How to Study Macbeth

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Is Macbeth’s descent from a celebrated warrior into a treacherous individual brought about by external forces?

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One way to look at Macbeth's character arc is to see it as influenced heavily by outside forces. These forces come in the form of the witches and Lady Macbeth. When the story begins, Macbeth is the hero of Scotland. He receives lavish praise from King Duncan for his prowess...

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One way to look at Macbeth's character arc is to see it as influenced heavily by outside forces. These forces come in the form of the witches and Lady Macbeth. When the story begins, Macbeth is the hero of Scotland. He receives lavish praise from King Duncan for his prowess on the battlefield; the king promotes him to Thane of Cawdor. At first, Macbeth is pleased by these honors and wishes nothing more for himself.

This modest ambition grows uncontrollably when the witches tell him that he will become the king of Scotland.

All hail Macbeth! That shalt be king hereafter! (Act 1, Scene 3, 50)

Of course, for Macbeth to become king, Duncan must die. Macbeth thinks that he will need to commit regicide in order to fulfill this fate.

Lady Macbeth is also a negative external influence on Macbeth. From the very start, she is as ambitious as Macbeth eventually becomes himself. She expertly manipulates her husband. She plays on his doubts to convince him that he must commit ghastly deeds in order to prove his love for her and cement his worth as a man. It is she who hatches the murderous plot and carries out every deadly act save for the slaying of Duncan himself. It is clear that she is the dominant force in the marriage; Macbeth is simply a pawn to her.

Macbeth certainly does have internal forces that play a big role in his fall. His ambition, self-doubt, and indecisiveness lead him astray. However, it seems as though these traits would not have been enough on their own. It takes the manipulations of the witches and his wife to drive him to folly. This fall from grace makes him a tragic hero in the most classic sense.

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