Manipulation is a very effective tool. Macbeth, the main character in William Shakespeare?s play of the same title is very ambitious. There can be no doubt about this. A certain level of courage accompanies his ambition as well. As a noble he is an active one, fighting against the rebel hordes and Norwegians in defense of his king, no doubt for the purpose of gaining authority and other rewards. This is further illustrated by his gracious acceptance of credit for his deeds. He is a political figure, and shows ambition in this way. However, there is no sign of him altering his course of loyal nobleman until outside influences begin to interfere with his being. The people with greatest impact on Macbeth are the witches, his wife, Lady Macbeth, and King Duncan of Scotland.
The witches are the physical manifestation of evil itself, and they bring temptation, malice and disaster with their visits upon hapless mortals. This best illustrated by the witches? quote “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” (1.1.11). This illustrates the idea that every aspect of the witches is a perversion of natural moral character. It may be said that the prophecy set forth by the witches is the single cause for the entire story of Macbeth. Without the witches, Macbeth may never have thought of taking Duncan?s life at all. In Act 1, Scene 3, the witches tell Macbeth that he is thane of Glamis, thane of Cawdor and that he “shalt be king hereafter”. (1.3.50). Immediately after hearing the witches? prophesize that he will be king, Macbeth thinks that he must kill the current king to become king himself. Without the prophecy, even Lady Macbeth probably would not have thought of doing such a thing. It is not that the desire for Macbeth to become king would not have existed if the witches had not talked to Macbeth. The desire existed in both Macbeth and his wife naturally in their position as nobles. The significance of the prophecy is that it brought this desire to the foreground, and made it reality. The witches told Macbeth that he would be king. He took this statement for granted. For Macbeth, it suddenly changed from whether or not he would be king to how he would get to be king. Without the witches to suggest the major course of action, Macbeth would not have been so bold as to pursue his ambition. The witches? prophecy is self-fulfilling, and could not come about had it not been made. The witches know that Macbeth will be paranoid and kill those about him. Hecate herself says: “And you all know, security / is mortals? chiefest enemy.” (3.6.32-33). The witches also come to Macbeth again, speaking of his future and his downfall. Three apparitions appear before him. The first tells him to beware Macduff, who eventually leads the forces that defeat Macbeth. The second tells him “Laugh to scorn / the power of man, for none of woman born / shall harm Macbeth.” (4.1. 79-81). The third apparition tells him “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / shall come against him.” (4.1.92-93). Each of these prophecies is also fulfilled in the course of the book, but they are incredibly misleading. The witches for the sake of confusion and overconfidence on Macbeth?s part do this purposefully, since they, as a general rule, conspire to injure mere mortals. Especially the last two prophecies instill a sense of invincibility in Macbeth, and encourage him to continue on his course just as his resolve begins to weaken. This false sense of fate and power on his part is a major factor in his downfall. So, the witches influence Macbeth by causing his ascension, his madness, and his demise.
The other side of Duncan?s murder is due to the contribution of Lady Macbeth, who begins plotting as soon as she finds out Duncan is coming to stay. Macbeth truly found his soul mate in this sense; she certainly does think along the same vein as he. However, the Lady doesn?t seem to be at all divided on the issue. When Macbeth first hears the prophecies, and when the first two come of them comes true, he does think of killing the king, but also, towards the end of Act 1, Scene 3, he thinks that perhaps he doesn’t need to do anything to become the king: “If chance will have me king, why, chance / may crown me without my stir.” (1.3.143-144). On the other hand, Lady Macbeth, on receiving the letter telling her about the witches’ prophecies, she immediately thinks that she and Macbeth will have to kill Duncan. She also decides that Macbeth is too nice to kill the king, saying that he “is too full o’ the milk of human kindness” (1.5.16). When she hears the Duncan will visit their castle that night, she immediately appeals to the evil spirits, to give her the strength to kill the king. She completely ignores the first influence of loyalty to Duncan, her influence is completely self motivated and originated in her own mind. She takes advantage of Macbeth?s original motivation, his ambition, and uses that to decide what he must do. She also appears to be made of sterner substance than her husband, or at least is more committed to the deed. It should be noted that she does not actually have to kill Duncan; so most of the strength she has to build up goes into convincing Macbeth that it is a good idea. Her influence on Macbeth in this matter is obviously great. He does not decide to murder Duncan; Lady Macbeth does it for him. He?s not too fond of the idea, but Lady Macbeth tells him he must commit murder to fulfill his destiny. Every time he reconsiders, she gives him a pep talk. She even instructs him during the murder, drugs Duncan?s guards, and advises him on every detail of his behavior once the deed has been done. She is the foundation of all of Macbeth?s actions in this matter, and it would not be a far cry to assume that she has always had an extreme influence on him. In short, Lady Macbeth uses Duncan?s presence and the opportunity to take his life to influence Macbeth into fulfilling the witches? prophecy and sealing his destiny.
The least influential party in all of this is King Duncan. The conflict between these two is purely circumstantial, but clear enough. Macbeth is, as stated, an ambitious man. The King represents the highest position of power that Macbeth can hope to achieve. The King is also a father figure, patronizing to his subjects and expectant of total servitude.
When King Duncan thanks Macbeth for his heroic service in battle, Macbeth replies that “Your highness’ part / is to receive our duties; and our duties / Are to your throne and state children and servants” (1.4.23-25). Macbeth’s metaphor expresses a common idea of the time: A King cares for his people as a father cares for his children; and the people are supposed to act like obedient children. In this way, Duncan?s very position is likely to grate against Macbeth. His actions do nothing to endear the King to Macbeth either. While rather obnoxious and rude to Macbeth, as well as snubbing him for a shot at the kingship, His Majesty is mostly unwitting to anything that is going on. Duncan?s main influence is directly after Macbeth is honored for bravery and courage in battle, fighting for Duncan against a rebel lord. Macbeth is busily basking in his own glory and soaking up credit when Duncan basically steals his spotlight from right over his head, proclaiming Malcolm, Duncan?s son, as the heir-apparent.
My plenteous joys, / wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves / in drops of sorrow. Sons, kinsmen, thanes, / and you whose places are the nearest, know we will establish our state upon / our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter / the Prince of Cumberland;” (1.4.34-39).
This action also belittles Macbeth?s achievement, since the procession of the throne is not necessarily dictated by bloodlines. Duncan is basically announcing that Macbeth, while noble, is inferior to his wonderful son Malcolm, and deserves a nice spot in the sun even though his actions were less. This is where Duncan provokes Macbeth to hate him and also points out what Macbeth must do to become King. After this provocation, Duncan proceeds to visit Macbeth?s home; blissfully unaware that anything might be amiss. “This castle hath a pleasant seat. The air / nimbly and sweetly recommends itself / unto our gentle senses.” (1.6.1-3). So, Duncan?s fate is sealed, and Macbeth slays him in order to become King. Let it never be said that Duncan did not hasten his own demise.
The witches, Lady Macbeth and King Duncan all affected Macbeth in a negative way. The witches make both Macbeth and his mate believe that it is possible and inevitable, his wife encouraged him to step forward and fulfill his destiny, and his King provided a reason for contempt and the opportunity to assume the throne. When one?s self and one?s surroundings agree with one another, a single path is opened as a possibility to the mind. Macbeth was bound to his actions as a lion is bound to kill or a bird is bound to fly. The message itself is clear enough; that no man is an island. Every person relies on the influences of those around him or her in order to form conceptions and decisions. Macbeth is a wonderful example of a man who was manipulated and used for the betterment of the lives of others.