University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Parallels: The Influence of Lady Macbeth and the Three Witches
Throughout a person’s life, there are many things, like strangers or the media, that influence how a person will behave. The main factor in this influence tends to be the people in their lives that they are closest too. Sometimes the influence of people can significantly change a person – whether in a good way, or a bad way. In the play _Macbeth_, written by William Shakespeare, there are many examples of bad influences changing someone for the worst. Through the influence of the three witches and Lady Macbeth, Macbeth is changed into a bad person. By the three witches and his wife, Macbeth is influenced through his unquestioning trust in them, and the manipulation of his thoughts.
Placing too much trust into the three witches and Lady Macbeth is what helped change Macbeth into a bad person. When Macbeth first meets the witches with Banquo, Macbeth is told three prophecies by them. The first he already knew to be true. Later on, he finds out that the next prophecy also comes true for him. This then makes him sure that the third prophecy – that he shall become king – will also come true. It can be seen that he trusts the witches words when he says, “Two truths are told, / As happy prologues to the swelling act / Of the imperial theme.” (I.iii.137-139)
However, the next time Macbeth goes to see the witches for more prophecies, Macbeth proves that he is putting too much trust into the witches. This time they give him another three prophecies. After hearing these prophecies Macbeth says, “Whate’er thou art, for thy good caution, thanks;” (IV.i.79) When Macbeth hears the prophecies he does not even question them, but instead becomes over-confident in the witches’ words. While talking to Lennox after the witches disappear he even says:
Time, thou anticipates my dread exploits:
The flighty purpose never is o’erook Unless the deed go with it: from this moment, The very firstlings of my hear shall be The firstlings of my hand. And even now, To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done; (IV.i.158-163)
This proves that Macbeth’s trust in the witches made him impetuous and made him act upon all of his bad decisions without even thinking about them. Likewise, Macbeth’s trust in lady Macbeth made him into a bad person as well. After receiving the prophecies and informing his wife about it, Macbeth was not sure that he could actually go through with the murder of Duncan. But Lady Macbeth said to him, “To alter favour ever is to fear: / Leave all the rest to me.” (I.v.80-81) This shows how confident she was in her plan to kill Duncan.
She portrayed it as the right and only thing to do. Since Macbeth had so much trust in her, he let her sway him into becoming a murderer. However, even though his trust in Lady Macbeth led Macbeth to kill one person, his trust in the witches led him to have many people killed, which shows that his trust in the witches had a far more negative influence on him in changing him into a bad person. Therefore, by trusting the witches and becoming too impetuous with his decisions and trusting Lady Macbeth to convince him to murder, Macbeth has proven that he has been changed into a bad person.
Having Macbeth’s thoughts manipulated by the three witches and his wife also changed Macbeth into a bad person. Macbeth seemed perfectly normal before he met the witches. He had just fought in a war for his country and was already the thane of Glamis. Not once did Macbeth ever mention being unhappy about his current life. But, when Macbeth meets the three witches for the first time they are the first to put dark ideas into his head. The witches tell him three prophecies: he will be thane of Glamis, thane of Cawdor, and king. Macbeth already knew he was the thane of Glamis, and shortly after a nobleman of Scottland by the name of Ross finds Macbeth and says to him:
And, for an earnest of a greater honour,
He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor:
In which addition, hail, most worthy thane!
For it is thine. (I.iii.109-112)
After hearing this Macbeth knows he is the new thane of Cawdor, which meant the witches’ first two prophecies were right. To Macbeth this meant that the third prophecy of him becoming king must be true as well, but then he starts to get some dark ideas in his head because of the witches prophecies. To himself he says:
This supernatural soliciting Cannot be ill; cannot be good: if ill, Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? …
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings: (I.iii.140-148)
In the same way, Macbeth’s wife manipulates his thoughts by making him think he is not much of a man. After Lady Macbeth heard of the news that Macbeth would become king, she became so certain that king Duncan had to die – Macbeth had to murder him. So she discussed it with her husband. However when she realizes that Macbeth is not sure he wants to kill Duncan she says to him:
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more than man … (I.vii.54-56)
To get her husband to commit the murder, Lady Macbeth attacks how much of a man he really is. This basically makes Macbeth feel worthless and have the sudden urge to prove his manliness. He does not instantly go and kill Duncan, but this manipulation of his thoughts by his wife really gets to him, and is a main factor in why he eventually killed Duncan. However, even though the three witches and Lady Macbeth both manipulated his thoughts, Lady Macbeth had a far greater influence on making Macbeth into a bad person. After his encounter with the three witches, Macbeth still had made no sure decision to actually kill Duncan. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth – the one person that Macbeth truly cares about the most – convinces him to do the killing. Without her influence Macbeth would not have committed the murder and might not have become the bad person he became. Therefore, through the witches putting dark ideas into his head and his wife attacking his manliness, Macbeth is influenced into becoming a bad person.
In conclusion, the three witches and Lady Macbeth had the most influence on Macbeth in the play. They influenced him into becoming a bad person. Their abuse of Macbeth’s trust, and manipulation of his thoughts led him to become impetuous, get dark ideas in his head, and finally commit multiple murders. His trust in the witches made him kill many people, but without listening to Lady Macbeth and doing as she told him, he would never have committed the first murder of Duncan. This murder was the inciting incident that led him to his downfall, and proved he became a bad person. This proves that Lady Macbeth was a more negative influence on Macbeth becoming a bad person.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Harcourt Brace & Company Canada, 1988.