King James I supported Shakespeare by paying for the performance costs of his plays. For this reason, the play ‘Macbeth’ contained several references to the Stuart dynasty. These include Banquo who was invented by a historian friend of Shakespeare’s, to represent the source of Stuart royalty. It was this historian friend, Rapheal Holinshed, who first gave Shakespeare his ideas for ‘Macbeth’. The real Macbeth was a competent, reforming king and the real Duncan was very unpopular and was murdered, possibly by Macbeth. Shakespeare reversed the roles to show that God appointed the king and so by harming the king, you were harming God. This ‘hidden message’ was added because the play was written less than a year after the Gunpowder Plot was thwarted.
The main candidates for the cause of Macbeth’s downfall in the play are: the witches, who actually planted the seeds of evil by giving him ideas; Lady Macbeth, who, after hearing about the witches predictions, planned to make sure they came true; and Macbeth’s own ambition which was the reason he carried out Lady Macbeth’s plans.
Overall, Macbeth’s character doesn’t change very much throughout the play. For most of the play, he is a brave soldier used to killing, but when it comes to killing his friends, like Duncan or Banquo, he has trouble because of his friendship, although he finds it easier to kill Banquo, his best friend, than he does to kill Duncan. This is partly helped by the fact that doesn’t actually kill Banquo himself; he hires some men to do it for him. Even whilst he is in the height of his tyrannical reign, he is still a brave soldier, if fighting for different reasons to before he murdered Duncan. In fact, after meeting the witches for their second set of predictions, he could be argued as being braver than before because the witches said that no man born of woman could harm him and so he began to take more risks.
When Macbeth and Banquo first meet the witches, they both want to know more, (e.g. Macbeth says, “stay, you imperfect speakers. Tell me more.”) but when the witches vanish, Banquo start to suspect foul – play of some kind: “Were such things here as we do speak about? Or have we eaten on the insane root, that takes reason prisoner?”. This could be interpreted as a warning for what happens later in the play.
When Ross and Angus first bring Macbeth the news that he has been awarded the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’; he doesn’t believe them even though the witches predicted it. It isn’t until Angus explains that although the current Thane still lives, he is a traitor and so doesn’t deserve to live, let alone keep his title, that Macbeth starts to believe in the witches’ predictions. In fact, he says in an aside to the audience; “Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor: The greatest is behind. – Thanks for your pains. -“. This is intended to include the audience in the play to make it more enjoyable for them.
Macbeth went to see the witches a second time, because he wanted more information about his future, now that the first set of predictions had been fulfilled. Also Lady Macbeth doesn’t appear to hold any influence over him at this point and so he has to get his information elsewhere. He demands to know his future regardless of the possible consequences of finding out. This is shown when he says “Even till destruction sicken: answer me to what I ask of you.” After seeing the apparitions Macbeth leaves feeling over – confident. This is to be expected as Hecate, who was believed to be the goddess of witchcraft, predicted that over confidence “Is mortals’ chiefest enemy.”
When Lady Macbeth expresses her desires to make Macbeth king, he finds her ideas to be with merit, but not enough for him to decide straight away. In fact, all he can say is “We will speak further – “. When he decides to murder Duncan, Macbeth feels very guilty and starts to hear voices saying things like; “Macbeth does murder sleep”, “Glamis hath murdered sleep” and “Macbeth shall sleep no more”. After the murder of Banquo, the only thing that Macbeth feels when the murderers tell him that the deed is done, is anxiety that Fleance escaped. The reason that he felt no compassion at first was because he both; hadn’t carried out the murder himself and had turned almost completely to evil at this point.
The last time Lady Macbeth takes control is when Banquo’s ghost appears to Macbeth. From this point Macbeth no longer appears to need his wife and starts to take control himself. He goes to the witches for a second time to hear their predictions.
Macbeth went into decline because, once he had committed himself to carry out the evil acts, including murdering Duncan and Banquo, he felt that it would be easier to continue on his current path than to turn back. “Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
LADY MACBETH: –
When Lady Macbeth receives Macbeth’s letter, her immediate reaction is to say that Macbeth will get what he has been promised no matter what. “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be what thou art promised;” She then goes on to say that she thinks that Macbeth is to gentle and squeamish, to murder Duncan, which he would have to do in order to become king. “yet do I fear thy nature, it is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness.”
After vowing to make sure Macbeth is made king, Lady Macbeth calls on the evil spirits (whiskey) to remove what she considers to be womanly weaknesses e.g. remorse: “Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse.” This shows that she is already evil as she is prepared to call on the spirits in the first place. Because of this she obviously believes everything the witches say.
When Macbeth arrives, she greets him as “Great Glamis, worthy Cawdor,” and this shows Macbeth that she has read his letter. Several times she doubts Macbeth’s ability to murder Duncan. This is the first time she takes control as she explains to Macbeth that Duncan will “never shall sun that morrow see.”
Once Lady Macbeth has told Macbeth of her plan he agrees to it, but soon has doubts. In order to force him to agree with her plans, she accuses him of cowardice. She asks him if he would “Live a coward in thine own esteem,”. She then goes on to explain that she would rather kill her own child than break a promise.
Although Lady Macbeth planned Duncan’s murder, and she convinced Macbeth to carry it out, she doesn’t hold her influence over him for long, and so Macbeth has to take control later in the play. As Macbeth becomes more and more evil, he needs Lady Macbeth less and less because he becomes more and more confident and more willing to take bigger risks.
The witches were plotting to meet with Macbeth from the beginning of the play and so had clearly decided what they were going to do to him. “There to meet with Macbeth”. Later, when they meet Hecate, who was believed to be the goddess of witchcraft, she rebukes them for not letting her know about their meeting with Macbeth, so that she could take part. “And I the mistress of your charms, The close contriver of all harms, Was never called to bear my part Or show the glory of our art.”
At the time when Macbeth was written, the theatre going public believed very strongly in the existence of witches and thought that witches could sail in sieves (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 7), tell the future (Act 1, Scene 3 & Act 4, Scene 1), generally do evil things to people (see ‘Macbeth’ by W. Shakespeare.). The witches were included as something the audience recognised and could believe.
The witches influenced Macbeth by toying with his ambitions by giving him promises of greatness of which only one promise was true, the others were just possibilities planted as seeds of evil into the mind of Macbeth. The only truth in all of their promises is the one about Macbeth being made Thane of Cawdor.
To sum up, I believe that Lady Macbeth was responsible for Macbeth’s downfall, although it was the witches who planted the seeds of evil in him. With just Macbeth’s ambition and the witches in the equation, the plot would have just come to nothing, but Lady Macbeth was the catalyst for Macbeth’s fall because she was the one who urged him to kill Duncan.