Responsibility for the murder of King Duncan?

Categories: Macbeth

It is hard to decide which of the two characters, Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, holds the most responsibility for the murder of King Duncan, as it is possible to think of both of them being equally to blame. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are both very ambitious characters and this will be looked at in this essay as part of the analysis of their contribution to Duncan’s murder. This essay will show how Lady Macbeth continuously influences Macbeth and Macbeth follows her every instruction.

My essay will discuss both characters’ involvement and it will determine which one is the most culpable for King Duncan’s death. My first point will look at how Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to continue developing the plan for King Duncan’s demise.

The first time that we see Lady Macbeth playing a part in the murder, is her reaction to the content of Macbeth’s letter. Immediately after reading the letter her initial decision is that, Macbeth must become king and she shows great determination, this can be supported with: “and shalt be / What thou art promised;” Merely a short time later Lady Macbeth says, “To catch the nearest way.

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” By this she means that Macbeth must become king by any means necessary. Yet she is not convinced that Macbeth is capable of committing the crime himself and so she goes onto say she will: “Pour my spirits in thine ear.” In this she is expressing how she will tell Macbeth what to do, and we can be sure that she is already developing a plan in order to claim the crown, and this can be seen when she says, “To have thee crowned withal.

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Lady Macbeth is also trying to give Macbeth some of her character, as she does not believe that he could commit the murder without her help. The audience can see Lady Macbeth’s language symbolising evil when she says, “blanket of the dark.” Lady Macbeth wants the blanket to be dark because light would represent God and goodness and not killing Duncan, whereas Lady Macbeth needs darkness and Satan to help her to plan the deed. The blanket represents a cloud obscuring her conscience and preventing her from realising that her intended murder is wrong. Lady Macbeth’s conscience knows that murder is wrong but wants to call upon the supernatural powers to stop her conscience.

This makes her guiltier as she understands how wrong the murder is and yet still wants to continue. It is clear that Lady Macbeth has not only got Macbeth’s interests at heart and is fully aware that she would become queen if Macbeth carries out the murder of Duncan. Just before this Lady Macbeth talks of wanting Macbeth to hurry home: “Hie thee hither,” We can conclude that this means Lady Macbeth wants the assassination to be carried out as soon as possible. During this passage we can clearly see Lady Macbeth for who she really is, and this is the first time that she is introduced to the play and immediately she reveals herself as being a deceitful and malicious character.

Macbeth too shows his wicked nature when he looks to the witches for advice and information, and says, “Stay, you imperfect speakers. Tell me more.” Even though Macbeth knows that the witches are evil and are related to Satan, he wants to know more about the prophecies. Macbeth also feeds lines to Banquo so that Banquo will confirm what Macbeth wants to hear, “You shall be king.” Macbeth cannot believe that the witches have prophesised that he will become king when he says, “To be king / Stands not within the prospect of belief,” However what Banquo says does not stop Macbeth’s determination later in the play.

Macbeth is desperate to hear more from the witches and to know more about being king, when he says, “Speak, I charge you.” The witches then disappear, and after the departure Macbeth discovers that another prophecy is found to be true. Macbeth believes the witches and ignores Banquo’s warnings that the prophecies are rooted in evil: “What, can the devil speak true?” Banquo does not want to have faith in the witches and believes that they are dangerous. In contrast Macbeth believes that he will be king even though the prophecies are a dangerous basis for his actions.

Lady Macbeth decides to ignore the danger of the witches when she calls upon supernatural powers to help her: “Take my milk for gall.” It is clear from this that Lady Macbeth wants to rid her body of anything that may potentially hold her back from committing the deed. Clearly Lady Macbeth is desperate to be able to arrange the murder, and believes that by calling upon supernatural powers it will be possible, when Lady Macbeth says, “Come, thick night, / And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,” and, “No compunctious visitings of nature / Shake my fell purpose,” The audience can see Lady Macbeth’s language becoming increasingly evil when she says, “thick night,” and “smoke of hell,” Lady Macbeth wants to have a dark night for the deed to occur, so that there is secrecy for the deed.

She knows that if the night is dark then she will feel dark inside her and this will help her to perform the murderous action, this is an example of pathetic fallacy. Lady Macbeth says that the smoke is from hell and this represents the passion and desire and her evil desire to work with Satan on this sinful deed. Hell is also described as being torturous and burning, so “smoke of hell” is very evil language that Lady Macbeth uses. Then when Lady Macbeth hears of King Duncan’s arrival, she does not think of preparations for his stay but of his death: “He brings great news.” Her murderous plot can now continue, and we also see that Lady Macbeth is unwilling to let destiny take its course and wants to make her own future. This thought continues through the whole play up until the final point where the murder is committed, which can be seen when she says, “I feel now the future in the instant.”

