Was Macbeth responsible for his own downfall? Essay
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Life is a play. You can choose between right and wrong, but either way the decisions that you make will alter someone else’s future.
Macbeth has a great deal of trouble distinguishing between right and wrong decisions throughout his rise to power.
He is a weak character, despite his noble reputation, and his weakness allowed him to be seduced by the witches’ prophecy; the very same weakness that resulted to him being manipulated by his ambitious, power-hungry wife, Lady Macbeth.
And it was, ultimately, this weakness that was the cause of his demise.
However, despite this flaw, Macbeth was not solely to blame for his downgrade; the witches’ prophecy ignited the hidden desire, within Macbeth, to be king and Lady Macbeth was even more determined than her husband.
The witches’ role should not be overlooked.
In the opening scene, through clever use of stagecraft and language, Shakespeare creates an eerie and ominous atmosphere. He opens with “thunder and lightning”, the cue for three witches to enter, and they begin to speak in rhyming couplets – “Fair is foul, and foul is fair \\ Hover through the fog and filthy air.” And they state their target specifically, by their words, “There to meet Macbeth”
Thereupon, Shakespeare, with this opening scene, entrenches the theme of the Supernatural, which runs throughout the play. This establishment causes the audience to fear for the main characters, making them considerate of the characters’ welfare.
In the 16th century, people genuinely believed in witchcraft and redoubted what witches may do to them. It was standard thinking that storms were associated with witchcraft, and the entry of the weird sisters provided the launch of the play with an attention-getting special effect.
In the play, Shakespeare depicts the witches as demonic, fiendish creatures sent from hell to destroy human lives. In Act 1, Scene 3 we are shown one of the witches saying, “I will drain him dry as hay,” after the sailor’s wife refused her a chestnut.
It is clear to the audience that the witches have met to discuss their sinister doings towards humans that day. Again this strikes fear into the audience’s heart, both for themselves and for Macbeth.
This is especially relevant to the time in which the play was written and performed as the play would have been performed for King James 1st of England, 6th of Scotland. King James believed extensively in witchcraft and wrote a book called Daemonologie after a personal experience with a group of Scottish witches.
In Act 1, Scene 3, the witches’ involvement continues and they hail Macbeth first as “Thane of Glamis”, then “Thane of Cawdor” and finally, as “King of Scotland”. This prophecy leads Macbeth to genuinely think about being in control and having power. Enough is said to plant the seed of dominance, firmly, in Macbeth’s mind.
The playwright makes it obvious to the audience that these creatures are manipulative and cryptic in the speech he gives them. Shakespeare also gives the witches the useful trait of prophecy, which plays a huge part in Macbeth’s journey to his personal abyss.
Although a modern audience would be critical about the role of the witches, Shakespearean audiences viewed them as evil, having the capability of casting terrible events.
The witches want to be seen as creatures whom Macbeth can trust and through their clever use of prophecy, they accomplish this.
In Act 4, Scene 1, Macbeth goes in search of the witches and finds them in “a cavern” with a “boiling cauldron” in the middle. They show Macbeth three apparitions (which all go unexplained) and he is left to figure them out by himself. The second apparition shows a bloody child which assures Macbeth, “…none of woman born \\ Shall harm Macbeth.”
Onward, it is clear to the audience that the witches play on Macbeth’s weakness of gullibility by showing Macbeth the apparitions with the purpose of portraying him as immortal. The idea that anyone who has been born from a woman cannot detriment Macbeth is appealing to him. The multi potential of the witches is evident to the audience at this point and their entanglement in the decaying events of Macbeth is clear.
In Shakespearean times, people were sceptical of the powers of witches – they were generally perceived to pass time with supernatural and evil doings, and so prophecy would have been included in that.
Another key factor to Macbeth’s downfall is Lady Macbeth, who really influenced and manipulated Macbeth and his decisions for the worst. She became obsessed with the news sent by Macbeth and Shakespeare makes it clear in her soliloquy, that she immediately began to hatch a plan to make Macbeth become king.
“Hie thee hither, \\That I may pour my spirits in thine ear; \\ And chastise with the valour of my tongue \\ All that impedes thee from the golden round,”
It is clear, from these words, that Lady Macbeth is planning to advance on her husband and play on his weaknesses, just as the witches did. With his wife, Macbeth’s weakness is his love for her; it blinds him into concurring to whatever deed her twisted mind decides. Shakespeare shows Lady Macbeth as a vindictive, scheming character – yet not in the same light as the witches. Their motive is evil; hers is power.
In Act 1, Scene 6, Lady Macbeth puts her tactics into motion and begins to finagle Macbeth. We are shown her belittling Macbeth and impugning his sense of courage, ambition and his love for her; this having a colossal effect on Macbeth.
