Daemonolougie’, which acted as a guide to recognise and defeat witches. King James believed that he had encountered witches and claimed three witches had raised a storm in order to drown him on his wedding trip. He believed that his encounter was real and three women were consequently murdered after they admitted sailing in a sieve to sink the ship. However, Shakespeare presented this encounter in Act one scene three. During this century, it is estimated that between 4,500 and 8,000 women were destroyed for supposedly practising witchcraft. The king even passed a law proclaiming death to anyone who was thought to be meddling in the dark forces. Shakespeare used the idea of witchcraft, kingship and moral order to develop the play, as these themes were greatly admired by a Jacobean audience.
The play is extremely dramatic in its depiction of the corruption of natural order and raw ambition. It starts with the three strange witches meeting on an empty heath. King Duncan wins a great battle and Macbeth becomes a hero. Furthermore, Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches. They predict that Macbeth will be the ‘Thane of Cawdor’ and later King. The prophetic hag’s first prophecy comes true and Macbeth does become ‘Thane of Cawdor’. Macbeth writes to Lady Macbeth telling her what the witches said. In an ambitious move the husband and wife plot to kill King Duncan.
When Duncan comes to stay at Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to go ahead with the murder and grudgingly he does. Malcolm and Donaldblain, sons of Duncan, escape to England and Macbeth is crowned King. However, Macbeth does not trust Banquo and has him murdered, but when Macbeth has a feast, Banquo’s ghost appears. Hence, Macbeth resolves to revisit the witches and he sees strange apparitions, meanwhile, Macduff’s wife and children are murdered by order of Macbeth. Lady Macbeth then becomes insane and dies. The castle is attacked, Macbeth is killed and Malcolm is proclaimed King.
One lone character cannot be solely to blame for this tragedy, all of the central characters should be apportioned some blame.
Macbeth is a brave and noble soldier who fought heroically for King Duncan. One would not suspect him of pre-mediated murder. Therefore, the witches must have had the ability to corrupt, manipulate and shape his mind.
Macbeth must certainly be apportioned some blame as every man is in control of his own destiny. The witches never specifically told him to kill, they merely implanted a suggestion. Macbeth obviously had ambition, which was sparked from the beginning. The witches simply helped to spark this ambition and then worked to keep it alight. He acts along with the help of Lady Macbeth. She manipulates and supports his evil deeds. Macbeth had the power to reject the witch’s suggestions and allow nature to take its course, this is evident, as he was able to control hundreds of soldiers in battle and give orders. He was not a weak and challenged man man. Macbeth was on the contrary selfish and power hungry. He let his greed influence him.
“Loves for his own ends, not for you”
However, one can reason that Macbeth was not always in control. He is said to be in a ‘rapt state’ and one whethers this has anything to do with the elemental forces or his over – sexual, manipulative wife. Even so, he may be possessed but he is in control of himself as the dialogue suggests,
“Stay you imperfect speakers tell me more”
In addition, his tone changes as he gains confidence and he becomes aggressive. This suggests that he is in control and can make up his own decisions.
However, there are reflective moments when he reflects on his actions and decides against murder.
“If chance will have me king, why chance may crown me/without my stir”
However, this way of thinking is soon non-existent in the second act. Macbeth would be viewed as a hero if he made his own judgement and resisted the temptation.
Lady Macbeth is also marginally to blame. She is introduced when she reads Macbeth’s letter. She is pushed, pressurised, manipulated and calculated the pre-meditated murder. She is powerful and dear to Macbeth and takes full advantage of this. However, we would not expect a woman to rein such power, as this would have been unlikely given the period. Without her cajoling, Macbeth may never have gone through with the first murder. She took control and handled the murders as an unsexed entity. It seems that Lady Macbeth may have been connected with the supernatural before, as she calls out to evil spirits.
“unsex me here”
Lady Macbeth could be considered a witch according to the standards of Shakespeare’s day. She subverts the order of the sexes and the usual family hierarchy by trying to assume more power than the head of the family, her husband. She does appear to have more power over him, as she challenges his manhood so he will commit the murder of Duncan.
