Duncan, the king, is described as intelligent, generous, trusting, and overall a good ruler. His virtuous qualities, particularly his goodness, lead Macbeth to question whether he should actually go through with killing the king. Duncan shows his love and appreciation for those around him by complimenting his companions and acknowledging their nobility. In Act 1, Scene 2, after being informed about the battle and Macbeth’s role in saving the kingdom, Duncan responds with “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentlemen!” This shows Duncan’s respect for someone he barely knows and emphasizes his gratitude for the victorious outcome. It is understandable that Duncan would be pleased with such news. However, calling someone a valiant cousin and a worthy gentlemen despite not knowing their true identity demonstrates Duncan’s respect for individuals of lower social status. This also creates a sense that Duncan prefers to lead a peaceful country rather than one constantly engaged in warfare for territorial gains.
Duncan’s appreciation of Banquet is expressed multiple times. He embraces Banquet and holds him close to his heart, and later compliments Banquet to the audience, calling him truly worthy. By naming Macbeth thane of Cadre, Duncan shows his generosity and appreciation for a man he sees as noble.
Duncan is a loving and generous man who desires the best for his people and acknowledges loyalty and goodness in others. However, this may be his flaw, as he could be naive or seek to embody an ideal for his country as king, thereby jeopardizing his own position. His true motivations are unclear. Despite his innocence in suspecting harm from others, given his well-respected actions, Duncan acknowledges his mistake.
During Banquet’s conversation with Macbeth about the man who deceived him and engaged in battle against him, Macbeth explains that “there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face: he as a gentleman on whom built an absolute trust” (Act I Scene 4). However, Macbeth’s intelligence is more discernible. Despite Duncan’s lack of knowledge about a potential assassination, he still announces his son Malcolm as his successor to the people, indicating his understanding that his reign will not last forever (Act I Scene 4).
Despite lacking any signs of disease or imminent death, there is an undeniable force within him that compels him to publicly declare his son as the future king. This happens just before he visits the individual who shares the same title as his previous traitor, Thane of Cadre. The irony lies in the fact that the very same person who betrayed and killed him now holds this title. Macbeth’s desire to kill Duncan is motivated by self-interest, yet he also recognizes Duncan’s virtue and intelligence in his soliloquy where he contemplates whether or not to carry out the assassination: “This Duncan hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against the deep damnation of his taking off” (Act I Scene 7). Two distinct characters emerge: the direct half, who actually executes the murder of King Duncan, and the indirect half, who plays a role in plotting and inspiring the assassination. Macbeth himself represents the direct half, while Lady Macbeth embodies the indirect half.
Macbeth, a valiant warrior, wrestles with his ambition alongside his conscience. Although his conscience disapproves of the ideas brought forth by his ambition, Macbeth’s ambition prevails with the assistance of Lady Macbeth. Upon learning from the “witches” that he will be the thane of Cadre and king, Macbeth’s imagination runs wild, envisioning the possibility of his sons also becoming kings. He contemplates, “Do you not hope your children shall be kings, when those that gave the thane of Cadre to me promised no less to them? (Act Scene 3)” Realizing that the witches have indeed fulfilled their promise by granting him the title of thane, Macbeth fantasizes about his sons ruling the kingdom. However, his thoughts soon shift towards the idea of personally ascending to the throne by eliminating the current king before he can declare his successor. When Duncan announces that Malcolm will be the next king upon his death, Macbeth perceives this as a sign that he must confront Malcolm in order to fulfill his destiny. He believes that “in my way it lies” (Act I Scene 4), portraying it as his inevitable fate to become king.
In Act I Scene 7, Macbeth tells the king that the victory was his duty, showing his willingness to disguise his true thoughts. He acknowledges that a false face must hide what his false heart knows. While he desires to be king and feels a stronger inclination towards murder, his conscience occasionally overpowers his ambition. In his soliloquy, he attempts to convince himself not to commit murder due to various reasons.
Macbeth’s conscience plays a significant role in the fact that “we still have judgment here; that we but teach bloody instructions, which being taught return to plague tenterhook” (Act I Scene 7). Ironically, Macbeth, as the murderer himself, is the only one who consistently doubts himself. The other characters are certain of their desires: the king wants what is best for his nation, Banquet wants what is best for the king, and Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s “dearest partner of greatness” (Act Scene 5), desires to see her husband become the king.
Macbeth acknowledges that his greatest flaw is his excessive ambition, which ultimately leads to his downfall (Act II Scene 7). Ambition is a necessary quality to possess, but having an excessive amount can be detrimental. Macbeth’s ambition drives him to contemplate killing his king, but it is not strong enough to push him to actually commit the act. He requires someone who can influence and convince him to follow through with the murder. Lady Macbeth perfectly fulfills this role.
She is supportive enough to ask Macbeth if he would rather live as “a coward in his own estimation” (Act I Scene 7) or become king. Without Lady Macbeth’s continuous pushing and issuing orders, he would likely not have carried out the task without significant errors. Even after the “act” is completed, Lady Macbeth still needs to reassure and calm him down. She advises him to not dwell on it too much (Act II Scene 2), particularly regarding his inability to say the word “amen.”