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Macbeth – The Effect of the Witches Prophecies

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William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth is an unfortunate one. Although Macbeth does take the actions that lead to his downfall, he is not fully responsible for his behavior. After encountering three witches who foretell the future for him, he desperately wants to believe what they say since everything they told him is good on his part. It is said that the witches were just figments of his imagination. In either case, the prophecies told act as a vehicle to plant ambition in him which then leads him to be greedy with his new found happiness, lie to all those he trusts, and eventually to multiple murders.

Although the first and second prophecies that the witches foretell come true, they only turn Macbeth greedy. After Macbeth becomes Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth is amazed with the predictions made so far. “Look how our partner’s rapt.” From having the first divination come true, Macbeth imagines the possibility of the other predictions to come true, but he is skeptical at first:

MACBETH: (Aside) This supernatural soliciting

Cannot be ill, cannot be good; if ill,

Why hath it given me earnest of success,

Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor:

If good, why do I yield to the that suggestion

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

Against the use of nature? (1.3.130-137)

Macbeth, now with ambition, is determined to make these prophecies come true for him. With the thought of being King of Scotland, the only thing in his head, he knows now that the prophecies could only be good. However, as said in the beginning of the play, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair: hover through the fog and filthy air.” Things that may appear harmless and pure may be destructive and tainted. Macbeth is one example. He was “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” that he would never have let anything make him become what he is now. After hearing the first set of predictions, he goes to see the witches in Act 4, Scene 1, to ask for more of their predictions and advice. After a first warning, “Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware Macduff beware the Thane of Fife.”

Macbeth is greedy and demands more. The second apparition reassures him that “for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” This contradicts the first apparition but Macbeth comforts himself with the idea of Macduff not being able to kill him. Then the witches tell him “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” The witches seem to be guiding him by presenting him with all this advice but what he does not see is the effect it is having on him. He has been spoiled and now he tells his fears to be false since he should not have any. The Witches have made him believe that all their predictions are true and they will help him whenever he needs it.

The Witches Prophecies also lead him to lie to the ones who are loyal to him. Before being killed by Macbeth, Duncan, the King of Scotland, had built an absolute trust with him. After he is murdered, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth lie to everyone by expressing that they know nothing about the murder of Duncan. To refrain from him being blamed for the murder, Macbeth creates a plan to have the king’s guards be blamed for the murder:

MACBETH: For ruin’s wasteful entrance: There, the murderers

Steep’d in the colours of their trade, their daggers

Unmannerly breech’d with gore. (2.3.115-117)

Macbeth is keen to be king that he risks his life and his wife. After the murder, Banquo remembers what Macbeth said early, “My dull brain was wrought with things forgotten.” Macbeth makes a lying excuse that he was thinking about something so pointless that he has forgotten what it was. However, in the beginning it was only as though, he has let his thoughts run wild and cause him to lie.

Eventually, after lying only come more bad things such as murder: the deadliest sin. After hearing the last prophecy about Banquo’s son becoming Kings, Macbeth feels that this is the only thing he must take care of to get his way. He plans to take care of this the way he took care of Duncan. Just like then, to become king is to murder what is in your way:

MACBETH: They hailed him father to a line of kings

Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown

And put a barren scepter in my gripe

Thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand,

No son of mine succeeding. (3.1.64-68)

Macbeth plots to kill Banquo and Fleance for the sake of the prophecy not to come true but he believes that it would have. Macbeth has let the prophecies become him by giving into the witches through murder.

It now seems that if Macbeth had not tried to fulfill the witch’s prophecies, he would probably have been living as the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor at the end of the play. It could be said that he was responsible for his own downfall, however, as proved, Macbeth only took these actions to fulfill the prophecies of the witches by giving into the greed, the lying, and the murder that came with it.

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