“And live a coward in thine own esteem”
She uses sexual means to control her puppet – like husband and entrances him; thus she is like a witch.
By challenging her husbands manhood, she is making him mentally impotent yet in the same way pleading for herself to become an unsexed entity, on an equal power with her husband given his impotent and fragile state, if anything Lady Macbeth is more aggressive in this strange role reversal. This is highlighted in the following quotation,
“When you durst do it, then you were a man”
She does not follow the typical role of the wife; she transforms the social order and thus becomes the pinnacle of the family and her alliance with the dark forces becomes dubious, the fact that she works with the weird sisters to influence Macbeth suggests that she is at least indirectly allied with them. Though it can be said that, Lady Macbeth retains her mortal form and temporal powers; she has simply touched on the deep-seated ambitions and greed that were already present in him.
Although Lady Macbeth coserts her power and dominance over her weak, ineffectual husband, the elemental forces also corrupt the impotent Macbeth. She also encourages Macbeth to become more confident and assertive and tempt him into using his ambition for his own gains. Without this guidance and the corrupt suggestions, Macbeth would probably have never acted on his impulses and desire for power. The witches cast spells and provide apparitions and thus drive his hunger for power and dominance.
The withches intentionally taunt him by making him believe that he is in control, they change their tone and act subservient towards him,
“speak, demand, we’ll answer”
We are also more prone to condemning them more as we learn the grotesque content of their cauldron,
“pour in sow’s blood that hath eaten her nine farrow”
These ingredients sound equally gruesome to Macbeth, yet this is overshadowed by the vague, riddled promises that they make,
“for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”
They continually meddle in his life and one could question whether they had anything to do with the hallucinations.
Most of the play is written in blank verse, which resembles the natural rhythm of spoken English. The language flows in this form, certain syllables are stressed and there is a lack of end rhyme. However, this rhythm is disturbed when the weird witches are present in the scene.
The language and verse is varied, with the witches and present. The verse is much choppier and sharper. Shakespeare also used rhyming couplets, which is particularly applicable for use in the witch scenes, as riddled; rhyming couplets enhance the devious and corrupt nature of the witches. The vocabulary is archaic and typical of Elizabeth style. The language devices Shakespeare used are abundant; he uses figurative language, aural imagery, patterned sound, equivocation, biblical illusions, symbolism and personification.
Act 1 Scene 1 opens with ‘thunder and lightening’. We establish that this scene could be evil as the weather suggests this. Hence Shakespeare has used pathetic fallacy to enhance atmosphere. It was believed that in superstitious times those fierce storms were omens of unrest in individual people and whole countries. The fact that the witches open the plays shows the theme of supernatural is integral to the play. Shakespeare used the weird witches to open the play to show that evil will taunt Macbeth and will influence what happens in the play.
The unearthly creatures talk of the battle being,
“lost and won.”
This equivocation shows the witches have the power of prediction and that they have also been anticipating the fight for Macbeth’s soul.
The witches actively seek to meet up with Macbeth; this portrays their meddling side to the audience.
“there to meet Macbeth”
The prophetic hags establish a link with the supernatural by calling their familiars. Their familiars were supposedly given to them from Satan to help with sorcery.
“I come Greymalkin”
The witches riddled phrases denote the confusion that will occur. Their ambiguous language addresses that things aren’t always as they seem.
“fair is foul and foul is fair”
This line is an analogy for the deceptive facade of Lady Macbeth. The witches ‘Exeunt’ by hovering through the air and by doing this; they are symbolically linked with the supernatural.
From analysing the evidence in this scene, one can assume that the blame is directed to the witches, as they are meddling in Macbeth’s affairs and are being associated with evil.
Act 1 scene 3 also opens with ‘thunder’. It shows the extreme nature of the prophetic hags. Their meeting place, the heath, is symbolic of the barren and empty nature of the witches.
The fact the witches meet again reinforces the idea of sisterhood and coven,
“where hast thou been, sister?”