Macbeth also wants to make his own destiny and shows his first thought of murder when he says, “My thought, whose murder” This is halfway through Macbeth’s speech having just met the three witches, and Macbeth thinks of killing Duncan again when saying, “Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair.” This idea has not been put into Macbeth’s mind by anyone other than himself. Macbeth becomes very confused and disorientated in his understanding of what is right and what is wrong, shown when he says, “This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill cannot be good.” When saying, “This supernatural soliciting,” Shakespeare is showing that Macbeth knows that the witches have sought him. However is unsure as to whether he thinks it to be good or bad. Macbeth does not want to be associated with the witches however he also likes the idea of being king and is torn between right and wrong.

Right and wrong continue to be blurred in his mind through the play up until Macbeth actually commits the murder of King Duncan. Macbeth is trying to say that what he can imagine is so horrific that it is worse than what could happen in life now, when he says, “Present fears / Are less than horrible imaginings.” Soon after the three witches have left Macbeth shows a greedy desire: “Two truths are told,” This particularly gluttonous desire continues throughout the play. Macbeth clearly knows that there would be great results for him, and his wife as a consequence of King Duncan’s demise, and this can be seen when he says, “With his surcease, success,” However, Macbeth does not think about this much longer as Banquo discourages him for thinking about the prophecies any more when saying, “Time and hour runs through the roughest day.” Yet Macbeth continues to think of the prophecies when he writes a letter to his wife.

Having received the letter from Macbeth, Lady Macbeth chooses the path of persuading Macbeth to bring to an end any doubts about the murder. Firstly her main involvement, which is her consistent influence on Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is questioning Macbeth’s bravery and calling him a coward when saying, “Wouldst thou have that / Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,” She then continues to call Macbeth a coward when she goes on to say, “Live a coward in thine own esteem,” Now Lady Macbeth tries to undermine Macbeth: “What beast was it then/ That made you break this enterprise to me?” Lady Macbeth is telling Macbeth that she would do anything for him and so he must also, when she says, “Had I so sworn / As you have done to this.”

Lady Macbeth is using a variety of tactics to try and manipulate Macbeth to murder King Duncan, as best she can, which is eventually successful. Once Macbeth is fully coerced to the idea of committing the murder, he still has reservations. Lady Macbeth then reveals that she has schemed a plan and this is when she says, “What cannot you and I perform upon / Th’unguarded Duncan?” Showing how Lady Macbeth decides that murder is the best option as it is already planned, and that she is so keen on the idea. The whole murder is developed down to whom they shall blame it upon: “His spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt / of our great quell?” Showing Lady Macbeth’s incredible determination to continue with the murder, despite Macbeth’s worries.

However, once Lady Macbeth embeds the plan into Macbeth’s mind, he continues to carry out the murder, following her instructions. This can be seen when Macbeth has a hallucination of a dagger in front of him. Macbeth is very confused when he says, “A dagger of the mind, a false creation,” and also “Witchcraft celebrates / Pale Hecate’s off’rings,” His language shows that there is evil within him and it is not just coming from external sources, such as the witches. Macbeth is talking to the dagger, and revealing that it leads him to what he wants to do, to murder King Duncan, when he says, “Thou marshall’st me the way I was going,” Macbeth knows what he is going to do, when he says, “On thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood.” This is his conscience trying to crush the idea, telling him that he is going to commit a murder and that it is morally wrong. “Horror”, “fatal vision”, “bloody business” and “wicked dreams abuse.”

The language shows that Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as being absolutely evil, and this is because these words relate to the murder of King Duncan and show that the evil has risen from within Macbeth himself. When Macbeth prepares to commit the murder he has a fear that he may be discovered and that people will realise it was him who murdered King Duncan and not the guards who are to be blamed, this is when he says, “Hear not my steps, which way they walk,” As Macbeth leaves to commit the murder his last words are, “Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell / That summons thee to heaven or to hell.” Here Macbeth is cold, determined and purposeful, and Macbeth does not show any doubt as he leaves to carry out the deed at the end of the soliloquy.

This essay clearly shows which character is most responsible for the demise of Duncan. Evidently Lady Macbeth is responsible in the way that she was determined at all times and only had one momentary doubt throughout the whole play. Looking at the consequences after the murder, Lady Macbeth does go on to kill herself. This illustrates that Lady Macbeth regrets the decision that she made and that she bears the guilt of the murder. In contrast to this Macbeth committed the crime without any doubt even though he had doubted before he was coerced to continue with the murder. Having murdered once Macbeth continued to murder, seeming to have acquired a taste for it, supplying us with the evidence that Macbeth was more responsible for the murder, due to his actually carrying out the deed and continuing to murder other innocent parties without a second thought.

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Responsibility for the murder of King Duncan?. (2017, Oct 20). Retrieved from

Responsibility for the murder of King Duncan?

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