University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Downfall of Macbeth
The tragedy of “Macbeth,” by William Shakespeare, follows the fall of Macbeth from a man in a position of power with a contented life, to a man with nothing but “mouth honor” and a corrupted soul. In this essay, I wish to show to what extent Macbeth’s tragedy was his own fault. The downfall of Macbeth begins early on in the play when he and Banquo (a fellow Scottish noble) meet the witches. The witches waylay Macbeth and Banquo whilst they were on their way to meet Duncan, King of Scotland. They decide to listen to the witches, out of sheer curiosity.
The three witches greet Macbeth as “Thane of Glamis”, the title he already holds, and begin to tell the two nobles of things to come, and prophesies that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor, and the King of Scotland. Macbeth asks how they know of his current title, and laughs at the following two prophesies. The witches ignore his questions, and tell Banquo of how he will not be king, but his sons will be kings. Instead of just ignoring the witches, the statement of his current title intrigues Macbeth and he follows the witches to try and get them to tell him more.
Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more” says Macbeth, showing that he is indeed interested in what the witches have to say. The witches disappear, and Macbeth dismisses them, and he and Banquo ride off. The witches appearance, and Macbeth becoming intrigued may amount to his downfall, but I believe that they were merely the ‘helping hand’ for Macbeth who’s own weak will and other events where the catalyst for his eventual death. At this point, Macbeth is still a highly respected man, and is about to get more respect from Duncan, for defending Scotland from the invading forces of Norway.
The messengers who tell Duncan of Macbeth’s deeds portray him as a man of great courage, who showed no fear in the battles. Duncan sends a messenger to tell Macbeth of his reward for his great deeds. Two messengers to greet Macbeth with the news of Duncan’s reward: he is to be made Thane of Cawdor. “Why do you dress me in borrowed robes? ” asks the startled Macbeth, as the messengers begin to explain how the last Thane of Cawdor was helping the Norwegians invade. Aside, he says, “Two truths are told, as happy prologues to the swelling act…” obviously relating to the first two prophecies the witches made.
He now asks Banquo, aside, whether or not he believes the witches now that Macbeth’s second prophecy has come true. Banquo says he is wary and that he really doesn’t want anything to do with these witches, but he will merely sit back and let the prophecies run their course. Macbeth seemingly decides to follow Banquo’s idea, and makes an agreement with himself “If chance will have me king, why, chances may crown me, without my stir”. Macbeth decides to write to his wife and tell her of his new title, a fatal mistake in my opinion, since his wife reacts to the letter in a totally unexpected way.
All of a sudden, Lady Macbeth decides to make a push to get her husband to make the effort to fulfil the third prophecy. Meanwhile, Duncan names his son as the next king, and Macbeth becomes bitter, and looks towards the prophecies for his next move; “That is a step on which I must fall down, or else o’erleap…” Clearly Macbeth has decided that he will now ‘stir’, and make some move to become king. Back with Lady Macbeth at Macbeth’s castle, she is reading Macbeth’s letter. She reads about his new title, and the mentions of the witches’ prophecies.
Lady Macbeth first starts off by thinking about how she can get her husband to become a king, and concludes that she’ll have to make some effort to get her husband to do whatever it takes to get him to be king. A messenger, who brings news that Duncan wishes to stay at Macbeth’s castle, interrupts her thoughts. Lady Macbeth decides, almost instantly, that she will persuade her husband to kill Duncan so he can become king. Whilst in the middle of her thoughts, Macbeth returns home. They talk, and Lady Macbeth brings up the subject of getting rid of Duncan so he can be king.
Macbeth appears shocked although was secretly thinking the same thing, and tries to dismiss the idea. Underneath, however, he wants to go along with the idea so he can become king. His underlying motives become clear when he decides that he will do the evil thing, and is going to kill Duncan. “We will speak further,” he says, making his intentions apparent to the audience. Although unsure, he will not totally dismiss the idea, and is even considering it.
