5. Describe and analyze the heinous act of moral degeneracy that Macbeth commits in scene 2 of Act IV. Explain what you think his motives are and how the murders lead to the witches' equivocations...

5. Describe and analyze the heinous act of moral degeneracy that Macbeth commits in scene 2 of Act IV. Explain what you think his motives are and how the murders lead to the witches' equivocations in Act V?

6. While both the first and second set of witches' predictions for Macbeth seem supernatural, the plot seems to work out naturally. Explain whether you think each prediction predestines Macbeth's  fate or is a mere literal suggestion which influences how Macbeth decides to exercise his free will?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is in Act IV, sc. 2 where Macbeth's moral degeneracy reaches a particularly gruesome point. To order the killing of Macduff's wife and child is savage.  Shakespeare does not relent in articulating this.  As he details the tender exchange between mother and son about a lost father, he intersperses it with the messenger who relays the danger intended for both mother and son.  As mother defiantly faces her assassins, she is forced to watch her son killed before her eyes.

Such brutality is particularly painful to witness.  It reflects how Macbeth's transgressions cannot be excused as merely ambition or the desire for power.  The act of killing a wife and child reflects how Macbeth's own moral degeneracy has escalated to a point where all notions of right and wrong have been abandoned.  In commissioning these murders, Macbeth seems to be continually referring back to the Witches' prophecies.  Almost as child clinging to a security blanket, Macbeth reminds himself in Act V of these prophecies as a type of justification for his actions: "I cannot taint with fear. What’s the boy Malcolm?/ Was he not born of woman? The spirits that know All mortal consequences have pronounced me thus: /“Fear not, Macbeth. No man that’s born of woman/ Shall e'er have power upon thee."  Macbeth is not tainted with fear because he believes that what the Witches' prophecies are true and thus all he has done, including the savagery in the second scene of Act IV, is justified.

As seen in how Macbeth holds tight to the witches' prophecies in Act V, I think that Macbeth's actions are influenced by the witches.  Consider how he reacts to them when he first hears of them in Act I, scene 3.  He is taken aback, almost to a point where Banquo must steady him in telling him that such prophecies are actually good.  Macbeth's behavior is influenced by the words of the witches.  Macbeth's behavior or free will is shown to be directly impacted by what the witches say.  When Macbeth commands them to speak more before they initially depart, it reveals how much Macbeth's free will is influenced by the thought of what the future might hold for him: "You owe this strange intelligence, or why/ Upon this blasted heath you stop our way/ With such prophetic greeting. Speak, I charge you." Macbeth gears his free will towards the fulfillment of the witches' prophecies in Act II, scene 1: "I go, and it is done: the bell invites me."  In this moment, Macbeth believes in the convergence of his own free will with the words of the witches.  Another such example is seen in how Macbeth believes that his function is not to be smothered by surmise. Macbeth is deliberate in ensuring that his actions align with the words of the Witches.  Macbeth is driven to make his fate aligned with the vision that the Witches outline to him.  It is in this regard where the plot ends up unfolding accordingly.

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