Macbeth – Responsibility In the play there are many evil deeds that Macbeth committed. These include the murders of Duncan and Banquo, Lady Macduff and her son. Macbeth is also responsible for Scotland’s disorder. Macbeth plays the main role in each incident, with the other characters being only minor and undeveloped; acting as vehicles for Macbeth’s actions.
It is possible that it is not entirely Macbeth’s fault for the evil deeds in the play. In Act II, Scene II Macbeth is patented as a hero, when he defeated Norway in war for his country. ‘O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman’ Initially, the Elizabethan audience consider Macbeth as a respectable and well like character. We do however learn that appearances can be deceptive which corresponds with the main theme; ‘Fair is foul, Foul is fair’ which is referred to a lot throughout the play. This theme is first introduced in Act I, Scene I where the witches foretell the struggle between the forces of evil and good in which Macbeth is to be involved.
It is also an indication that all will not be as it seems. This portrays a character as being much worse if the audience’s first impressions of that character were positive. Macbeth’s meeting with the witches brings a prediction which symbolises the beginning of Macbeth’s downfall. FIRST WITCH: All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Glamis SECOND WITCH: All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Cawdor. THIRD WITCH: All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter. Macbeth is startled when he hears this prophecy. He believes that his title is still Thane of Glamis; yet here he has just been told that he shall be King.
He does not know Macdonwald who has been sentenced to death for betraying his country. The witches plant the idea of being King into Macbeth’s mind, which has encourages Macbeth to consider his future. In his soliloquy, the audience learn about Macbeth’s initial plan to murder Duncan so that he shall have power and position earlier, thus destroying the natural order. ‘My thought, whose murther is yet but fantastical.’ Macbeth sent a letter to Lady Macbeth outlining the witches’ prophecy. He also consults her concerning his plans.
This is how Macbeth reduces some of the responsibility of the incident of the murder by accepting her guidance and advice. It becomes apparent that Macbeth is somewhat of a moral coward. This could be seen as a positive attribute as it shows the weaknesses of Macbeth, and asks could Macbeth be fully responsible if he is not totally independent? He changes his mind about the murder a number of times. He deceives Banquo by telling him he is going to let the natural order prevail but then changes his mind again when Duncan announces that his son Malcom is to be his successor. Macbeth intends to destroy this.
Macbeth has a change of heart before he reaches home until his wife persuades him that it can be done safely. Macbeth leaves the banquet that is to be Duncan’s last, deciding not to do it. Finally Lady Macbeth questions Macbeth’s manhood and persuades him to go through with the murder. To be a man in Shakespearean times meant to have strong personality and being able to fight and kill with no remorse.
This is a recurrent theme in the play as Macbeth’s masculinity is undermined on several occasions by Lady Macbeth. Macbeth is brave when it comes to thought but when he is faced with the action, he hesitates and has to be persuaded into action by his wife. He does, however use the knowledge of the prophecy of the witches, as security. ‘All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter.’ During this intense time, Macbeth is hesitant and his weakness is shown in the way he seeks to put off the murder. He had doubts.
Macbeth came under constant pressure from Lady Macbeth. ‘Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?’ This shows that Macbeth is not purely evil and that he has a conscience. This could make it easier for Macbeth by reducing some of the blame that could be placed on him for the evil deeds, when we have seen that Macbeth did not commit this crime acting under his own intentions; but rather Lady Macbeth’s. What follows illustrates Macbeth feeling guilty. He cannot sleep, he feels that he has murdered sleep. In Shakespearean times sleep represented innocence.
Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth that if he washes his hands there will be no reminder of the murder. ‘A little water clears us of this deed:’ This is an ironic comment on what Macbeth continues to say. ‘Will all great Neptune’s Ocean wash this blood.
‘ Macbeth responds by saying that water will not get rid of his guilt. Blood symbolises evil and for Macbeth it is suspicion as he has become paranoid. Macbeth is not a cold blooded killer otherwise he would not be feeling these emotions.
Banquo harbours suspicion about Macbeth. He realises that the guards had no motive to kill the king so he does not suspect them. He says that he is going to investigate the murder as there are hidden motives. He does not mention however his suspicions of Macbeth as his sons may also be kings too and is content that they should be. Banquo was much more naive than Macbeth. His was not totally surprised when he found out about the murder which would indicate that that he was prepared for such an event. The next evil deed committed is the killing of Banquo, whom Macbeth fears knows too much.
‘To be thus, is nothing, but to be safely thus.’ Macbeth is indicating that he needs security to be King. His intention is to remove any threat to his throne. Macbeth is very calculated; he really knows what he is doing, more so than in the murder of Duncan. He acquires two murderers to kill Banquo. He manipulates them into believing that it was Banquo’s fault that they are poor.
‘That it was he in times past, that held you so under fortune,’ Macbeth uses the same taunt that Lady Macbeth used against him, by insulting the masculinity of the murderers. Macbeth did not kill Banquo himself for a number of reasons. The detection was an issue, which also lead to the fear of Banquo’s honesty. He feared Banquo would tell about Macbeth if he detected anything.
After the death of Duncan, in Act III, Scene IV, Lady Macbeth once again undermines his masculinity by saying; ‘Are you a man?’ Macbeth has become deeply involved in the game. Macduff, because he did not turn up to the feast, probably has suspicion about Macbeth. Macbeth has to carry on killing so that he will not feel that because he is only a beginner, that this is where his fear is coming from. He took it one step further when he began to kill good, innocent people.
