Macbeth had the potential to become a great and good man. His downfall is a tragedy; he is manipulated and influenced by others to his eventual death. Why, we ask ourselves, should this great warrior succumb to those around him?
Shakespeare s Macbeth is classed as a tragedy. This is when someone has great potential in life but who has an aspect of their personality which can be used in a negative way, both by the individual concerned and those around him. In Macbeth s case, his fatal flaw is ambition, this is particularly evident in act1, scene3 where he has murderous thoughts about the possibility of King Duncan s assassination;
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill, why hath it given me the earnest of success?
After these murderous thoughts, he consults Lady Macbeth who tries incredibly hard to force Macbeth to go ahead and to murder the unsuspecting king. Here she also goes on to exploit another of Macbeth s flaws. She has the ability to influence Macbeth through speech. Macbeth can easily be swayed when his wife talks to him and questions his masculinity. In one instance she says to him,
What beast was t then that made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it, then you were a man.
The conversation from which the above quotation was taken is very interesting. It involves only Macbeth and his wife. It lasts for approximately two minutes; during this time Macbeth has been so influenced by his wife s wishes that he changes his mind completely. Macbeth says one of the first lines in the conversation;
We will proceed no further with this business .
The business that he is referring to is the murder of King Duncan. After this line the conversation becomes heated and tense, Lady Macbeth tries a variety of means to try and persuade her husband to relent. These include several questionings of Macbeth s masculinity and cowardice. Just to illustrate what power Lady Macbeth has over her husband, we see that at the end of the conversation Macbeth says to his her:
Will it not be received, when we have marked with blood those sleepy two of his own chamber and used their very daggers, that they have done t .
So there it is then, proof that in two minutes Lady Macbeth can influence Macbeth to the point of changing his mind completely. To an extent Macbeth is putty in his wife s hands; she uses him to do the deeds for her. Without this added influence from his wife would Macbeth have fallen so far as to die?
The answer to that is probably yes. Even though Lady Macbeth, to a point, has Macbeth in her control, it is the influence of the witches that really begins his slide downward. You could say that the witches almost act as a catalyst, drawing Macbeth himself together with his conscience and his supernatural beliefs causing a reaction between them. Macbeth puts his faith into the witches as soon as Ross tells him that he has become thane of Cawdor. It is understandable that someone who has just been told by a now credited source of their future kingship should acknowledge and believe in the prophecy. The witches now realise that they have Macbeth in their power and they toy with his emotions enjoying every minute of their plot to corrupt him. We can see this in the text when the witches say;
Fair is foul and foul is fair
This statement basically describes the witches intent to destroy whatever is good and to brood the presence of murderous intention and action to all those individuals who allow themselves to be influenced and manipulated by it. We must remember that it was after meeting the witches for the second time and seeing the apparitions that made Macbeth vow to kill all members of Macduff s family.
When Macbeth was staged in Shakespeare s time, King James the 1st ruled England, James had a huge interest in witches and witchcraft and wrote a book on the subject. England at that time was a Christian country and both Catholics and Protestants, (although deep divisions existed between them), believed in Heaven and Hell and lived in fear of eternal damnation. Eternal damnation, it was believed, was one of the main consequences of witchcraft, so witches were to be avoided at all costs. There is however, evidence in the play that both Macbeth and his wife are already seized by demonic possession, could the witches have induced this?
There are eight key quotes from the text that illustrate demonic possession;
Trance: Look how our partner s rapt . Banquo says to both Ross and Angus about Macbeth. Act 1, Scene 3.
Changed appearance: Why do you make such faces? Lady Macbeth addresses her husband. Act 3, Scene 4.
Inability to pray: Amen, stuck in my throat . Macbeth says to his wife. Act 2, Scene 2.
Visions: Is this a dagger which I see before me? Macbeth in a soliloquy. Act 2, Scene 1.
Disturbed behaviour: I have a strange infirmity . Macbeth says to the lords. Act 3, Scene 4.
Lack of fear: I have almost forgotten the taste of fears . Macbeth says to Seyton. Act 5, Scene 5.
Indifference to life: She should have died hereafter . Macbeth says to Seyton of his wife. Act 5, Scene 5.
Invitations for evil spirits to posses one s body: Come you spirits . Lady Macbeth calling on the evil spirits. Act 1, Scene 5.
So there we can see that Macbeth is influenced by his wife and the witches. During the course of the play he is ruined through their actions, but in the end everything stems from his flaws and we still must remember that Macbeth s cruel and calculating brain knows what he is doing and his and must remain responsible for all of the physical things that he done wrong. Just to illustrate the extent of his downfall, at the start of the play, Macbeth is referred to as brave , he is trusted and respected by the noblemen of Scotland. At the end of the play however, he is denounced by Macduff as a hell-hound , a villain , a coward and a tyrant . If Macbeth had not been so ambitious, I doubt very much that his life would have ended like this.