How would you defend Macbeth in a trial against the crime of being a murderer, tyrant and usurper?

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First, we should establish who we mean by Macbeth. If we are referring to the historical figure who was King of Scotland from 1040 to 1057, then the defense is easy. There is no good evidence that Macbeth was a murderer, a tyrant or a usurper. He seems to...

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First, we should establish who we mean by Macbeth. If we are referring to the historical figure who was King of Scotland from 1040 to 1057, then the defense is easy. There is no good evidence that Macbeth was a murderer, a tyrant or a usurper. He seems to have been a good king by the standards of his time and he, or his troops, killed Duncan honorably in battle when Duncan invaded Macbeth's territory. Our defense is that Macbeth was grossly defamed by Shakespeare, Holinshed and numerous other sources; no crimes can be proved against him. We should probably also sue Shakespeare and his sources for libel.

If we are referring only to the character in Shakespeare's play, however, we would have to defend him against his murder of Duncan, and his suborning the murders of Banquo, Lady Macduff, and her children (we do not know exactly how many children, but Macduff refers to "all my pretty chickens," which suggests at least three). Tyranny and usurpation are less precise charges than murder, and will probably not be pressed if the murder charges, particularly the murder of Duncan, can be successfully defended.

We have not specified the legal system under which Macbeth would be tried. If Scottish law applies, there are certain ancient peculiarities of that system which might be helpful to Macbeth, including the possible third verdict of "not proven," between guilty and not guilty. Perhaps the best thing a lawyer could do is what is called "putting the prosecution to proof," which is to say, offering no defense, but simply requiring the prosecution to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Since there are no witnesses, this would actually be quite a difficult task. If one did enter a defense, the best one would be "not guilty by reason of insanity." The defense lawyer could point out that the client is subject to hallucinations, and has claimed to see witches, airborne daggers and ghosts. It is worth noting that a successful plea of insanity will not, of course, lead to acquittal. Macbeth would simply be committed to a mental institution instead of a prison.

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Macbeth only commits one murder himself (unless you count the people he kills in combat at the end of the play). That murder, of course, is regicide, which is about as odious a crime as one could commit in Macbeth's day. So there are really only two ways one could go about defending him on this murder. One is to plead insanity. Macbeth might have been able to argue on these grounds by saying he was driven to commit the murder by the witches, who manipulated him, or by visions (like the dagger) which literally led him to the King's chamber. Another would be to convince a jury that his wife had really prompted him to kill the King, as he had decided not to commit the deed by the time she showed up in act 1, scene 7.

But neither of these would be likely to exonerate him. Against a charge of usurping the throne, Macbeth could argue that Malcolm, the rightful heir, fled the kingdom when his father was murdered. So did Donalbain, Malcolm's younger brother. This left Macbeth as the heir with the best claim on the throne. But again, Macbeth himself was responsible for the murder, so it would be difficult to argue on these grounds. As for being a tyrant, it is difficult to know. There are multiple references to Macbeth's tyranny while king, especially by Malcolm and Macduff in act 4, scene 3. But these are Macbeth's enemies, and he had some loyalists as well. Overall, since the entire play revolves around Macbeth's descent into conspiracy, murder, and evil, defending him at a trial would be a difficult job indeed.

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I would so blame it on his wife. I would go gung-ho for that defense. I would play the, "he's a victim," card. His wife was overpowering, threatening, and manipulating. She emotionally abused him (when she called him names and so forth) and he suffers from battered spouse syndrome. Battered spouse syndrome made him very suseptible to his wife's influence. Therefore, she's the true murderer. Even though Macbeth took action, her manipulation of him made it such that she might as well have been holding the knife herself. In fact, each time he killed, she was holding the knife, in a metaphoric way. As Macbeth killed each character, he always had his wife's voice in the back of his mind. He was powerless against her and had no choice but to execute her will.

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If I were a lawyer for Macbeth, I think the best line of defense would be to try to push the blame off on Lady Macbeth. Macbeth seemed to have decided that he couldn't kill Duncan no matter what the prophecy said, but then his wife started calling him names and questioning his masculinity. While you probably couldn't get the charges completely dropped, you might be able to get them reduced. Depending on when this trial was being held, you could probably use her sleeping confession to the nurse as evidence against her.

Another method might be taking the good 'ole insanity plea. After all, Macbeth was talking to magical witches in the middle of the night and does see apparitions on a pretty consistent basis.

Finally, there is still the third grader playground defense: you can't prove it. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth did a pretty decent job of framing the king's guards in the first place. If you could convince a jury that the subsequent actions were out of extreme guilt for the loss of a king and friend, you'd probably be able to create reasonable doubt!

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