He killed Lady Macduff and her son. This shows his d..
…eterioration, also associated with Scotland’s disorder. ‘Sighs and groans and shrieks That rend the air, are made, not mark’d.’ Lady Macbeth can be seen as partly responsible for the deeds her husband committed.
She had the main involvement in the murder of Duncan. In Act I, Scene V Lady Macbeth seems to be a woman unlike that of a typical Elizabethan stereotype. The audiences perception of this would have been that Lady Macbeth was purely evil. After reading the letter in her soliloquy, it is clear to the audience that she intends to help Macbeth achieve his ambition. ‘The illness should attend it.
‘ Lady Macbeth is claiming that without the inherent evil Macbeth will not be King. The audience would have been shocked at the way Lady Macbeth was acting as it was unnatural for a woman of that time. She prays to the powers of darkness to make her become less feminine when she says ‘unsex me here’ so that she can have no natural feelings of pity and carry out the procedure selfishly. ‘Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse, That no compuctious visitings of Nature.’ At the banquet, Lady Macbeth presents herself as a hostess.
She acts like a woman with a warm heart and charm. This makes the murder a much more horrible crime; and more of a shock to the audience. She has no difficulty in hiding her real thoughts. This is another reinforcement of the theme ‘Fair is foul, Foul is Fair.’ Shakespeare’s graphic and vulgar use of language for lady Macbeth would have made the audience appalled and sickened. ‘I would, while it was a smiling face, Have pluck’d my nipple out, from his boneless gums And dash’d the brains out, had I sworn As you have done to this.’ This clearly indicates Lady Macbeth’s motive for the crime.
She would rather kill her own child than break a promise to Macbeth. She would wish for Macbeth to get to the throne so that he might achieve his highest ambition. Her greed for the throne and power has made her become so deeply involved in this murder that some of the blame is reduced on Macbeth’s part. Macbeth, who is reluctant about his wife’s plans is questioned by her on a number of occasions about his masculinity. She puts him under pressure to commit the murder. However, like Macbeth she shows moments of humanity. She would have carried out the murder herself had Duncan not looked like her father.
‘Had he not resembled My father as he slept, I had don’t.’ This shows the audience that she is not as evil as was once thought. She may still poses a conscience. It makes her more feminine so her downfall is even more pitiful. The audiences perception of this would have been that she was going to become isolated and that Macbeth was inevitably going to become independent. After the death of Duncan, Macbeth became more independent. In his planning of the death of Banquo and Fleance he did not tell his wife anything about it.
There could have been a number of reasons for this. He probably felt that she would take control like she did when she found out about the witches’ prophecy. He could have been trying to gain control, to prove he could do things himself. He could have also wanted to prove her innocence and so that she would not have to take the strain.
It is important to note that Macbeth is doing this without the consultation of his wife and that none of Macbeth’s actions to plunge deeper into evil have much to do with Lady Macbeth. She is devoid of responsibility. We see the isolation of Lady Macbeth towards Macbeth when her only concern for his welfare is; ‘You lack the season of all natures, sleep’ We do not here about her again until Act V, Scene IV, where we witness Macbeth disclaiming ownership of his wife; ‘How does your patient, doctor?’ Her death is sudden, as represented by the stage directions (shrieks of woman), and self- inflicted. ‘Tis thought, by self and violent hands Took her life.’ Macbeth is too weary to feel more than just a dull sense of loss and regret. He does not miss her influences though. She lost her influence along time ago when Macbeth became independent.
Shakespeare makes the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth very much as a linked pair. When Macbeth is weak, Lady Macbeth is strong; when Macbeth is determined, Lady Macbeth is tormented. In conclusion, Macbeth is, for the most part, responsible for the evil deeds. In Shakespearean times it may have been said that he was the victim of the powers of darkness such as when Lady Macbeth conjured up the powers of evil and prayed to the powers of darkness.
Similarly, the witches who the Elizabethans would have believed to be a very real thing. In modern times though it is greed which most people are overcome by, and this is where this conclusion stems from. Lady Macbeth can strip Macbeth of some of the blame. She was tempted by the title and with her dominating ability that showed a hardness and cruelty, was able to pursuade Macbeth to commit the murder. Duncan was too trusting, he did not believe that his friends would betray him.
This aroused suspicion from Banquo. Macbeth felt he had to do something about it to get his peace and security back. He had to remove all threats. There was heavy irony when Macbeth said; ‘But Banquo’s safe.’ Where Macbeth saw being dead as a safe alternative.
This is because he would have no worries about having to be suspicious of others, to remain safe. Macbeth always had free will from his first encounter with the witches. He independently decides to believe the supernatural powers of the witches will help him; and it is him and Lady Macbeth that make the witches prophecy come true. There is no evidence to suggest that the witches made the future even though Macbeth could have waited for natural order to proceed; but he couldn’t wait. The witches and evil can play a small part in the final conclusion.
Their prophecies encouraged Macbeth’s ambition to be king. The witches told him he had nothing to fear because he could not be killed by a man born from a woman. ‘The power of man: for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth.’ With the minority of people today believing in the powers of the supernatural, it would be quite ludicrous to say that it was the witches that controlled the plot. Shakespeare writes his plays for the audience to not know what is going to be the final outcome before finishing the performance. If we knew this then consequently the action would become dull and predictable. The witches only played a small part in the evil deeds.
It was Macbeth that chose his own fate by believing in the witches and giving into temptation both from the witches and the guidance from his wife.