To what extent do you agree with the statement? Examine and explain the motives for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s actions when justifying your answer?
In the play we see the downfall of Macbeth from a loyal subject, to a murderer, to a King, to an insecure and lonely man, and finally as a hated King, killed by his own subject. Some of this is the fault of Macbeth and some the fault of others.
The play Macbeth examines human emotions and inspects the flaws in a human character. There is no character that is solely responsible for the downfall and subsequent death of Macbeth. This essay will examine the involvement and responsibility of each character, paying particular attention to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship and her power and influence over him.
The ‘weird sisters’ are often blamed for the death of Macbeth.
In act 1 scene 1 the witches chant
“Fair is foul and foul is fair”
This paradox sets the tone of the play and introduces the idea of confusion that runs through the play. It is ironic that it should be the witches who say this, as they are the initiators of a lot of the confusion in the play.
They mark him down in the first words of the play, making him dependant on them and then deceiving him, making him the victim of a concerted plot by the powers of evil. The witches make it clear that the target for their evil will be Macbeth.
The idea of the weird sisters is intertwined with that of fate, as they seem to know what will happen in the future. This means that the witches only deliver Macbeth to his destiny, and as their predictions control Macbeth, they too have a greater power controlling them. However, the witches do have a connection with Macbeth. We see this in act 1 scene 3 when he echoes something earlier said by the witches
“So foul and fair a day I have not seen.”
This could be for one of two reasons; the witches already know what Macbeth is going to say and are mocking him, or the witches have some control over Macbeth. The idea of fate was probably brought into the play because the Jackobean audience were fascinated by the supernatural and by fate, and King James 1 (who this would have been written for) was very interested in the occult.
The witches predict that Macbeth will have a great destiny
“All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor”
“All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter”
These words have a powerful effect on Macbeth, this is because they strike a chord with his own mind, in that he is constantly thinking about the predictions and cannot put them out of his mind, like Banquo does. This is because he has probably already thought and fantasised about becoming King. The witches also predict that Banquos descendants will be Kings. The Tragedy Of Macbeth Banquo seems suspicious of the witches and does not believe everything they say. This is because he does not have secret ambitions to be King as Macbeth does.
Macbeth only meets the witches once again, in Act 4 scene 1. In the time between their meetings Macbeth seems now to be committed to the path of evil. This conveys that even when he has no contact with the witches, he still commits the butchery of innocent people. Macbeth doesn’t care how much damage he causes; he just wants to know the future. However his readiness to believe the witches’ predictions is what will destroy him. The witches manipulate Macbeth with another set of accurate, but damning prophecies.
“Macbeth, beware Macduff;
Beware the Thane of Fife”
This prediction leads to the butchery of Macduff’s family. By correctly guessing Macbeth’s main fear the witches now have him under their control.
“For none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth’
This leads Macbeth to believe he is invincible. The prophecies resemble those of ancient times that never tell lies but often deceive, and because the witches speak in riddles it is possible for Macbeth to hear only what he wants to. Macbeth has a desperate confidence based on an understandable misinterpretation of the second and third prophecies.
In short the witches do contribute greatly to the downfall of Maceth but they only affect him because of his already flawed character, and if this was already in Macbeth’s fate, then the fault cannot be blamed on anything but fate. Fate is one of the main ideas of the play, and is something that is often referred to. People in Shakespeare’s time thought that every person and thing had a natural place, and a predetermined fate, decided by God. Macbeth’s main crime is in upsetting the natural order. He murders people so they die before their time. He throws the political stability of Scotland into chaos and destroys his marriage and his own mental ‘order’. His wife actually goes mad breaking natural order again as circumstances strongly suggest that she commit suicide. In act 5 scene 3 we see the doctor telling Macbeth that his wife has no physical illness but is suffering mentally.
“Not so sick my Lord,
As she is troubled with thick-coming fancies,
That keep her from her rest.”
We then hear screams and are told
“The Queen, my Lord, is dead”
The downfall of Macbeth is often blamed on Lady Macbeth. At the start of the play she has a very strong character- stronger than Macbeth’s when she persuades him to murder Duncan, (although she has to make herself drunk in act 2 scene 2 because she becomes scared of discovery) and also when she takes the daggers back to the murder scene.
“The sleeping and the dead are but pictures”
– but by the end reduced to being afraid of the dark. At the beginning Macbeth calls her his ‘dearest partner of greatness’ but by the end she is his ‘fiend-like queen (described by Malcolm at the end of the play).