Lady Macbeth now knows that she has him within her grasp, nd she will now make sure that she wins him completely over. In my opinion, not making his mind up creates a chance for Lady Macbeth. She sees this uncertainty and later exploits his unwillingness to make decisions. A short while later, Duncan arrives, accompanied by all of his Thanes. They all feast, and drink to the success of the battle against Norway. As the night wears on, Macbeth has to time to contemplate the consequences of killing Duncan. Macbeth makes the moral decision not to proceed saying; “We will proceed no further in this business.
He (Duncan) hath honoured me of late, and I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people, which would be worn now in the newest gloss, not cast aside so soon”. Macbeth attempts to give excuse for not proceeding, but fails to give any proper reasons for it. The only advantage he sees for not killing Duncan is that he respects him, and by killing him it would be disrespecting him. I believe that this is not a valid reason for committing murder, and shows Macbeth’s underlying ambition to become king. By putting forward pithy excuses Macbeth makes his ambition very clear to the reader.
Lady Macbeth is not swayed by his pathetic excuses, and she knows that secretly, Macbeth wants the same things she does. In an attempt to convince Macbeth to continue with the plan, she first insults his manhood “When you durst do it, you were a man; And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man…”and accuses him of being cowardly for not sticking to the plan. She then attacks his ego further by saying “From this time such I account thy love” and accuses him of not loving her. For Macbeth, this is the final straw, and he gives in.
Lady Macbeth plans the murder. When Macbeth goes to murder Duncan, he still doubts himself, and even starts seeing things as he approaches Duncan’s room. Upon committing the murder, Macbeth finds himself in a state. Lady Macbeth attempts to clean him up, and make him appear well, but now Macbeth has lost all control. This murder of Duncan leads to the destruction of Macbeth. Aware of any possible opposition, Macbeth begins spying and murdering people. There are also psychological problems that Macbeth has which lead to his destruction.
This is shown by his brief madness after Banquo’s murder when he sees Banquo’s ghost. The tragedy ends when Macbeth is slain by Macduff who, with many others, find out about what horrific things Macbeth has done. Macbeth begins to get paranoid about Banquo, and feels that he should be killed so as to stop him from being exposed. “So is he mine; and in such bloody distance that every moment of his being thrusts against my nearest life;” Macbeth says, aware that the only way to truly silence Banquo is to have him killed.
At the banquet scene, Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost, showing that he has indeed gone mad. Even in insanity, he feels guilty. “Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee! ” he says, his conscience acting on him and showing his remorse. Macbeth has finally gone mad, and it was all due to his ambition and want to be king. He goes on to become entirely evil, as he visits the witches again and again, seeking solace for his crimes, and answers to his impending doom. He begins to stop feeling remorse and guilt for his actions, and eventually becomes a cruel, twisted man.
His wife falls ill, and he shows no compassion towards her, instead saying everything would be better once she is dead. This is near the end of the play and where Macbeth slowly returns from his evil side, feeling remorse for his actions finally. When the English army and Macduff advance on his castle he becomes the courageous Macbeth once again, and when he finally comes to fight Macduff, he is back to the brave and bold Macbeth at the start of the play. With his wife dead, he feels more able to do what he wants.
The main people to blame for Macbeth’s tragedy were his wife, and Macbeth himself, and this is shown all the way through the play (Lady Macbeth willing him to murder, Macbeth being easily convinced etc) there some unfortunate circumstances that contributed to Macbeth’s downfall, such as Duncan making his son king instead of Macbeth, and Duncan putting his trust in Macbeth by coming to his castle, but none were as major a cause as Macbeth’s personality fault and his manipulative wife.
To conclude, the blame for Macbeth’s tragedy should be placed on his head and his wife’s, due to his personality defect (ambition and a weak will) and her persuasiveness (pushing him to fulfil his ambition). The combination of these two defects and Duncan staying at Macbeth’s castle caused the entire play and tragedy to unfold.