One witch has been a gruesomely “killing swine.” This is a ritual killing for evil purposes. Another witch relates how a sailor’s wife denied her food, so decides to attack the sailor. It was superstition that if you denied a witch food then the witch would take steps to punish you.
The dramatist uses a strong metaphor here, which creates imagery,
“Aroint thee witch the rump-fed renyon cries”
The witch turned herself into a rat and sailed in a sieve to corrupt the sailor’s ship. There is a symbolic suggestion in the word ‘rat’ that they are cunning and manipulative. Furthermore, the fact she turns herself into a rat indicates her lower status compared to her familiar. Therefore, her familiar is a lot more powerful than she is, as it is a cat.
The witches are very civil to each other, which makes us question whether they really are intrinsically evil,
“Th ‘art kind”
Moreover, they speak in rhyming couplets; this increases the notion of incantation and makes their riddles more complex. The first witch produces a human thumb. This implies that she has used her magic for evil.
Macbeth is announced with a symbolic drum. His future is told within a drumroll. Death. Macbeth’s opening words directly associate him with evil.
“So fair and foul a day I have not seen”
It is in reference to an earlier quote that the unearthly creatures spoke. This links his destiny with the witches and evil. Macbeth speaks with an important, unsure and hesitant tone and the Weird Sisters prophesise that Macbeth will be ‘Thane of Cawdor’ and ‘King hereafter’. This is what sparks ambitions. Banquo seems jealous but says Macbeth,
“Seems rapt withal”
He is in a trance and he may be possessed at this point, perhaps under the control of the supernatural. Banquo already recognises the witches to be unnatural and strange and is very vivid in his description of them.
“So withered, and so wild in their attire, That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth”
In addition, Banquo may also be suggesting that Macbeth is greedy and expectant.
“Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear your favours or your hate”
Even in his rapt state, Macbeth is still coherent enough to demand to know more. Thus he is in control of himself enough to absorb the information and calculate his actions. His tone becomes more commanding and demanding, hence Macbeth is capable of making his own decisions.
“Stay you imperfect speakers tell me more”
Macbeth feels powerful after having been victorious in battle. Macbeth is sadly deluded that he can control the elemental forces, which have succeeded in uncovering his raw ambition.
One Macbeth learns he has been made Thane of Cawdor, Banquo says,
“What can the devil speak true”
This suggests that evil is at work,
One must recognise that the witches never suggested murdering Duncan and it is essential to balance the evidence and make appropriate decisions. We learn of the Weird Sisters connection with evil and of their provoking and meddling, yet they never tell Macbeth to do anything they merely suggest. It is clear that Macbeth is showing his true colours by the end of the scene and is in complete control of his actions. One can reason that he is in ‘rapt state’, but after we are given this impression, there is also contrary evidence provided to suggest that he is in fact in control of his actions. The tone actively changes, commanding and directing.
In Act 1 Scene 5, Macbeth has sent Lady Macbeth a letter and the first thing Macbeth writes about is the witches. Shakespeare is insinuating that the supernatural has a central role within the play.
“while I stood rapt in wonder of it”
We once again question whether he was possessed and can be held responsible for his actions. Macbeth calls Lady Macbeth,
“my dearest partner of greatness”
This suggests they have a good relationship and usually work together in partnership. Macbeth is aware that he may not have enough ambition.
“That thou mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing by being ignorant of what greatness is promised thee”
Macbeth is leaving the decisive action up to Lady Macbeth and hence is giving her freedom of choice.
“Lay it to thy heart and farewell”
Lady Macbeth realises that Macbeth is,
“too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness”
Lady Macbeth feels responsible for what happens so is plotting and planning for him.
“Yet do I fear thy nature”
Lady Macbeth reveals her thoughts about witchcraft and the supernatural by calling on evil spirits.
“come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts”
One can assume that she has been embroiled in the supernatural before. She calls on the spirits to change her into a ruthless human being. To take away her soft feminine qualities so that she can assist her ambitious husband who lacks the evil he will need.
“unsex me here”
After critically examining the evidence in this scene, one can point the finger of blame towards Lady Macbeth who calls on evil spirits so she can assist her husband. She is already planning and plotting murder. One can now connect her with the supernatural and evil.
