In Macbeth, how does Macbeth go from being a noble hero to a worried villain?

Expert Answers info

William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write5,416 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

In constructing his play, Shakespeare must have realized that it wouldn't do to have Macbeth become a good king after murdering Duncan. There may have been a few people who suspected him of the crime, but for a short time he was in a secure position as the legally elected king. If he had been a beneficent ruler--as no doubt he initially intended to be--he might have gone on ruling for the rest of his life. And if he and his wife could manage to produce a son, that boy would succeed Macbeth as the lawful monarch. The English king would not want to interfere in Scottish politics merely to help Malcolm claim the throne which was rightfully his. For all the English king knows, Malcolm might have been guilty of bribing the grooms to murder his father. Shakespeare knew that Macbeth had to become a villain and a tyrant in order to meet his downfall. This would give Malcolm and Macduff the justification to overthrow him and give the English king the motivation to supply them with the means to do it. They needed an army. Macbeth should have tried to be an ideal monarch after he usurped the Scottish throne. What turned him around was that he couldn't stand the thought of Banquo benefiting from his assassination and usurpation. He had disgraced himself in his own eyes and sold his soul to the devil for the benefit of Banquo and all of Banquo's descendants. 

He chid the sisters,
When first they put the name of King upon me,
And bade them speak to him; then prophet-like
They hail'd him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench'd with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If't be so,
For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind,
For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered,
Put rancors in the vessel of my peace
Only for them, and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!

The other thanes were apparently content to have Macbeth as king and to accept the fabrication that Malcolm and Donalbain had been responsible for their father's murder. The thanes, naturally, were concerned about their own titles and properties, and they needed a king to secure them. But when Macbeth makes a deplorable scene at the inauguration banquet, it becomes blatantly obvious to everyone that he was responsible for Banquo's murder and therefore was probably responsible for Duncan's as well.

Thou canst not say I did it: never shake
Thy gory locks at me.

Prithee, see there! Behold! Look! Lo! How say
Why, what care I? If thou canst nod, speak too.
If charnel houses and our graves must send
Those that we bury back, our monuments
Shall be the maws of kites.

After this scene Macbeth loses the trust of all the thanes. If Macbeth can murder Banquo and probably murder Duncan, then who is safe from this madman? Macbeth is then forced to rule by terror, and this is the turning point, the beginning of the end for him. He makes matters worse by having Macduff's whole family slaughtered by his soldiers, intending to make Macduff a lesson to anyone else who might be thinking of deserting him. In the end he has no one he can trust. The witches encourage him to be "bloody, bold and resolute," but, after all, they have been the agents of his ruin ever since he first met them on the blasted heath. 

I have lived long enough. My way of life
Is fall'n into the sear,...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 1,194 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Angie Waters eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2012

write2,386 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Math, and Social Sciences

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial