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Discuss the Premise that it is Solely Macbeth’s Fault that he Falls

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  • Category: Macbeth

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At the beginning of the play Macbeth is admired by everyone for his courage, and even is king honours his loyalty. By the time he meets his death he has become a murderous tyrant, hated and feared by everyone. What causes this change? Is it his fault alone, or are there other factors involved? In this essay I shall examine the role played by Duncan and his sons, the English, Macduff, Banquo, the witches and Lady Macbeth and try to assess how far they too caused Macbeth’s fall.

The first being Duncan’s personality, there is no doubt that he was a trusting man. At the beginning of the play he says of the dead Thane of Cawdor, “…There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. He was a gentleman whom I built an absolute trust…” and he goes on, mistakenly to put exactly the same trust in Macbeth, by inviting himself to stay at Macbeth’s house. If he had not done this, Macbeth would have found it much more difficult to murder him.

Another factor that helped Macbeth to become king was the behaviour of Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donaldbain. If hey had not been scared and run away immediately after the murder, “…the nea’er in blood, the nearer bloody…”, it is hard to see how Macbeth could have become king so easily. In fact, it is strange that Macbeth and his wife did not consider what they would do if the princes had stayed. This statement supports the fact that eponymous Macbeth is the creation of a writer (William Shakespeare). Shakespeare wanted to make money and entertain so he made the play interesting by twisting it with real history and mention witches to please the King at that time (James IV). Because in real life Macbeth was the good guy and Banquo was the treacherous one, but King James IV was a descendant of Banquo so Shakespeare reversed the story. Shakespeare also in effect taught the audience about over-ambition. So there are two authorial purposes: didactic, and to entertain. He entertainment factor is derived from the ‘Aristotelian Theory of Tragedy’. This is compared to a circle, where one (Macbeth) becomes higher up in the chain of being (Macbeth becomes King). But then more murders follow to hold that position (the murders of Banquo and Macduff’s family). But then at the end, sympathy is evoked for the fallen one (when Macbeth recognises himself as soldier and fights till the end).

The English also played their part in destroying Macbeth, because if they had not fought against him, in support of Malcolm, the battle in which Macbeth dies could not have taken place. The English also in effect confirm the third apparition that Great Birnam Wood moves to high Dunsinane hill, when the English disguise themselves in woods.

Macduff, returning with the English army obviously has a key role as he physically caused Macbeth’s death. One could also argue that his decision on not to turn up for Macbeth’s coronation (“…Will you to Scone?”, “…No cousin I’ll to Fife…”) sours the seeds of Macbeth’s hatred of him which later expresses itself in the horrific murder of his family. “How sayst thou that Macduff denies his person at our great bidding?” This comment from the play shows Macbeth’s reaction to Macduff’s snub.

Macduff’s family contrasts to Macbeth’s family. Macduff has children whereas Macbeth hasn’t. Macbeth is terrified of children because he knows that one of them will become heir to his throne, instead of his own. Lady Macduff highlights the bad qualities of Lady Macbeth. This shows that the Macbeth household are even doomed when the language of the play is examined. So that supports the statement made earlier that “Macbeth” is the creation of a writer so therefore Shakespeare was able to play around with the style and language of the play to make a reader feel that Macbeth was doomed from the beginning.

Macduff also seals Macbeth’s fate at the end of the play. There is a moment when Macbeth might have saved his own life by refusing to fight, “…I’ll not fight with thee…”, when he finds out the unusual circumstances of Macduff’s birth. But Macduff says scornfully, “…Then yield thee coward…” and threatens to make him an exhibit for children to stare at, and this sting Macbeth into his last fatal combat. Macduff’s method of taunting Macbeth can be related to earlier as in the play when Lady Macbeth’s taunts made Macbeth murder Duncan.

The witches greet Macbeth as the, “…Thane of Glamis…”, “…Thane of Cawdor…”, and “…King hereafter…”. This plants the idea of being king in Macbeth’s head and they trigger him over-ambition. The witches tell deliberate half-truths to mislead Macbeth, “…Beware the Thane of Fife…”, “…non of woman born shall harm Macbeth…”, and “…Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him…”.

Although Macbeth is ambitious, wants the crown and has a violent nature, (shown by the way he “…unseams…” Macdonald “…from the nave to the chops…” in battle), it is not easy for him to kill Duncan. There is a powerful barrier that stands between him and the murder, which Lady Macbeth defines as “…the milk of human kindness…”. He has a conscience. He is aware of the claims that Duncan has on him: he knows that as a subject he should be loyal, and as a host he should protect his guest, and that as he is related in blood to Duncan he is breaking a profound taboo if he kills him. If he had not been subjected to pressure from outside, this moral reluctance would probably have saved him from temptation. However, Lady Macbeth plays a crucial role in overcoming his qualms. She calls on the spirits to “…unsex…” her so she can be filled with the “…direst cruelty…”which will in effect rid her of feminine qualities. Because she needs the evil to help her carry out her deeds. The supernatural affected Lady Macbeth as much as Macbeth himself. The letter is the turning point for Lady Macbeth just as the meeting with the weird sisters is Macbeth’s.

She stings him into action in the first place “…that I may pour my spirits in thine ear…”, and in the scene immediately before the murder when Macbeth decides that after all he won’t do it, she is the one who pushes him onwards. She has a very shrewd understanding of his character “…thou wouldst be great; Art not without ambition; but without the illness should attend it…wouldst not play false, and yet wouldst wrongly win…” and knows where to strike. She attacks first his courage “…Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour, As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou…live a coward in thine own esteem?” and secondly his manhood “…When you durst do it, then you were a man…”.

