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Is Macbeth Responsible for his Actions or is he Manipulated by Outside Forces?

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  • Category: Macbeth

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The supernatural world has always existed in one way or another. It has mostly existed in people’s minds. It has also played a part on the way people act, mainly because these people became so involved in it, that they forgot the difference between what is right and what is wrong. It has always been thought as evil and sinister, which would make people act in strange ways. These strange ways has made the mind think the person affected by magic was also sinister, thus they were either put to death or experimented upon.

In ‘Macbeth’, Macbeth seems to be affected by sinister magic and he acts in very strange ways, but Shakespeare left it up to the audience to decide whether he had been manipulated by supernatural forces or whether he was responsible for his actions. In my opinion, Macbeth is responsible for his actions.

‘Macbeth’ starts off with the witches. Shakespeare has put them at the beginning, because he wants the audience to think that everything that happens thereon is the witches fault. This may have been due to the fact that there was a great hatred of witches during the Elizabethan era. Anyone who looked or acted strangely was supposed to be possessed. ‘Macbeth’ was also written in favour of King James I (who was King of England and Scotland at the time), to flatter him, because of his book, ‘Demonologie’. This book was about witches and their supposed powers. Shakespeare wanted to flatter James I by portraying the witches in an evil way. He wanted to flatter James I, because Shakespeare wanted him to be the patron of his company, so that he could earn more money from making the King the patron of his company.

Shakespeare wants the witches to look bad, so he starts ‘Macbeth’ with the witches planning on turning the world upside down,

‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair.’

They want to turn all good things into bad and all bad things into good. They want Satan to rule the world, not God. They want complete chaos in the world and they want everything to be in their favour, the fact that Macbeth is the beginning for turning everything upside down is a puzzle at first, because the main question is ‘Why Macbeth?’

There are a multitude of reasons as to why. It could be because the witches want to see the fall of a great man through his unavoidable desire of having power. The witches wanted to see a good man give in to his irresistible temptations. The witches could also be doing it all out of fun, because it is their duty to create mischief and chaos in the natural world. Another reason could be that they know the thought of becoming King has crossed Macbeth’s mind and they want to tempt him without putting a spell on him. The strongest reason, in my opinion, for choosing Macbeth for the death of the King is that they want to see the downfall of a great man by his own hands, just by putting an idea into his head. They know that when Macbeth kills the King, he will become so overcome with guilt that he will,

‘Sleep neither night nor day.’

One of their reasons for choosing Macbeth might have been that they already know his desire, so they thought they should just predict the future and he will do the rest.

Since Macbeth is the King’s cousin, the witches know that his desire is close to his heart. The theme of murder and treason is a great act of betrayal and duplicity, because he is killing his own blood. But the murder of a King is even worse, because during the Elizabethan era, there was something called the Divine Right of Kings. This meant that kings were chosen by God, so if anyone went against a king or committed treason (such as Guy Fawkes, who also committed treason and went against the Divine Right of Kings, by trying to murder King James I, just like Macbeth), then it meant that they were working against God and with Satan.

In ‘Macbeth’, there is no real reason stated for the choice of Macbeth as the murderer of the King. The witches don’t have a reason for starting all this mischief, but because they didn’t use any potions or spell on Macbeth, it shows that they just wanted to see what would happen if they planted an idea into someone’s head. They wanted to see how weak Mankind is when it comes to fulfilling their own desires through dangerous methods. Macbeth is mainly responsible for the murder of the King, but the witches have just poured water over a seed yearning to grow.

Although it seems that Macbeth was manipulated by the witches, it’s just Macbeth’s own thoughts and instincts that he acts upon. This is where the witches prove their point about turning fair into foul and foul into fair. They want emotions to rule the mind, by letting a thought grow just by looking into the future.

When the witches first meet Macbeth, they call him by the last two titles that he doesn’t have,

‘All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!

All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!

All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king hereafter!’

These prophecies don’t necessarily have to be true, but when the first and second are proven, then Macbeth thinks that the third is his destiny. The witches have just predicted all this. It doesn’t necessarily mean the witches forced Macbeth to kill King Duncan. They didn’t put a gun to his head; they just predicted the future, which Macbeth didn’t think about changing. The fact that the effect the witches’ prophecies had on Macbeth and even Banquo is quite amazing, considering they (the witches) didn’t have to do anything. Banquo doesn’t believe the witches, so he asks them about his future. The witches talk in riddles, in paradoxes. They predict Banquo’s future to be,

‘Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.

Not so happy, yet much happier.

Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.’

