Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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How does Macbeth change after the murder Duncan?

Before he kills King Duncan, Macbeth is apprehensive about the idea of murder. Immediately after the killing, Macbeth is haunted by intense guilt; he is hallucinating voices, and he fears that he is cursed never to sleep again. After the first murder, though, Macbeth's reservations about killing seem to become fewer and fewer. He orders the killings of Banquo and his son, and of Macduff's family, with apparent ease—he doesn't seem to feel guilty anymore. He has become a fierce tyrant.

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Michelle Barry, M.B.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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After Duncan’s murder, Macbeth becomes a hardened man. He seems to become inured to death and to killing. This is not to say that Macbeth was unaccustomed to death and even to killing before Duncan’s murder, but he only killed on the battlefield. In fact, before we even see Macbeth make his initial appearance on the stage, we learn that he is a valiant soldier. An unnamed sergeant says of him to Duncan,

For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name—
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour's minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave

In fact, it is the sergeant’s speech that is one of the factors that prompts Dunce to promote Macbeth to Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth begins to contemplate greater things than being a thane. Spurred by his wife, he agrees to murder Duncan, although he initially is hesitant. Specifically, he tells Lady Macbeth:

We will proceed no further in this business:
He hath honour'd me of late;

However, Lady Macbeth convinces him to murder the king, and Macbeth changes. In his quest to attain and retain power, he has Banquo, one of his close friends, murdered. Afterwards, he has become so hardened to life and the sanctity of life that he hypocritically toasts Banquo:

And to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss;
Would he were here! to all, and him, we thirst

His becoming a colder man is perhaps best exemplified in his comment upon hearing of the death of Lady Macbeth. He says, “She should have died hereafter.” By contrast, when we first see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth tougher on the stage, he greets his wife by calling her “My dearest love.” The progression from thinking of his wife as his “dearest love” and coldly commenting that it was inconvenient of her to die when she did shows how much Macbeth has become a harder, uncaring man consumed only with his own ambition.

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After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth struggles terribly with his guilt.  He worries that he could not pronounce the holy word, "Amen," when one of Duncan's chamberlains said, "God bless us" (2.2.39, 2.2.40).  Macbeth fears that this means that he is damned.  Further, he hears a voice cry out that he will never be able to sleep peacefully again because he murdered Duncan while he was asleep and powerless.  In fact, Macbeth is so guilt-ridden that he mistakenly brings the murder weapons with him from the room, and when Lady Macbeth orders him to return them, he cannot.  He says, "I'll go no more. / I am afraid to think what I have done" (2.2.65-66).  Macbeth feels that there is so much blood on his hands that, if he plunged them into the ocean, the blood would turn the whole sea red.  Obviously, this cannot be true, but the exaggeration works in the service of another truth: Macbeth's guilt is overwhelming him.

However, Macbeth's guilt fades away quickly.  Though he'd felt a great deal of ambivalence regarding the murder of Duncan, he seems to experience no hesitation whatsoever when ordering his next murders: his former best friend, Banquo, and Banquo's son, Fleance.  Then, after Banquo's murder, instead of guilt, Macbeth feels only anger that Fleance is still alive.  No more worrying about the state of his soul; now he worries only about the security of his throne.

He grows more vicious, certainly, and more ruthless.  And in his desperation to maintain his power, Macbeth does become paranoid.  After the dinner party at which he sees Banquo's ghost, he tells Lady Macbeth of the lords, "There's not a one of them but in his house / I keep a servant fee'd" (3.4.163-164).  In other words, despite their apparent loyalty to him, Macbeth pays a spy in each of the noble's homes to report back to him.

In Macbeth's most brutal act yet, he orders the deaths of Macduff's innocent wife, children, and even servants to punish Macduff for his disloyalty.  Macbeth's growing brutality is actually conveyed by the way the murder scenes are portrayed.  Duncan's murder takes place off stage; we only see Macbeth's reaction to it.  Macbeth becomes more ruthless, and Banquo's murder takes place on stage, but at least his child gets away.  Finally, at his most tyrannical and evil, the audience witnesses the murder of a woman and her children on the stage, preventing us from maintaining any form of sympathy with him; at this point, Macbeth is a monster.

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Macbeth certainly does feel paranoia and guilt after Duncan's murder.  However, as the play progresses, he doesn't hesitate to murder again to achieve his goal of beoming king.  After he orders Banquo and Fleance's murder (he perceives them as threats to his goal), Banquo is killed but Fleance gets away.  He sees Banquo's ghost at a dinner in his home, proving not only his paranoia but his progressive loss of sanity.  However, he is angry with the murderers for allowing Fleance to get away and expresses how this loose end throws a monkey wrench in his plans.  Finally, his relationship with Lady Macbeth, formally very strong and based on mutual support, changes dramatically because of his tragic flaw of thirsting for power.  He refuses to share the additional murders he has planned, causing a major breakdown in their relationship. 

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chloemink eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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When Macbeth returns after the murder of Duncan he is distraught and regrets the murder he has committed. Macbeth feels so guilty for the act that his mind projects voices that condemn him. He will no longer have the piece of mind that he had before the murder.

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snelfiesxo | Student

sorry idk

bub1 | Student

after the murder macbeth changes. in act 2 scene 2. he is very fearful and hears voices. also in this scene macbeth says "i could not say 'amen'" this shows he knows what he done was wrong. so he may have tried to make up for his wrong doing.