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How ignorance leads Macbeth to his evildoing

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In order to introduce the topic, we need to understand that the origin of Macbeth’s evildoing can have many possibilities at the moment of interpreting this character. However, I am going to focus mainly on the role of ignorance as the element which triggers his evil, inner side. In addition, I will analyse the external features which influenced this behaviour in Macbeth’s mind and I will show how his conduct was not something at random but Macbeth had a sense of ambition which was guided by his wrongdoing.

First of all, according to the Cambridge Dictionary Online, ignorance is a lack of knowledge, understanding or information about something. In this case, we can think that Macbeth could not comprehend certain information that was given to him because of, perhaps, his misunderstanding made him fulfil the ambiguous information that is shown next:

MACBETH Speak, if you can: what are you?

FIRST WITCH All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!

SECOND WITCH All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee,

Thane of Cawdor!

THIRD WITCH All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king

hereafter. (1.iii.47-50)

In this quotation, we can see that the three Weird Sisters hailed Macbeth as the three titles that he will have in a future, but they never let him know that he had to kill King Duncan. Nonetheless, Macbeth had already thought that the only choice to become the King of Scotland was to kill Duncan in order to take his place. Consequently, Macbeth shows his ignorance because he wanted to believe that this was a prophecy and it could change his life being the most important man in the kingdom. Then, when he wanted to know something more about this information, the witches disappeared. This revelation was as ambiguous as the prophecies of the Oracle that Macbeth had to figure out how to interpret that prediction.

In order for Macbeth to call for help to understand this apparent prophecy, he tells his spouse, Lady Macbeth, what had happened to him. Then, Lady Macbeth is externally influenced by the prophecy of the witches and she makes Macbeth believe that this was his fate and that he had to do all the things possible, even killing Duncan, in order to achieve it and show his power as a man and not as a coward. As a result, this became the beginning of Macbeth’s fatal end since he thought that this deed was an act of fate and not an act of his free will based on his own ignorance of thinking that his and Lady Macbeth’s interpretation was the right answer.

On the other hand, we have to think that Macbeth knew that the origin of these Weird Sisters could not be from heaven but from a supernatural, dark place. Therefore, it is not difficult to realize that Macbeth had this temptation before the prophecy of the witches and, because of the revelation of these evil characters, he could think that he had the support from this power of darkness and he could act wrongly. Nevertheless, although Macbeth was influenced by the withes, he was not innocent to believe that he had to follow what the supernatural force told him, as Bradley shows in the Lecture IX of his _Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth_:

But when Macbeth heard them was not an innocent man. Precisely how far his mind was guilty may be a question; but no innocent man would have started, as he did, with a start of fear at the mere prophecy of a crown, or have conceived thereupon immediately the thought of murder. Either his thought was not new to him, or he had cherished at least some vaguer dishonourable dream, the instantaneous recurrence of which, at the moment of his hearing the prophecy, revealed to him an inward and terrifying guilt. In either case not only was he free to accept or resist the temptation, but the temptation was already with him. (p. 5)

In this case, Bradley argues that Macbeth had the temptation within him and that he could not be innocent of his acts because he had the notion of killing Duncan. In this sense, Macbeth needed some type of guidance in order to make what he had been thinking long time ago, even before the moment in which the witches influences Macbeth’s ambition. Additionally, the quotation indicates that Macbeth had a sense of guilty and fear, and the reason of this is not because he had to kill innocent people, but how his surroundings could not comprehend that he had to murder if he wanted to make the prophecy come true and have power. Therefore, this is another proof of his ignorance since he believes that a supernatural force from darkness can be the answer of all the atrocities that he had in mind, but he was blinded due to this because the real answer was that he was tempted only by himself.

Another point to consider is when Macbeth wanted to know more information about his future. At the moment that he knew that everybody was against him and they knew that he had been the responsible for the death of several people, he wanted to know how not to be defeated and needed the help of the witches. This is another instance in which Macbeth showed his ignorance, according to Knight:

They promise him success in terms of natural law; no man ‘of woman born’ shall hurt him, he shall not be vanquished till Birnam Wood come against him. He, based firmly in the unreal, yet thinks to build his future on the laws of reality. He forgets that he is trafficking with things of nightmare fantasy, whose truth is falsehood, falsehood truth. So, once having cancelled the bond of reality he has no home: the unreal he understands not, the real condemns him.

This quote shows that Macbeth could not realize that he was dealing with a certain fantastic, unreal world. He wanted to make the real world be ruled by the forces of the unreality. This is impossible because the laws of both worlds are quite different and one does not work in the other’s world. This is something that Macbeth should have known better because this was the main proof to exemplify that he did wrong not only at the level of his actions but also at the level of his decisions. For instance, Macbeth had made a big mistake when he thought that he was invincible at the moment in which he discovers that a man who is not born by woman cannot kill him. In here, he showed his ignorance because every man is born from a woman but he does not take caesarean section into consideration. In this case, he mixed the rules of the two worlds in only one, making him not see the results of his wrong interpretations about the predictions. Besides, Macbeth is not taking the warning seriously from the servant about the army that is waiting to defeat him. For that reason, Macbeth pretends to know very much about his future, but he cannot interpret the meaning of the prophecies with the rules of the real world.

In conclusion, the events in Macbeth’s life occur due to his ignorance of the real world, for instance, thinking that their actions come from fate and not for his own actions. All the wrong decisions that he makes are the result of the ambition to become the King of Scotland, and this triggers his ignorance by which he interprets the predictions in a way that was not told literally as he thought. In this sense, his lack of rational judgment makes him suffer the harrowing end for him, which was caused by the misunderstanding of his ambition.


Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.

Knight, G.W. The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearean Tragedy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974.

Shakespeare, W. Cliffscomplete Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Ed. Sydney Lab. New York: Hungry Minds, 2000.

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