There are a number of elements to be thought about in identifying what aspects lead Macbeth to eliminate Duncan. The primary four that I am going to take a look at in this essay are the Witches, Lady Macbeth, Duncan and Macbeth himself.
The witches are portrayed as wicked by their very existence in the play they would have been perceived therefore. In Shakespeare’s day witches were feared and disliked therefore audiences would be naturally apprehensive of their look on stage.
It is easy to presume that Shakespeare desired them to appear like that. So therefore I believe Shakespeare would have planned that they play quite a big part in Macbeth’s decision to kill Duncan.
However, this does not seem to be entirely ideal however your viewpoint depends on whether you think the witches are wicked or not.
They do not really say or perhaps suggest the possibility of murder to Macbeth – they just say he will be king.
The idea of murder comes from within Macbeth himself as soon as the witches say he will be king – it might be said they open him as much as the possibilities of what lies within his own heart – whether that is good or evil. If the oxymoron “Fair is nasty and foul is reasonable” is thought about then maybe they liked the action.
This line might be viewed in another method though, because if the witches understood what would occur and just desired to cause problem and mayhem which they take pleasure in. If you do not believe that the witches are wicked – if they are simply additional characters, almost playing the function of narrators, then Macbeth would have ended up being King anyway and they were simply telling him his future – they had no influence on the murder.
The second concept appears less convincing to me since as I stated their very presence is intended to be wicked. However, there are some points that could support this view – the witches do not seem real. They are almost blurry – you do not see the full photo. They do not conform to regular structures of area and time – as quickly as they have said their piece they disappear like a dream, leaving Macbeth baffled. They are discovered on the borders of society – they are on the heath, a desolate space where nature is most powerful – this would naturally make Macbeth edgy and ill at ease.
Lady Macbeth is the second great factor that influences Macbeth to murder Duncan. Macbeth is seen as good and brave at the start of the book – Duncan calls him “Valiant Cousin, Worthy Gentleman” – and he is a great fighter for his country. However, he may be a ‘man’ on the battlefield, yet he has a strange relationship with his wife. She seems to be the much more dominant person in the marriage – he immediately turns to her for advice after his encounter with the witches.
She is also very unfeminine – almost all wives at the time of Macbeth would just stay home and keep house, yet she is brutal when she talks about how she would have “dashed the brains” out of her infant. She evil, especially at that point in the play. Although she pushes Macbeth, signs of her weakness develop later in the play – she says she could not actually kill Duncan herself, saying, “Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t”.
She is ambitious and is driven by her plans. She is not just preoccupied with ‘advancement’ – she is completely obsessed with the idea of becoming queen. She is willing even to lose the part of her that makes her human, her compassion, her soul, if it means she can achieve this.
She pushes Macbeth a lot – she is much more forward with him than many wives “should” have been in those days. She attacks his manliness, saying she is more man than him, that she can keep an oath, that she has no problem with killing. It is obvious that Lady Macbeth is much more intelligent than Macbeth himself.
She tricks him into thinking he had sworn to do the murder and doesn’t let him dwell on this by shocking him with the image of killing what would be their child. He does not get a chance to think about it and as she fires more and more questions at him, trying to convince him to kill Duncan, he becomes bewildered. Also, she shocks him with the image of her killing her child, saying that she would have the ‘courage’ to do this, yet not long ago he was on a battlefield – he is depicted almost as a ‘killing machine’. You can tell that she knows how to play Macbeth’s ignorance by confounding him so that he cannot get a argument together.
I think Lady Macbeth is much more of an influence than the Witches. Whether or not the witches put the idea of the murder into Macbeth’s mind, she immediately grabs onto it. She is so obsessed with positions and titles that I think it is probably clear that even if the witches hadn’t had said it was possible, sooner or later Lady Macbeth would have seized a chance to become Queen. She knows how to convince Macbeth and uses that knowledge fully.
I am now going to look at Duncan. He seems almost like a natural victim – he is obviously weak and ineffectual as a king. At the start of the play Scotland is wracked by war, from Norway and also from within, with the rebels lead by the old Thane of Cawdor. Duncan doesn’t seem to have been ‘looking after’ his country very well. He also seems very naive and far too trustworthy – he says of the old Thane that he was a man in whom “I had an absolute trust”, yet Duncan is then betrayed by this man. There is obvious irony in this in that Macbeth then betrays Duncan as soon as he is made Thane of Cawdor, and as soon as Duncan has put that same ‘absolute trust’ in him.
In those days I would have expected any man, and especially a king, to know not to trust anyone too much – it was martial law so everyone would be at risk and obviously a king more than anyone. Yet he is gullible, he trusts men too much. The whole of the second scene involves Duncan asking questions – it is ironic that the one decisive action he takes (making Macbeth the new Thane of Cawdor) is the wrong one. He is also weak because he is not involved in the battle – surely the king of a country should be leading his troups into battle, instead of sitting far off and questioning the heroes about the way the war is going.
So although it doesn’t justify Macbeth’s actions, it seems that Duncan is a natural victim. He is not a very good king of Scotland.
Finally I am going to look at Macbeth himself. Whether or not anyone agrees that the witches influenced him towards murder, he certainly jumped to that conclusion very quickly. I think Shakespeare tries to show that Macbeth always has free will. The witches never actually mention murder, they do not mention killing to him – literally the only lines they say are “All hail Macbeth, who will be king hereafter”. There is no reference to murder! Possibly they opened his mind up to what he could become which could mean they are also at blame, but it also means that the capability for all the evils he commits is right there inside him all the time.
Although Macbeth is shown right at the beginning of the play as a hero, a “manly man” on the battlefield, he is quite weak mentally. Although when he is alone he makes a definite decision not to kill Duncan, as soon as he talks to Lady Macbeth, she changes his mind very quickly.
All though I know that Macbeth is not very intelligent, he does seem to be taken in by the witches very easily. Banquo resists the witches’ promises and isn’t taken in by it – he says “And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequences”.
Macbeth’s ambition is not as great as Lady Macbeth’s, but it is present. I said earlier about how Lady Macbeth is willing to give up everything, even her soul, to be queen; Macbeth is willing to go to hell to be king – “We’ll jump the life to come”.
In conclusion, I think that Macbeth himself was the most important factor in the murder of Duncan. He was weak and easily led, by both the witches and by his wife, Lady Macbeth. He is not intelligent but he should still be capable of sticking to his own decisions. Duncan did not deserve to be killed and I do not feel it was a fault of his own, Macbeth did not even consider anything like this. He was inherently evil and the first thing his mind jumped to was murder.
Cite this essay
What factors lead Macbeth to kill Duncan?. (2017, Oct 21). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/what-factors-lead-macbeth-to-kill-duncan-essay