Lady Macbeth’s influence extends to the period immediately after the crime, when Macbeth is close to breakdown. He goes to pieces and it is only her intervention that puts him in a frame of mind where he is able to carry out the rest of his plan. Just after the murder he talks wildly about his “…hangman’s hands…” and about how he could not say “…Amen…” when the grooms said “…God bless us!” and speaks of a voice he heard saying “…Macbeth hath murder’d sleep…”. He also has not had the presence of mind to leave the daggers with the murdered grooms so that suspicion will fall on them. She brings him to his senses by saying “…Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy thane, you do unbend your noble strength, to think so brainsickly of things…” and makes him do practical things like washing his hands and putting the daggers back.

At the feast, she plays a similar role when Macbeth hallucinates that he sees Banquo’s ghost and doesn’t have the self-preservation to hide his reaction from the other thanes. She covers up for him by pretending that he is ill, and sharply touches him again on his two vulnerable points, his courage and his manhood “…Thin in the very painting of your fear…O, thee flaws and start…would well become a woman’s story at a winter’s fire…”.

However after this her influence gradually becomes non-existent. When he hires murderers and tells them the plan to kill Banquo and Fleance. “…I will advise you where to plant yourselves, acquaint you with the perfect spy o’th’time…for’t must be done tonight…must embrace the fate of that dark hour…” he does not involve Lady Macbeth. He even tells her to pay special regard to Banquo at the banquet when he knows that Banquo won’t be there, “…And so I pray to you. Let remembrance apply to Banquo, present him eminence both with eye and tongue…”. However he does hint darkly about the terrible deeds that will be performed that night, “…Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, till thou applaud the deed…”. It can be argued that this is the beginning of a rift between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, or it could be that he does not want to burden anymore concerns on her. Because up until now, he’s told his wife about all his problems, but she has no one to unburden her concerns of him. This maybe contributes to her fall.

Macbeth murders Banquo because he is in effect putting his tyrannical attributes into play. Macbeth recognises Banquo’s good qualities, he can see Banquo’s royalty, wisdom and bravery. The witches’ prophecy concerning Banquo’s descendants and Macbeth’s feeling of inferiority to Banquo lead Macbeth to arrange for the murder of Banquo and his son Fleance, “…in his royalty of nature…He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour…There is none but he whose being I do fear…”. Banquo also highlights Macbeth’s bad qualities. After Macbeth and Banquo first encounter the witches, Macbeth wants to know more even though he recognises their inaccuracy, “…Stay, you imperfect speakers. Tell me more…Speak I charge you…”. However Banquo warns Macbeth that the witches’ predictions might lead to evil, “…The instruments of darkness tell us truths; Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s In deepest consequence…”. This encounter with the witches already plants horrid images of murder and death in Macbeth’s mind “…why do I yield to that suggestion Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair And make my seated heart knock at my ribs Against the use of nature. Present fears Are less than horrible imaginings. My thought whose murder yet is but fantastical Shakes so my single state of man…”.

The banquet scene arouses suspicion in all the thanes at the table. This is due to the fact that Banquo’s ghost comes back to haunt Macbeth. One can understand why he would be terrified.

Finally, it is Macbeth’s hamartia which ultimately causes his fall. Any normal person would not have given into temptation, like Banquo. However Macbeth isn’t any normal person, that is why the witches picked on him, they recognise his fatal flaw. The Captain describes how Macbeth “…unseamed him [Macdonald] from the nave to the’ chops…”. This shows that Macbeth is violent by nature. After the witches all hail Macbeth as the Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and king hereafter, Banquo says to Macbeth, “…Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear things that do sound so fair?”. This shows that Macbeth has already had guilty thoughts about being king. When Ross comes to tell Macbeth that he is now the Thane of Cawdor, he tells Macbeth of the king’s acknowledgement that Macbeth isn’t ashamed of his nature, “…Nothing afeard of what thyself didst make, strange images of death…”.

Macbeth recognises his “…vaulting ambition…”. Before the murder of Duncan, Macbeth has a conscience and he keeps changing his mind due to the pressure from his wife and the pressure of his conscience. But later he does not think about it and murders who ever he pleases. This can be related to another of Shakespeare’s plays, ‘Hamlet’ whereby “…Conscience doth make cowards of us all…”. When Banquo says that he dreamt of the witches, Macbeth replies with a lie and says, “…I think not of them…”. After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth is sorry and wishes he hadn’t done it, “…Wake Duncan with thy knocking: I would thou couldst…”. Macbeth envies the peace of death that Duncan enjoys, because he knows he himself is will never be at peace, “…Better be with the dead…to gain our peace…than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave. After life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well…nothing can touch him further…”.

Macbeth is doomed from the beginning. The language indicates this. For example, one of the themes of Macbeth’s tyranny is “…fair is foul and foul is fair…”. The witches in the first scene utter this. Then Macbeth’s first words are, “…So foul and fair a day I have not seen…”. This immediately associates Macbeth with the witches and the audience would have noticed this too. This again supports the statement that Macbeth is the creation of a writer, who makes him fall and gives signs of his fall to come. The point of this play is to entertain and also to teach the audience a lesson, don’t be over-ambitious.

It can be argued that the evil fate of Macbeth was pre arranged by the supernatural, however people can also be accountable for their own actions. It all comes down to the question, do you believe in fate?

So to conclude this essay, Macbeth can be seen as a car which needs an ignition. The witches and Lady Macbeth are his ignition and once they’ve got him going, there’s no stopping him, and eventually Lady Macbeth gets left behind and the car runs out of fuel.

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