The Downfall of MacbethMacbeth, written by William Shakespeare, is the tragic tale of Macbeth,a virtuous man, corrupted by power and greed. This tragedy can be classified byone of two theories. One theory suggests that the tragic hero, Macbeth, is leddown an unescapable road of doom by an outside force; namely the three witches.
The second suggests that there is no supernatural force working against Macbeth,which therefore makes him responsible for his own actions and inevitabledownfall. Macbeth is indeed responsible for his own actions which are provokedby Lady Macbeth, the witches, his ambition, and an unwillingness to listen tohis own conscience. These forces had no direct control over his actions butsimply pointed out different paths for him to follow. Ultimately, Macbeth chosethe path of darkness.Throughout the entire play Macbeth ignores the voice of his ownconscience. He knows what he is doing is wrong even before he murders Duncan.
His own conscience is nagging at him but he allows Lady Macbeth and greed tocloud his judgement. In referring to the idea of the murder of Duncan, Macbethfirst states,”We will proceed no further in this business”(I, vii, 32). Yet,after speaking with Lady Macbeth he recants and proclaims, “I am settled, andbend up /Each corporal agent to this terrible feat”(I, vii, 79-80). He allowshimself to be swayed by the woman he loves.
Lady Macbeth gave him an ultimatumand provoked him by saying:When you durst do it, then you were a man;And to be more than what you were, you wouldBe so much more the man….
. (I, vii, 49-51)She provokes him by questioning his manhood and then saying that he would be amuch greater man if he were to go through with the deed. Macbeth then had tomake a decision. He willingly chose to follow the path of death and destruction.Lady Macbeth simply showed him that path.It is easy to believe that the witches controlled Macbeth and made himfollow a path of doom.
The predictions they give, coupled with their unholy wayssuggest that they are in control of him. They are not. It is admittedly strangethat the weird sisters first address Macbeth with,”All hail, Macbeth! Hail tothee Thane of Cawdor!”(I, iii, 49), a title which not even Macbeth is aware hehas been awarded. Even stranger is the third witch calling to Macbeth,”All hail,Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!”(I, iii, 50). Here it may seem as if thewitches are using their supernatural powers to control Macbeth’s future. Allthey have done is foretold his future. A prophecy is hardly an invitation tomurder.
Banquo hears the witches’ words and tells Macbeth: The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s In deepest consequence (I, iii, 124-126)He is telling Macbeth not to be swayed by the witches even though one of theprophecies has come true. It is a warning that Macbeth ignores. He is soenraptured by the prophecies of the witches that he consciously follows a pathof darkness in an effort to fulfil the propheciesIt can also be shown that the witches definitely have no physicalcontrol over Macbeth. At the very beginning of the scene, the first witchpunishes a sailor’s wife by tossing his ship about on the seas. This in turnwill cause his sleeplessness. Weary sev’nights nine times nine Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine: Though his bark cannot be lost, Yet it shall be tempest-tossed (I, iii, 22-25)The witches can do no more to Macbeth than they did to the sailor.
The witch cantoss the ship about but she cannot cause its sinking nor can she directly causethe sailor to go without sleep. She must cause the sailor’s misery indirectly bytossing his ship about The witches may tell the future and tempt Macbeth; theymay toss about his “bark”, but they have no direct influence over him. OnlyMacbeth controls his actions.The final argument for the theory that Macbeth is reponsible for his ownactions, would be a point that the infamous witches and Macbeth agree upon.This point exists in the form of Macbeth’s ambiton. In the soliloquy thatMacbeth gives before he murders Duncan, he states:..
.I have no spurTo prick the sides of intent, but onlyVaulting ambition,… (I, vii, 25-27).These are not the words of a man who is merely being led down a selfdestructive path of doom, with no will of his own. They are the words of a manwho realizes not only the graveness of his actions, but, also the reasons behindthem.
Macbeth is a fully cognizant person and not a mindless puppet of thesupernatural. Later the head witch, Hecate, declares:Hath been but for a wayward son,Spiteful and wrathful, who, as others do,Loves for his own ends, not for you. (III, v, 11-13)This again highlights Macbeth’s ambitious nature. There is no connection betweenMacbeth’s ambition and some spell cast by the weird sisters which might be saidto magically cause an increase in his desires. He willingly committed the crimesto fulfil his ambitions; not because of a spell cast by the witches.While purposely played in a mysterious setting, the location is notmeant to cloud the true theme of the play with the supernatural.
Macbeth simplysuccumbs to natural urges and his own ambitions which lead him to a fate of hisown making. The provocations of Lady Macbeth, the witches, his ambition and hisreluctance to listen to his conscience were the deciding factors in his life. Hewas not supernaturally controlled by the black magic of the witches nor was hepurposefully led down a path of destruction. He was fully aware of theconsequences of all the decisions he made. Everyone has character flaws thatthey must live with; Macbeth simply allowed those flaws to destroy him.