In Act 1 Scene 7, Macbeth starts to change his mind about the murder,
“hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been, so clear in his great office”
In contrast, Lady Macbeth shows optimum strength in this scene. She undermines Macbeth and challenges his manhood.
“And live a coward in thine own esteem”
Lady Macbeth plots and plans the murder of Duncan. All her actions are pre mediated, which implies that she is a cold heartless killer,
“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 warder of the brain, shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason a limbeck only; when in swinish sleep their drenched natures lie as in death”
She is so cunning and conniving that she has thought everything through.
“his spongy officers, who shall bear guilt”
We are reminded of the earlier quotation,
“fair is foul and foul is fair”
It seems to be unfolding like a prophecy.
There should be equilibrium in apportioning blame in this scene as Macbeth, though deciding against the murder, was convinced very quickly to go through with it. If he really hadn’t wanted to go through with the murder he would have put up a bit more resistance. One can reason that Lady Macbeth has a very strong influence over him and she knows how to use it to her advantage, especially in this scene as she challenges his manhood and has a carefully thought out plan. One could question whether she is inherently evil or whether Macbeth really had any other choice.
In Act 2 Scene 1, Banquo is unable to sleep, as he is uncomfortable in the presence of evil thoughts.
“Merciful powers, restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose”
Macbeth denies his involvement with the unearthly creatures. He is very careful to hide his guilt in murdering Duncan. This is the turning point for Macbeth; he is becoming more and more empowered,
“I think not of them”
Macbeth believes he sees a dagger in front of him. This could be a sign of his need to muster his courage, hence he intentionally visualises his evil swaying. This could also be the work of the supernatural. The word ‘dagger’ reminds us of the unnatural predictions,
“That summens there to heaven or to hell”
This soliloquy reveals Macbeth’s abnormal state of mind. It also reminds one of the unnatural witches who are products of hell. He believes he is becoming stronger, but ironically he is becoming weaker, as he is more and more disturbed as a result of the supernatural.
One can use the evidence shown in this scene to appoint the blame to Macbeth as now he is denying any involvement with the witches and lying to his own friends as the supernatural is taking a hold of him. One could question his sanity as he sees a dagger, or one could reason that this is the supernatural meddling and taunting Macbeth.
In Act 2 Scene 2, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are becoming more frail minded as they are beginning to realise what they have done in order to get what they want. Lady Macbeth jumps at the sound of an owl. This suggests that she is becoming frail minded and is extremely anxious.
Other signs of the pair frail – mindness are that Lady Macbeth pleads with her husband not to go insane, which is ironic as this happens to her, and that Macbeth can’t wash the blood from his hands.
“No, this my hand will rather the multitudnous seas incarnadine, making the green one red”
He can’t literally wash the blood from his hands and also metaphorically he can’t wash away the guilt of what he has done from his blackened soul.
For all Lady Macbeth’s evil words she still has some sort of conscience, as she can’t commit the murder herself. She is not as evil as she would like and maybe the evil spirits didn’t remove all of her soft gentle side.
Macbeth is remorseful, but Lady Macbeth has achieved her desires. She is adamant that the dead can’t exact revenge. If anything she has been influenced and manipulated by the supernatural.
“the sleeping and the dead are but as pictures. ‘Tis the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil”
In this scene we see that Macbeth is regretting his devious actions, yet this passes very quickly. Lady Macbeth shows very little regret or remorse. One can reason that she couldn’t commit the murder herself so she can’t be all evil. Both are becoming weakened and anxious. Macbeth can’t return the daggers and is initially ashamed of himself.
In Act 3 Scene 1, Macbeth has become more powerful. He has not yet converged with the witches, so we can assume that they haven’t complete power over him in this scene. Lady Macbeth and his own greed now directly influence everything he does. Macbeth has Banquo murdered, but it is his own madness that drove him to do it. He is now more in control of his destiny.