In her words, “Wouldst thou have that \\ Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, \\ And live a coward in thine own esteem,” we see clearly that she is a ruthless, manoeuvring woman, driven by the ethereal idea of being Queen, who will not let anyone come between her and her crown. Although Macbeth is portrayed as a brave, heroic figure, he quickly falls seduced into his wife’s guileful plan.
Throughout the play, the playwright illustrates Lady Macbeth as a conniving, ruthless character, who is the devil-on-the-shoulder of Macbeth, whispering catastrophic ideas into his ear. She is also the sly creature that frames Duncan’s guards, first drugging them, and then plunging their daggers into the already dead king.
When Macbeth refuses to go back into the room and leave the daggers, she replies, “If he do bleed, \\ I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, \\ For it must seem their guilt.”
Hence, it is evident that Lady Macbeth, along with her initial machination to rid of the king, she also planned ahead to the night of the murder. This proves Lady Macbeth to be a practical person, however calculating she may be.
Lady Macbeth is also dangerous in such a way that she is a skilled actress. She tricks the people around her into believing that she was genuinely upset about the murder, with numerous tactics, the most effective being her pretend faint. Banquo remarks, “look to the lady” and sincerely believes that Lady Macbeth has fainted; she has him and the rest in the room fooled.
Her actions in this scene show us that her scheming is not just on the surface; it is innate, and comes naturally to her. It is obvious to the audience that Lady Macbeth is easily able to deceive the people around her into thinking what she sees fit; the exact tactic that was used on Macbeth.
Though Lady Macbeth played a major part in the killing plot and the witches’ in misleading Macbeth, it was, in the end, Macbeth’s block headedness and impulsive flaws that brought him to the end of his rope. He was highly ambitious man and a well respected soldier, described by Duncan as ‘O valiant cousin worthy gentlemen’, and was referred to as being ‘brave’ and ‘noble’.
However, immediately after the witches first appeared to Macbeth, his good traits were contradicted and he began to think unthinkable things which lead him down the path of murder. Even before the weird sister approached Macbeth, the fantasy of becoming king was there – he just didn’t know how to go about it.
In his soliloquy Macbeth questions, “If good, why do I yield to that suggestion,” He begins to think about the possibility of sending Duncan to the grave and taking the crown for himself. Although the weird sisters did “promise” Macbeth would be king, they did not force him to commit the murder, nor did his wife – although a few tough words from her and he was running for the dagger!
In Act 2, Scene 1, we are shown Macbeth witnessing his first of many hallucinations. In the famous scene, Macbeth sees a floating dagger, blood spots intact, that he can only see, not touch. It is a figment of his horrid imagination, yet at the same time, his subconscious working on mind and leading him into the trap of murder and treason.
“Is this a dagger which I see before me,”
In this scene, it is clear to the audience that although Macbeth’s conscience does not wish him to kill Duncan (for the sheer reason of overwhelming guilt), some selfish, murderous part inside of him is willing him to do it; to kill the father-like King and take the crown.
Another key point to censure Macbeth is his stupidity to go searching for the witches and seek more knowledge of the future. Macbeth has become an evil, grotesque version of his former character. We know this from the second witches remark, “By the pricking of my thumbs, \\ Something wicked this way comes”
Macbeth is silly and foolish enough to seek more information of his prophecy and vain and gullible enough to believe every apparition the weird sisters show him. The accusation made by the second witch that Macbeth is “something wicked” shows that he has turned himself into a destroying tyrant, whom is selfish and insane. He is so wrapped up in his guilt and selfish needs that he has turned away from all his early praise and opposed it.
In Act 3, Scene 3 Banquo – Macbeth’s closest friend – is killed, by order of Macbeth after his suspicious mind works overtime and he cannot bear the thought of Banquo’s son being king in the future. Although he puts on a faï¿½ade of remorse in front of others for his friends murder, Macbeth’s real torment is that caused by Banquo’s ghost.
“Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake \\ Thy gory locks at me.”
The audience can see clearly that Macbeth feels sorrow only for himself; pity at the situation he is in. He does not, like many others I should think, want to see the ghost of his dead friend and so feels sorry for himself for having been possessed with this attribute. It is evident that Macbeth is selfish and narcissistic who feels no guilt for the murder of his friend but self-pity for the torment bestowed upon him by Banquo’s ghost.
In the end, Macbeth was selfish, jealous, ambitious and malignant – all signs of wickedness. He killed an honourable father figure for the sake of a piece of head jewellery and the mere title of ‘King’ – which if he had waited he would have rightfully deserved. It was his own doings, not that of of the witches or his wife, that lead him to destruction and death.
He was never forced by anyone to do anything.
However much Macbeth was influenced or manipulated it was always him with the ultimatum of right or wrong and unfortunately for him, the word right did not exist in his dictionary.