The Tragic Downfall of Macbeth: Influence and Moral Decay

Categories: Macbeth

William Shakespeare's renowned play, "Macbeth," explores the complex dynamics of power, ambition, and manipulation. Within this tragedy, Shakespeare effectively demonstrates how characters can influence a once-noble warrior, Macbeth, leading him to construct his own downfall. This essay will delve into the various influences that contribute to Macbeth's moral decay and ultimate demise, shedding light on his transformation from a virtuous figure to a tragic one.

Influences of Misleading Truths

Macbeth's descent into darkness begins with a fateful encounter with three witches who prophesy his rise to power, including becoming the Thane of Cawdor and the King of Scotland.

As two of these prophecies start coming true, Macbeth grapples with the implications of the third: becoming king. He reflects, "two truths are told,/ [but] this supernatural soliciting/cannot be ill, cannot be good… I am Thane of Cawdor [now, if so] why do I yield to that suggestion" (Act 1, Scene 3, Lines 126-128, 133). This internal struggle highlights how the witches' influence sparks ambition within Macbeth, leading him down a treacherous path.

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Macbeth's initial encounter with the witches sets the stage for further manipulation. He confides in Lady Macbeth about the prophecies and his newfound title as Thane of Cawdor. However, Lady Macbeth seizes this opportunity to plant negative thoughts in his mind and push him toward fulfilling the final prophecy. She challenges his manhood, saying, "When you durst do it, then to were a man./ And to be more than what you were, you would/ be so much more than a man" (Act 1, Scene 7, Lines 49-51).

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Lady Macbeth's relentless pressure successfully manipulates Macbeth into committing the murder of King Duncan, showcasing the destructive influence of those around him.

Furthermore, Macbeth's belief in the witches' prophecies extends to Banquo, who poses a threat to his newly acquired throne. Banquo voices his suspicions about King Duncan's murder and subtly suggests that Macbeth obtained his titles through foul play. He remarks, "now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,/ as the weird women promis'd, and I fear/ thou played'st most foully for't… [but Banquo] should be the father/ of many kings …[and] may they not be my oracles as well" (Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 1-3, 5-6, 9). Macbeth's paranoia deepens, and he becomes even more susceptible to manipulation, leading to a tragic chain of events.

The Moral Decline of Macbeth

As Macbeth succumbs to the influence of others, his character undergoes a profound transformation, marked by a rapid decline in morals and a tragic loss of humanity. He no longer hesitates or reflects on the consequences of his actions. Macbeth declares, "the very firstlings of [his] heart shall be/ the firstlings of [his] hands. And even now/ to crown [his] thoughts with acts, be it thought and/ done" (Act 4, Scene 2, Lines 145-148). This shift in his mindset showcases how external influences have stripped him of his moral compass.

Another striking instance of Macbeth's moral decay occurs when he receives news of Lady Macbeth's death. His response is callous and devoid of emotion, as he remarks, "[Lady Macbeth] should have died hereafter;/ There would have been a time for such a word" (Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 16-17). This chilling indifference illustrates how Macbeth has not only lost his moral values but also his ability to empathize and connect with others.

Shakespeare ultimately highlights Macbeth's tragic downfall in a dramatic confrontation with Macduff. Macbeth, emboldened by a prophecy that assures him no man born of a woman can harm him, faces Macduff in battle. However, Macduff's revelation of his unconventional birth (from a Caesarean section) shatters Macbeth's false confidence. As Macbeth meets his demise, it becomes clear that his unchecked ambition and susceptibility to external influences have led him down a destructive path.


In conclusion, "Macbeth" serves as a compelling study of the ways in which external influences can corrupt even the most noble and heroic individuals. Through the characters of Lady Macbeth, the three witches, and Banquo, Shakespeare masterfully demonstrates how these influences manipulate Macbeth into his own tragic downfall. As Macbeth's moral decay becomes increasingly apparent, the audience cannot help but feel pity for his misguided journey. It serves as a stark reminder that even the bravest and strongest among us can be led astray by ambition, manipulation, and the allure of power.

Updated: Jan 08, 2024
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The Tragic Downfall of Macbeth: Influence and Moral Decay. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Tragic Downfall of Macbeth: Influence and Moral Decay essay
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