How was Macbeth destroyed in Shakespeare's Macbeth?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth is destroyed by his credence in the witches' predictions, his "vaulting ambition," his paranoia, and his inability to overcome his guilt.

While Macbeth is a brave man, he is not a man of virtue. In the first act, Macbeth encounters the blurring of good and evil because the witches consider the meaning of their words relative. That is, they contend that what is good will be bad and what is bad will be good: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” (1.1.10) After listening to the witches, it is not difficult for Macbeth to later be tempted by their predictions. Although he suffers pangs of conscience when considering his first murder—he plans the murder of his kinsman King Duncan in whom Macbeth recognizes goodness—his "vaulting ambition which o'er leaps itself" (1.7.27) drives Macbeth to this act of regicide. Further, his lack of skill in political intrigue produces a growing paranoia in Macbeth which causes him to feel that he must eliminate any threats to his kingship. When he has Banquo killed, Macbeth sees his friend's ghost because of his guilt. Later, the paranoid Macbeth has Macduff's wife and son murdered.

Unlike other Shakespearean villains, Macbeth is unable to rid himself of self-doubt and guilt. Because of his inability to harden himself like a real villain, Macbeth suffers just like Lady Macbeth. That is, his guilt overcomes him, and he falls into mental decline. Macbeth expresses his nihilism with the death of Lady Macbeth, and he later imagines that another of the witches' predictions comes true as Birnam Wood seems to move.  Finally, choosing to die like a warrior, Macbeth arms himself and enters the field of battle where Macduff kills him. 

arkaless | Student

Primarily Macbeth was destroyed by his own "vaulting ambition". An exceptionally gifted soldier and an widely admired general of the Scottish king, Duncan, Macbeth had nurtured a secret ambition to become the king. The "supernatural soliciting" of the witches after his exemplary victory in the battles spurred the passion-horse of his ambition. Equipped with the hardened logistic and emotional support of his wife, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth killed Duncan to usurp the throne. but a man both fair and foul, Macbeth was sharply self-divided between his unscrupulous ambition and his moral conscience. Suffering from a sense of insecurity and fear, Macbeth gets Banquo killed, but Banquo's son escapes the killers. Macbeth moves from to fear and betrays his murderous nature at the coronation banquet before all the nobles of Scotland. He unleashes a reign of terror through bloodshed and murder. Macduff's wife and sons are also ruthlessly put to death. At last the retribution overtakes Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The latter becomes a victim of somnambulism and kills herself. Macbeth goes down to defeat and death at the hands of Macduff, as Duncan's son, Malcolm, leads an English army to the Dunsinane hill for the ouster of the usurper king of Scotland. Macbeth is thus destroyed as an example of self-damnation, his own "foul" engulfing the "fair" in him.

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Macbeth

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