The witches predict that though Banquo won’t be King, his children will. But this doesn’t cause Banquo to think about how to ensure his future and his children’s future, despite the fact that, afterwards, two prophecies about Macbeth are correct. This means that the witches don’t really have much of a part in Macbeth’s actions, because they don’t tell him how to become King. In the play, there’s no evidence, whatsoever of the witches putting a spell on Macbeth. They did use chants to make Hecate and three apparitions appear in Act 4, Scene1. But even they didn’t do anything. This scene is significant, because the witches prophesise the line of Kings of Scotland and England after Macbeth. The witches show Banquo’s children down to the eighth generation. The last King is the most significant,

‘And yet the eight appears, who bears a glass

Which shows me many more; and some I see

That two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry.’

The eighth king is meant to be King James I. The eighth king is carrying ‘two-fold balls’; these balls represent the orbs carried in the double coronation of King James I between England and Scotland. The ‘treble sceptres’ are the three sceptres which were also used in the aforementioned coronation. The main reason Shakespeare has done this is because he wants to praise King James I. He has tried to flatter the King in many ways. There is a lot evidence for this; the most obvious one is that ‘Macbeth’ is a story, which has been set in Scotland and it represents the origin or the Stewart dynasty. This dynasty starts with Banquo and comes down to James I. Another way Shakespeare has tried to flatter the King is the connection with Banquo. Banquo is meant to be the good character; he is the wise on who knows Macbeth and knows what he has done. Banquo is meant to be a reflection of King James I, because of the several, subtle references to his background, such as the setting of Macbeth in Scotland; the descent of kings from Banquo. Shakespeare has also tried to catch King James I’s interest by the heavy effect of the witches and witchcraft in the play.

These witches, that Shakespeare has used to catch the interest of James I, aren’t responsible for Macbeth’s actions, because they haven’t done anything. They didn’t even indicate that Macbeth should kill King Duncan. There’s no evidence, no hint of the witches discussing murder with Macbeth. There’s no proof that Macbeth isn’t completely responsible for his actions.

Macbeth has been portrayed as a tragic hero in the play, because it’s about the fall of a good man. At the beginning, Macbeth is described as, ‘brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name)’ and also ‘noble Macbeth’.

This means that Macbeth is a very brave, courageous and strong soldier. He is also the King’s cousin. His character, the wicked and evil side, doesn’t emerge until the witches foresee his future. When Macbeth is given the title of the Thane of Cawdor, then his mind really begins to think. He has already dreamt about being King, but Macbeth pushed that thought back. When the witches prophesised his future, then he immediately began to think,

‘Present fears,

Are less than horrible imaginings.

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,’

This scene (Act 1, Scene 3) is the crucial turning point in which Macbeth’s personality emerges. The moment he is named ‘Thane of Cawdor’, he instantly thinks of the witches’ prophecy of being King. But the quote above shows that Macbeth has already thought that he can’t be king without killing someone. But then he thinks a bit more,

‘If Chance will have me king, why, Chance may crown me, Without my stir.’

These last three words mean that Macbeth has thought about being King some more. He’s decided not to interfere with his destiny. These last two quotes hold quite significance to Macbeth’s personality. The first quote shows that Macbeth is quite a presumptuous person. He thinks he’ll have to do something to be a king and that the thought of murder isn’t a complete shock to him. The fact that Macbeth actually thought of murder portrays his nature as violent. Macbeth is also quite gullible, because when the witches foresee his future, he believes them. He doesn’t question then about it. But Banquo is wary of the witches and he is also portrayed as wise, because he questions them about his future.

In this scene, Shakespeare is flattering James I. Shakespeare is trying to portray King James as the wise man; the one who doesn’t give in to his temptations and someone who can see right through evil.

The second quote makes Macbeth seem as if the better, safer option isn’t the best option for him, because it isn’t dangerous enough for him. He has a murderous streak, probably due to the amount of killing he has done in battles. Once he got a taste for killing, then it would matter to him if he did it again. Macbeth doesn’t want to interfere with becoming King, but his wife patronisingly puts the idea of murder into his head. It seems that Macbeth trusts his wife a lot, because he tells her everything. But the way Lady Macbeth acts towards Macbeth is very opposite to the way women were supposed to be in the Elizabethan era. She can be very manipulating and is a bit of a control freak. Macbeth isn’t completely influenced by her; he’s slightly influenced, but not enough for her to do everything for him. Lady Macbeth may be his nearest and dearest, but there’s still no evidence of her forcing Macbeth to murder the King. The idea was his in the first place, but she doesn’t know that.

The scene in which Lady Macbeth is introduced (Act 1, Scene5) begins with a letter from Macbeth about the premonitions of the witches. This means that he trusts his wife a lot. But Lady Macbeth is a cunning woman. She knows her husband has been promised a lot of power. She loves him a lot, but not as much as she loves herself.

‘Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be

What thou art promised.-Yet I do fear thy nature:

It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness’

Here, Lady Macbeth is trying to say that since Glamis and Cawdor have been promised to Macbeth, then kingship should be his and no-one else’s. She wants to see her husband happy, but most of all, she wants to be happy; in her riches, her power, the undying love and popularity from her subjects. She thinks she’ll get something she’s always dreamed of. This shows that she doesn’t get enough time and love from her husband; she feels neglected, so she feels she has to feed off the love that others have for her, if any. She also thinks her husband is too kind and decent to commit a murder. Lady Macbeth knows her husband well, but he doesn’t know that his wife has got him under control. The only reason Macbeth doesn’t want to murder Duncan is because he doesn’t want to achieve something unfairly. But Lady Macbeth knows that he would also be happy being King, even if he achieved it unfairly.

Although she knows Macbeth is afraid to commit the murder of King Duncan, she also knows that if she said just one word about it, then he’ll listen to her.

‘That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,

And chastise with the valour of my tongue’

Lady Macbeth knows that she can get what she wants with her words. Even when she calls upon the supernatural, she uses words to describe the supernatural. But there has always been a confusion about Lady Macbeth. Is she a witch or isn’t she? Lady Macbeth isn’t a witch, but she does keep contact with the supernatural world only once in the play,

‘Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here

And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full

Of direst cruelty!’

Lady Macbeth calls on the supernatural for help with the murder of Duncan. She wants to be ‘unsexed’; she wants to be removed of her feminine qualities, because she wants strength to murder the King. She also wants to be filled with cruelty, so that when it comes to murdering the King, she doesn’t feel any guilt or compassion. Lady Macbeth would do anything to be Queen; she wants to have the sort of power she has over her husband and impose it onto the rest of the country in her charming manner. Lady Macbeth is the brains of the murder; she sets everything up and leaves Macbeth to do the deed. On the night of the murder, Macbeth has a vision,

‘Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand?’

Macbeth is hallucinating, but it’s out of madness. He sees a floating dagger which leads him to murder the King. This is also another reason for why only Macbeth is completely responsible for his actions. He’s having visions; he’s seeing things. His wife doesn’t have visions of something leading her to kill the King, because she’s not as desperate to be Queen, as Macbeth is to be King. In the play, this is one of the most significant scene. It’s a turning point, because this vision of a floating dagger is a first sign of madness. Madness out of excitement due to the prospect of being King and madness out of fear of killing the King with his own hands. Lady Macbeth also goes mad. The night of the murder is when she also begins to show the first signs of madness. She claims she heard,

‘the owl scream, and the crickets cry.’

She’s hearing things. She knows she has done something wrong, but she doesn’t care. These animals are crying because they know that the world is short of one person, because the King has been killed. This means that the animals are aware that the disruption of the natural world has begun.

Macbeth goes slightly insane, but his actions are not due to his insanity. they’re due to the fact that he thought about murder and his wife supported him, but he did the deed with his own hands, not his wife’s hands, but his.

Macbeth is secretly thrilled when Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, find out about the death of their father because they both immediately run to the safety of Ireland and England. they think that their lives are in danger, so that leaves Macbeth as King. This means that he got what he wanted, and he is completely responsible for it all. He eventually gets his just desserts from Macduff, who kills him.

Macbeth really is responsible for his actions. He is completely guilty of regicide (murder of a king), and he is completely responsible for killing Macduff’s children and wife and his close friend, Banquo. Shakespeare did this to show the audience that the moral of the story is that the mighty eventually do fall. He also wants to warn them that having too much ambition is not a good thing.

In fact, this isn’t the only moral to the story. Maybe Shakespeare was trying to warn the audience not associate with witches. Obviously, there was a great hatred of witches in the Elizabethan era, so they were not to be associated with.

Another moral is that this is the fall of a great man who gave in to his temptations. It’s similar to the fall of mankind, in the Bible, when Adam and Eve couldn’t resist their temptations and took a bit out of the apple.

There is also the fact that Macbeth was murdered, so as the saying goes, ‘What goes around comes around.’ This is exactly what happened to Macbeth; he was murdered, just like he murdered the King.

So as all the evidence shows, Macbeth is completely responsible for his actions. He wasn’t manipulated by any outside forces.

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