We first see an example of Macbeth’s and Lady Macbath’s relationship in Act 1 Scene 5, when Lady Macbeth reads a letter sent to her by Macbeth. Macbeth’s letter is highly revealing and gives us an insight into the relationship and Macbeth’s view of his wife.
“My dearest partner of greatness”
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are equals in their marriage. The strongest factor in this relationship is the ability to support each other through everything. We see this by the way she is constantly trying to calm him down or convince him that they will not be discovered. Macbeth’s downfall can be blamed on the fact that Lady Macbeth is no longer there as his confidante and advisor, and he has no one to help him.
After reading his letter and assessing his character Lady Macbeth comes to the conclusion that she will have to help him find the necessary determination. When she discovers Duncan is staying she sees this as the perfect opportunity to fulfil Macbeth’s potential. She calls down the evil spirits of darkness to take away her natural womanliness and fill her instead with the worst of bitterness and wickedness.
“Unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty.
She does not want any natural feelings of regret or remorse to get in the way of what she intends, and she fears that Macbeth will not be able to commit the murder and that she will have to do it herself- she feels she is not strong enough to do this by herself and needs evil spirits to help her harden heart enough to kill a person. This points out the fact that her character cannot be as evil or as strong as it is often thought, if she needs evil spirits to make her stronger.
When, in Act 1 Scene 7, Macbeth decides against murdering Duncan, it is Lady Macbeth who persuades him otherwise. She does so by conjuring ideas of horrific deeds she would commit if she had sworn to something like taking the throne, as Macbeth did, even murdering her own child.
“Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out”
This seems to be a shared grief between herself and Macbeth and she knows it will affect him.
She seems to have been granted her earlier wish to become evil, but really she is trying to protect and support her husband, and this is her way of showing her belief in what he is capable of becoming.
Throughout the play we see Lady Macbeth covering up for and protecting Macbeth. In Act 2 Scene 2 she is forced to return the bloody daggers to the murder scene when a distraught Macbeth cannot.
“Look on’t again I dare not”
Again, in Act 2 Scene 3 when Macbeth murders the guards and is asked awkward questions, Lady Macbeth faints to save him from suspicion. She is constantly putting herself at risk to save him. Her motive for his is not only for her own ends but she genuinely loves her husband and does not want him to fail.
Macbeth commits many foul deeds (some only hinted at in the play) without Lady Macbeth knowing, therefore he cannot be under the influence of her. As Macbeth increasingly shuts her out, their relationship that was once so strong deteriorates and that really is the end for Lady Macbeth and, in a way for Macbeth.
It is tempting to see Lady Macbeth as a symbol of evil, like the witches, but in the end proves her humanity and falls victim to the very evil she felt she needed to make her stronger. She dies lonely and isolated.
One person who is responsible for the tragedy of Macbeth, is Macbeth himself. He is a victim of his own ambitions. Just as Lady Macbeth cannot cope with the evil she has unleashed, Macbeth finds that once he has reached a certain point it is just as easy or him to go on as it is to turn back. Macbeth is much more than just a horrible monster. It is possible to be repelled by the evil in Macbeth, but at the same time feel sorry for the waste of all the good things in his character.
Although we see the same decline in Macbeths character as we do in Lady Macbeth’s, Macbeth manages to redeem himself somewhat by dying an honourable death. In the same way the late Thane of Cawdor did, Macbeth dies more nobly than he lived. When Macduff reveals that he was born by caesarean section he agrees to fight to the death
When in Act 1 scene 3 the witches tell Macbeth that he will be Thane of Cawdor and then King, that is all they say. They say nothing about having to murder Duncan to achieve this, that is Macbeth jumping to conclusions.
Macbeth, however realises in the beginning the dangers and possible repercussions of what he is doing, that is why Lady Macbeth has to persuade him to kill Duncan. But she only has to persuade him once as all the other times he does so without a second thought until after. This conveys to us that Macbeth does have some evil in his character but he also is overcome by guilt when he reflects on what he has done.
Macbeth’s major decline comes when he stops confiding in Lady Maceth, all the strength that was held in their relationship disappeared. We can see from this that neither Macbeth or Lady Macbeth have particularly strong characters on their own but when put together the weaknesses in one character is cancelled out by a particular area of strength in the others.
Throughout the play we see the gradual loss of Macbeth’s integrity and sense of right and wrong he had in the beginning.
In conclusion, Macbeth’s downfall is really his own fault because he makes a deliberate choice to take the road to evil. Lady Macbeth cannot be blamed for simply attempting to allow her husband to reach his potential. If anything, he is responsible for her death. Although Macbeth tries to overcome and halt fate all the predictions come to pass and fate, the most powerful character in the play, runs it’s course.