Macbeth And The Cause Of His Downfall

Macbeth and the Cause of His Downfall.

Everyone who is mortal has at least one flaw. Some are more serious than others. The

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tragedy of Macbeth is no exception to this. In this play, William Shakespeare illustrates the

classical tragic hero pattern: a character regarded with the utmost admiration, devoted to an evil

villain, despised by all. Like most tragic heroes, Macbeth has hidden fatal flaws which

ultimately lead to his fall from grace. Influences from other characters play a role in his

downfall, but the greatest cause comes from his own actions and thoughts.

The first seeds of wickedness are planted in his mind by the tempting prophecies of the

witches and his promotion to Thane of Cawdor increases his appetite for furthermore

advancement. If it had not been for the witches telling him that he was to be the Thane of

Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and the King of Scotland, Macbeth perhaps would have remained

decent and content with his life. As a result of the prophecies, this stimulated Macbeth s

curiosity of how he could be King of Scotland. Macbeth s vulnerability to the witches is caused

by his corrupt desire, which moves him to take a false step. He starts to consider slaying the

king. Macbeth is aware that the deed he contemplates is evil from the very beginning. After

hearing the prophecies of the witches, aside Macbeth declares that:

Present fears

Are less than horrible imaginings.

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man. (I, iii, 149-52)

This depicts the terror of Macbeth s heart when the idea of murder first comes to him. If

Macbeth was never told that he would be king hereafter (I, iii, 53) by the third witch, he would

have never thought of assassinating the king. Lady Macbeth would have not convinced him to

consider murder because she thought of this idea by reading a letter describing the witches and

their prophecies. The witches serve to plant this idea of Macbeth becoming king and allow Lady

Macbeth to reveal her evil side, which in turn sets up the procedure for the downfall of Macbeth.

The influence of Macbeth s wife, Lady Macbeth, also contributed to his degeneration of

character. At the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth appears as a kind person, but underneath

lies a scheming and treacherous woman. The relationship between Macbeth and his spouse is a

very close but rather strange one. There are a lot of things that Macbeth does not understand

about Lady Macbeth, that she knows many things about him. For example she knows his

weaknesses and his strengths very well. During the first part of the play, Lady Macbeth is the

stronger of the two. After receiving the letter about the witches from Macbeth, she starts to

discuss the issue of killing King Duncan with her husband. She already knows that Macbeth will

not succeed by himself when she states:

Yet I do fear thy nature

It is too full of the milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,

Art not without ambition, but without

The illness should attend it. (I, v, 14-18)

Although it was the witches who told Macbeth he will be king, it was Lady Macbeth who

uses her art of persuasion, and knowledge of Macbeth s weaknesses, to make him kill the king.

He first disagrees but then approves of the idea. Lady Macbeth wins largely by appealing to

Macbeth s valour. This proves Macbeth was greatly influenced by his wife and that she toyed

him around using his only weakness- his vaulting ambition.

Ambition is a characteristic of human nature, which, if expressed in an evil manner, can

turn the entire person wicked. Macbeth is a great example of these types of people. Macbeth s

ambition is made obvious from the start of the play. It is what the witches used to get him under

their spell, All hail thee Thane of Glamis…Thane of Cawdor…king. Macbeth is intrigued by

this greeting. When he finds out from Duncan that he has become Thane of Cawdor, he whispers

to himself, Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor, the greatest is behind (I, v, 52). Being named the

Thane of Cawdor after absorbing the prophecies of the three witches prompted Macbeth s sole

ambition to have the throne, rather than killing Duncan himself to inherit it. ( If chance have me

king, why, chance may crown me, without my stir I, iii, 154-6)

Macbeth s urge to exterminate Duncan increases when Duncan names Malcolm the

Prince of Cumberland, the heir to the Scottish throne. Macbeth s ambition strengthens because

he pleads to the stars (destiny) to make his plan a reality.

Stars, hide your fires;

Let not light see my black and deep desires:

The eye wink at the hand! yet let that be, which the eye fears,

And when it is done, to see. (I, iv, 57-60)

During the banquet held at Macbeth s castle at the Inverness honour of Duncan,

Macbeth s ambition changes. He contemplates his wicked thoughts and arrives at the conclusion

of not allowing his plan to fall through. I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only

my vaulting ambition. (I, vii, 25) Lady Macbeth scorns Macbeth when she hears of his change

of plans. She becomes successful in altering his ambition. Macbeth later slaughters Duncan and

feels quite guilty about it at first, when saying This is a sorry sight. (II, ii, 20)

Will all Neptune s great ocean was his blood

Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather

The multitudious sea incarnadine,

Making the green- one red (II, iii, 60-3)

Macbeth also shows how he is afraid that he will never forgive himself or forget what he

has done. He feels that there will always be a constant reminder of the awful action which he had

committed. Even so, Macbeth inherits the throne of Scotland as he had previously planned.

Along with the crown, Macbeth inherits a ruthless, immoral character that corrupts him to his

downfall. This happens because of Macbeth s ambition for the throne, an ambition that he will

do anything in order to behold. His ambition influenced the cause of his new, declining


Duncan was the King of Scotland, and was murdered by Macbeth. Duncan s fatal flaw

was that he was too trusting. Although this is a flaw of Duncan s, it did contribute immensely to

Macbeth s downfall. He was extremely naive and held much faith in Macbeth. If Duncan had

been more suspicious of Macbeth s actions, or had acted more powerful and stronger towards

Macbeth, Macbeth would have had second thoughts about killing him. He would be too

frightened of getting caught.

Macbeth started off being very ambitious and courageous, but a moral coward. He is

seen as a courageous soldier who is loyal to the King but is corrupted from the witches

prophecies and by his and Lady Macbeth s ambition. This is because of the weakness of

Macbeth s character and the strength of Lady Macbeth s willpower and how easily she is able to

influence him to murder the helpless king. Her strength motivates him at the start but after

Macbeth and his wife begin to exchange their character qualities and it is himself that continues

in his murderous, bloody path. Macbeth s ambition shows that what a person craves for himself

often determines his fate. The factors that contributed and increased Macbeth s flaming ambition

resulted in his downfall…a noble man whose growing character degenerates to a violent

individual which eventually leads to his death.


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