“I will put that business in your bosoms whose execution takes your enemy off”
He is level headed and cunningly instructs the murderers to plant themselves away from the palace.
“I will advise you where to plant yourselves….something from the palace”
Macbeth gives the murderers reasons to kill Banquo, claiming that Banquo had held them
This portrays his intelligence, but also emphasises his evil side.
Macbeth is very clear in what he must do to secure the thrown without challenge.
“We have scorched the snake but have not scorned it”
This implies that there are more murders to come. Macbeth is not troubled by the murders he has committed. He is more worried that Fleance escaped. From this we can establish that he has little or no conscience.
“Fool of scorpions of my mind dear wife thou know’st that Banquo and his Fleance lives”
One must recognise that neither the supernatural nor Lady Macbeth had anything to do with the murders of Banquo or Fleance, yet Macbeth now uses a style not unlike the style Lady Macbeth had used on him. One could say that her influence has not left him unmarked and she still has some sort of control over him, though it is mostly his own greed that is spurring him on to commit these heinous acts.
In Act 3 Scene 4, Macbeth is becoming increasingly cruel in his manner and shows no remorse in his friend’s death.
“Tis better thee without than he within”
He is referring to the blood on the murderer’s face.
Macbeth is upset that Fleance has escaped because it jeopardises his plans and he realises that he can still feel fear.
“But now I am cabined, cribbed, confined.”
Shakespeare uses alliteration in this scene for dramatic effect, it emphasises that Macbeth is trapped, desperate and afraid. The use of the ‘c’ consonant is particularly effective since ‘c’ is a hard consonant. The sharp sound evoked by this letter emphasises Macbeth’s fear. He also uses rule of three for literary effect moreover, there is a great association with the number three and magic. The dramatist is once drawing us back into the supernatural and highlighting the fundamental importance of the role of the ‘prophetic hags’.
“There the grown serpent lies, the worm that’s fled”
This is an evocative metaphor used to describe Fleance. By calling him a serpent, Shakespeare is inferring that Macbeth sees him as devious, sneaky and sly.
Macbeth sees an apparition of the deceased Banquo. We must question whether this is guilt or the supernatural meddling again.
“Which of you have done this?”
This is what we call an asside or soliloquy. A private moment where the character shares his thoughts with the audience. Lady Macbeth refers to Macbeth as a woman. It is ironic that Lady Macbeth feels so superior at this time, because shortly she becomes insane yet here she is perfectly sane.
Macbeth reveals his evil intentions by explaining,
“we are yet but young in deed”
At the end of this scene Macbeth concludes that he will visit the Weird sisters (witches). His reliance on the supernatural is necessary to stifle his fear. One must recognise that he goes to the supernatural and not the other way about. Therefore, we blame Macbeth for going to the prophetic hags.
Act 3 Scene 5 includes Hectate who is the supreme witch. This scene involves her scolding the witches for not involving her. This scene incriminates the witches which makes them responsible.
“How did you dare to trade and traffic with Macbeth in riddles and affairs of death”
Hectate also apportions some of the responsibility to Macbeth and believes the witches are wasting their time.
“Loves for his own ends, not for you”
The witches know Macbeth is coming to them and they will,
“draw him on to his confusion”
thus adding to the supernatural’s already existing evil.
The inclusion of this scene means that the metaphorical finger is pointed at the ‘Weird Sisters’. However, most editors do not consider this scene to be written by Shakespeare. Therefore, this scene should not be included when considering the evidence. If it were, it would suggest that the elemental forces were to blame the whole way through the play.
In Act 4 Scene 1, the witches are involved in a ritual, making a concoction for Macbeth to drink. They will be instruments of his doom. There is similar assonance present, to emphasise the riddled and confused nature of their speech and hence to magnify the idea that these are unnatural creatures.
The way they chant together reveals their sisterhood. The prophecies they reveal are that Macbeth must be cautious of Macduff (thane of fife Nemises/avenger to Macbeth not born of a women); he will only be defeated when ‘Birnham Wood’ moves to Dunsinane and that no man born from a mothers womb can ever harm Macbeth. These predictions though extremely ambiguous, are riddled prophecies of Macbeth’s future. They only tell half-truths but they are also double meanings. Macbeth longs to feel secure.
“Double double, toil and trouble”
This enhances the fact that the meanings are going to be double edged. The incantation reveals the turmoil that lies ahead.
Macbeth’s tone is demanding and he thinks he has the power to control the witches when he most certainly doesn’t.
“I conjure you, by that which you profess”
The witches recognise this and use it to their advantage by making Macbeth feel that he is in control by saying,
“speak, demand, we’ll answer”
They are now purposely taunting him and acting in a subservient way and their tone has changed. They lure him into a false sense of security.
“say if thou’dst rather hear it from our moths or from our masters”
Macbeth has become a puppet for the instruments of darkness. He has become conceited and believes he is untouchable. The prophetic hags have influenced and shaped him by implanting thoughts of grandeur into his head and extracting his ambition. He misinterprets the prophecies and still he isn’t satisfied.
“Yet my heart throbs to know one thing”
We condemn the witches more so because of the ingredients they put in their cauldron are foul, grotesque and inappropriate in the extreme,
“Finger of birth strangled babe”
Yet Macbeth decides to murder all related to Macduff. The killing of these innocents is perhaps his most evil act. It can’t be condoned, as they have nothing to do with the situation. Macbeth says,
“From this moment, the very firstlings of my heart shall be, the firstlings of my hand”
For this malevolent deed we blame him in this scene, as the witches never said anything about killing Macduff’s family. This is completely of his own accord.
In Act 4 Scene 3, Malcolm (son of Duncan and prince of Cumberland) tests Macduff and when it is clear that they are both loyal and good, they plan what’s to be done.
Macbeth has been energized by the witches and goes on a killing spree, murdering Lady Macduff and her son.
“He has killed me mother”
Once Malcolm and Macduff learn of the slaughter of Macduff’s family they are clear that Macbeth must be stopped immediately. They invite assistance from,
“the powers of above,”
Or the heavens to overthrow the tyrant. This suggests that the supernatural world can be fair as well as foul. This reminds us of the former equivocation, which is the central coda of the play.
Macbeth is crazed by murder. His actions are now gratuitous, as he is hungry for murder. He was once subservient to the supernatural and now he is a transformed lunatic. He was once empowered by them and now is obsessed and insane. After analysing the evidence from this scene it is clear that Macbeth should be blamed and one must also recognise that there is evidence to show that the supernatural is not all bad.
In Act 5 Scene 1, Lady Macbeth becomes completely crazed. Firstly she sleepwalks. Lady Macbeth hallucinates that she has blood on her hands, has sin on her soul.
“Out damned spot, out I say…. Hell is murky”
“will these hands ne’er be clean?”
This juxtaposes what she has said previously.
“A little water should cleanse me of these deeds”
It is clear that her conscience troubles her and one must recognise that she is not wholly evil.
In Act 5 Scene 3, Macbeth is still on a mission for power and will not go down without a fight.
“I’ll fight until from my bones my flesh be hacked. Give me my armour”
This image is gruesome and unwholesome and it reminds us of the witches and their evil deeds. His choice of language leads us to believe that his encounters with the weird witches had some sick satanic effect on him.
His frustration is apparent and he is cruel towards the servant, but this is understandable as he is faced with the risk of battle. He also invites some sympathy when he admits,
“my way of life has fallen into the sear”
Yet he musters some confidence at the end and one could recognise that he brought this all on himself.
In Act 5 Scene 5, we see the death of Lady Macbeth. She commits suicide, as her evil deeds were too hard to live with. One can recognise that she is not all evil, but merely weak and that she could not live with what she had done. Macbeth seems too far-gone in his evil ways to feel real fear.
At the end of scene five Macbeth begins to question the moral fibre of the witches.
“I pull in resolution and begin to doubt th’ equivocation of the field”
Even on the stake he ponders over how he could be killed when the witches promise differently.
“Whats he that was not born of a woman”
He still stupidly believes in what he was told. He has been duped as Macduff was, “from his mothers womb untimely ripped”
Macbeth still shouts orders and damn’s others, yet ironically, it is he that is damned.
After critically studying the evidence of that scene we blame Macbeth, as he is evil right to the very end and still obsessed with the supernatural and what the witches have told him.
After close critical analysis it is my view that responsibility is swayed in each scene, yet on the whole each party are equally to blame for the bloodshed. There is sufficient evidence to imply that each party had a vital function in the outcome. Macbeth was not wholly responsible for the outcomes of the play, yet he is partly to blame for murdering for his own gains. It is obvious that sometimes he is said to be in a ‘rapt’ state and one could question whether he had been possessed by the Weird witches. However, even in his ‘rapt’ state he still seems to be in control of himself. Macbeth never actually calls the three women witches, only weird sisters or prophetic hags; thus one must question whether they actually have any power or only the power of suggestion. They never actually instruct Macbeth to murder anyone, yet they alongside Lady Macbeth work to water the seed of ambition.
Fate may have intended Macbeth to seize the throne; the witches may just have been instruments to support this notion and provide Macbeth with guidance. The prophetic hags tempt Macbeth into using his ambition for his own gains and they have knowledge that Lady Macbeth is a power – hungry woman who will aid Macbeth. One must assume that they too are evil as they cast spells, provide apparitions and implant notions of power and grandeur. Furthermore, the spells they cast are extreme and the ingredients are highly inappropriate, this further denounces the witches.
“finger of birth strangle babe”
In Jacobean times spells were thought to be powerful concoctions brewed for evil purposes. The witches encourage Macbeth to become more confident and assertive and Macbeth is linked with them from the start. He is linked through his phrasing and they talk of him before they are even introduced hence one could say that it is their primary intent to corrupt Macbeth.
“There to meet with Macbeth”
Macbeth allows himself be corrupted and is easily lead. His ambition was already there; the witches simply helped it grow. They cannot be held completely accountable as they only fuel and drive his ambition.
Lady Macbeth must also be partly blamed for the outcome. She pushed, pressurised and coldly planned the murder of Duncan. She took control and handled the murders as unsexed entity. If not for her, Macbeth may never have murdered Duncan and if he had never murdered Duncan then he would never have got a taste for power or greed. It was only when he first murdered that his hunger escalated and he became driven by greed and ambition. Though one may assume that she is not all evil, as she could not live with herself for the crimes she had committed and became insane.
Some critics insist that Macbeth was tricked, cajoled, tempted and guided by the supernatural forces and hence he is not to blame. However, it is my interpretation that the ‘Weird Sisters’ did tempt, taunt and tease him. They sparked his ambition, but that ambition already lay within Macbeth; the witches simply brought in to the surface. Had the unearthly creatures not have done this one could argue Macbeth would never have thought of killing Duncan. Yet this is only a presumption.
One must clearly recognise that witches under any circumstances told Macbeth to murder. Had Lady Macbeth not tackled and challenged Macbeth’s manhood, one could argue Macbeth may never have murdered Duncan or become embroiled in future murders. Yet it is clear that though in the early stages Lady Macbeth and the supernatural influenced Macbeth, he became a murdering lunatic all of his own accord and was in control of what he was doing. He chose his destiny and killed innocents without any influence from anyone except the influence of his own greed and desire. Macbeth is insatiable, ruthless and domineering. Yet none of the guilty parties are blameless. All three caused the tragedy and only with all three present could the tragedy have been caused.
All three parties are portrayed with blame, the tragedy is more satisfying. A seventeenth century audience would have believed, Macbeth was not fully responsible, because witches were prevalent within their society yet a modern day audience would blame Macbeth fully, as they would contemplate that he had no excuse. She believes that it is easier to surface some pity for Macbeth when he is not the only one to blame but part of a triangle of guilt.
In my opinion, it is easier to muster sympathy for a person who is not entirely to blame for their actions; in the case of Macbeth, the tragedy is more successful if the popular seventeenth century mentality is adopted, and thereby the witches and Lady Macbeth are made partly to blame for his downfall.