How Far Is Macbeth Responsible For His Own Fate?
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The eponym of William Shakespeare’s great tragedy “Macbeth”, undergoes some dramatic characteristic changes throughout the extent of the tragedy. By the time the play has reached its stirring climax, Macbeth is dead; his fate sealed and himself sent to a premature grave. Who or what is responsible for Macbeth’s ultimate demise is a matter of debate.
Macbeth was most likely written in 1606, early in the reign of James I, who had been James VI of Scotland before he succeeded to the English throne in 1603. James was a patron of Shakespeare’s acting company, and of all the plays Shakespeare wrote under James’s reign, Macbeth most clearly reflects the playwright’s close relationship with the King. In focusing on Macbeth, a figure from Scottish history, Shakespeare was recognizing his king’s Scottish heritage. In a larger sense, the theme of good versus bad kingship, embodied in Macbeth and Duncan, respectively, would have resonated at the royal court, where James was busy developing his English version of the theory of divine right.
In Shakespeare’s time, witches and other paranormal beings were considered terrifying. The majority of Britons would therefore, have found Macbeth utterly shocking and scary. The masses would probably have considered the witches responsible for all of the havoc, chaos, and mayhem caused throughout the play. The despicable acts of Macbeth and his wife could almost have been considered gallant by the audience in comparison to their fear of witchcraft.
These three witches predict Macbeth’s fate. In some ways, they are responsible for it’s outcome, but at the beginning of the play, when Macbeth first meets with them, they are merely telling his fortune. This gives the audience an insight into what may happen further into the play, and a clue to Macbeth’s fate. The second witch tells Macbeth that “When the battle’s lost and won”. This means that although Macbeth will win many of the physical battles in his life, and never give up his hope, he will lose the battle for his soul. We can prove that he would never admit defeat at the end of the play when he says to Macduff “I will not yield, To kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet”. His never-say-die spirit is admirable, but his own headstrongness would eventually become his downfall.
Even though the three witches play a large indirect part in (albeit cryptically) telling Macbeth his fate, they may also play a more direct role. In the beginning of the play when Macbeth crosses the witches’ path, they pronounce him “Thane of Glamis” “Thane of Cawdor” and “King hereafter”. Once Macbeth had taken in this somewhat outlandish statement, he may begin to believe that his destiny is set out for him, and become thrilled with the possibilities of his prospective kingship. This may fool him into a false sense of security, causing him to trust that all monarchical reigns are fulfilling and heart-felt, whereas quite the opposite is sometimes the case.
In Act 3 Scene 5, Hecate makes an appearance, and is very angry with her mystical minions. Hecate leaves the witches to finish their concoctions, while she travels to the moon to retrieve a drop of magic vapour. She says “Great business must be wrought ere noon: Upon the corner of the moon, There hangs a vap’rous drop profound; I’ll catch it ere it come to ground;” This magical “vap’rous drop” will be used to brew a potion which will make Macbeth over-confident and lead him to his ruin. This blatantly links the witches (albeit through their dark mistress), to Macbeth’s downfall, and henceforth, in a roundabout way, they have ultimately affected his fate.
Towards the end of the play, Macbeth journeys to the Pit of Acheron, the witches’ hiding-place, to demand that they explain to him what is going on. The three witches predict what he is going to ask and produce the first apparition, which is an armed head. “Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware of Macduff; beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me: enough.” This first apparition, quite obviously tells Macbeth to watch out for Macduff. The second apparition then appears (a child swathed with blood), who says “Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” This apparition informs Macbeth that no man who is born of a woman will ever hurt him. The third apparition (a crowned child carrying a tree) then appears, informing Macbeth “Be lion melted, proud, and take no care who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are: Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam wood to High Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.”
The ‘wise’ words of these three old hags struck a deep chord within Macbeth. For any man, learning that he will never be killed by any man born of a woman would be a pleasant thing to hear, but for Macbeth, an already ruthless character, this would mean he considered himself to be totally immortal, almost godlike. This belief that he was superhuman clearly led to his downfall. Overall, this means that the witches did play a large part in altering Macbeth’s fate.
Macbeth is a very exciting story containing all kinds of plots and murders. The characters that are planning the murders and carrying them out are all very deceptive and treacherous. Two of the play’s most dangerous characters are Lady Macbeth and her husband. Together they commit the most awful murder of the play, by killing Duncan, the king. This is why it is difficult to determine which one of these two is guiltier, because they each do their own part in committing the crime.
Lady Macbeth would prepare the plan, then encourage, and sometimes bully her husband to go through with it. When Macbeth grew anxious of the repercussions of his actions, his wife convinced him to continue. She told him to “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t”. This could tip the scales of blame in her direction, as her husband is having second thoughts, yet her evil undercurrents still flow strong. Macbeth did the actual physical murdering; he was also the first person who thought about killing Duncan. Furthermore, he did some killing on his own. Lady Macbeth was not involved in these cases. Based on these facts, Macbeth would be found guiltier than his partner would. Lady Macbeth says such cruel and uncaring things to her husband as “‘Tis the eye of childhood That fears a painted devil.” This says that Macbeth is a child, who fears “painted devils” (mere pictures of Satan).
However, when it comes to the real bread and butter of the issue, Lady Macbeth insinuates that her husband a coward and a wastrel. “Give me the daggers,” she says. She goes into the chamber, but cannot bring herself to commit the crime, therefore fulfilling the stereotype of the housewife who simply stays back and lets her husband do the dirty work. Lady Macbeth only talked about committing the crimes, but she never actually went through with it, nor would she ever. “I shame to wear a heart so white” is what she says after she has been into Duncan’s chamber, seen him sleeping innocently, and realised that she could not bring herself to kill him.
Everyone who is mortal has a flaw. After a while, a person’s flaws come back to haunt them. The tragedy Macbeth is no exception to this. All of the problems start when he murders Duncan. He commits the murder because of his fatal flaw, he is too ambitious. If he were not so ambitious and determined to be king, then he would never have killed Duncan and if Macbeth did not kill Duncan, most probably none of the other characters would die. Macbeth deserved his fate more than any of the other characters in the play. He did many thing wrong. First, he killed Duncan, albeit under the instruction of his wife. After that, he killed Macduff’s wife and child. Next, he ordered the murder of his former best friend, Banquo. In addition, worst of all, Macbeth disturbed the balance of nature. Also, Macbeth did not feel any remorse for his actions, until he was faced with death. If Macbeth just waited for his time, he would have been King, and have had a chance to enjoy his reign. Macbeth destroyed the natural balance, and the harmony of nature.
And so, to conclude, there are several relevant factors which affect Macbeth’s responsibility for his own fate. Just a couple of these are the witches, and his wife Lady Macbeth. Also his headstrongness is part of his downfall. Henceforth, in some ways, he is responsible for his actions, and therefore his fate. However, in some ways (such as his wife’s devilish and somewhat deranged obsession with regicide, and the witches’ evil nature and their prophecies), the former Thane of Glamis cannot be held responsible