Macbeth: A Tale of Two TheoriesMacbeth(c.1607), written by William Shakespeare, is the tragic tale of Macbeth,a virtuous man, corrupted by power and greed. This tragedy could in fact becalled “A Tale of Two Theories”. One theory suggests that the tragic hero,Macbeth, is led down an unescapable road of doom by an outside force, namelyfate in the form of the three witches. The second suggests that there is nosupernatural force working against Macbeth, which therefore makes himresponsible for his own actions and inevitable downfall.
It must be rememberedthat Macbethis a literary work of art, and as a peice of art is open to manydifferent interpretations, none of them right and none of them wrong. But thetext of the play seems to imply that Macbeth is indeed responsible for his ownactions which are provoked by an unwillingness to listen to his own conscience,the witches, and his ambition.
First, Macbeth ignores the voice of his own psyche. He knows what he is doing iswrong even before he murders Duncan, but he allows Lady Macbeth and greed tocloud his judgement.
In referring to the idea of the murder of Duncan, Macbethfirst states,”We will proceed no further in this business”(I.vii.32). Yet,after speaking with Lady Macbeth he recants and proclaims,”I am settled, andbend up/Each corporal agent to this terrible feat”(I.vii.7980). There isnothing supernatural to be found in a man being swayed by the woman he loves,as a matter of fact this action could be perceived as quite the opposite.
Second, the witches have to be dispelled as a source of Macbeth’s misfortunebefore the latter theory can be considered. It is admittedly strange that theweird sisters first address Macbeth with,”All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee Thaneof Cawdor!”(I.iii.49), a title which not even Macbeth is aware he has beenawarded. Even stranger is the third witch calling to Macbeth,”All hail, Macbeth,that shalt be king hereafter!”(I.iii.50). However as stated by Bradley,”Noconnection of these announcements with any actions of his was even hinted bythe withches”(232). Some are still not convinced though of the witches lessthan supernatural role; nevertheless, Macbeth appears throughout the play to becompletely aware 3 of his actions, as opposed to being contolled by somemystic force. The effect of the witches on the action of the play is bestsummarized by these words:…while the influences of the Witches’prophecies on Macbeth is very great,it is quite clearly shown to be an influnce andnothing more.(Bradley 232)Most important to the theory that Macbeth is reponsible for his own actionswould be a point that the infamous witches and Macbeth agree upon. Such anelement exists in the form of Macbeth’s ambiton. In the soliloquy Macbeth givesbefore he murders Duncan, he states, “…I have no spur/To prick the sides ofintent, but only/Vaulting ambition,…”(I.vii.2527). Are these the words of aman who is merely being led down a self dustructive path of doom, with no willof his own? Or are they the words of a man who realizes not only the gravenessof his actions, but, also the reasons behind them? The answer is clear, Macbethis a totally cognizant principal and not a mindless puppet. Later the headwitch, Hecate, declares,”Hath been but for a wayward son,/Spiteful and wrathful,who, as others do,/Loves for his own ends, not for you.” (III.v.1113), whichagain highlights Macbeth’s ambitious nature. The most significant part of theplay is the part that is missing, and that is a connection between Macbeth’sambition and some spell cast by the weird sisters which might be said tomagically cause an increase in his desires.
While purposely played in a mysterious setting, the location is not meant tocloud the true theme of the play with the supernatural. Macbeth simply succumbsto natural urges which take him to a fate of his own making. Everyone hascharacter flaws that he must live with; Macbeth simply allowed those flaws todestroy him. Works Cited:Bradley, A.C. “The Witch Scenes in Macbeth.” Englandin Literature. Ed. John Pfordesher,Gladys V. Veidemanis, and Helen McDonnell.
Illinois: Scott, Foresman, 1989. 232233 Shekespeare, William. Macbeth. Englandin Literature. Ed. John Pfordesher, Gladys V. Veidemanis, and Helen McDonnell.
Illinois: Scott, Foresman, 1989. 191262
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