Is Macbeth responsible for the tragic events which occur in the play?I have an introduction:It is an over-simplification to convey that Macbeth holds responsbilty for the tragic events that occur...

Is Macbeth responsible for the tragic events which occur in the play?

I have an introduction:

It is an over-simplification to convey that Macbeth holds responsbilty for the tragic events that occur in Macbeth. This leads to speculations about the other forces at work. These uncontrollable, external forces such as the supernatural, ambition, and patriarchal control, combined with the complex issues that are internal to the play: Lady Macbeth, insanity, the prophecy, concealment, masculinity, religion and irony, are the key factors which contribute and to a large extent are the reasons for the tragic events whic occur in Macbeth.

I know it is a really long introduction but i didn't know how else to answer the question. The problem is that i don't know how to continue the essay on.

I would really appreciate it, if you could help me along.

Thanks, xo.

Expert Answers
timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It might be helpful to move the question to a more general arena:  "What does it mean to be responsible for your actions?"  "It what sense could we not be responsible for our actions." 

There are many theories about this.  I know that the Catholic Church has traditionally considered the individual responsible for his/her actions starting at the age of 7 (the age when the first start the practice of confession).   Some of this is changing in our world; some now believe that brain development is not complete in young adults until they reach something around the age of 21, and therefore they are less than fully culpable for their actions until that age.  (I'm not sure where the age 21 comes from, but we'll use it as a benchmark).  Is there an age at which they assume culpability?  Or you can consider us from the viewpoint of a naturalist/determinist like Dreiser who sees us as moths powerlessly attracted to the flame, of a modern behaviorist like B. F. Skinner who believes that freedom is an illusion held by those who do not understand the many factors that determine our behavior (cf. "Beyond Freedom and Dignity"). From this perspective, the issue is moot since our freedom is essentially unidentified causality. 

That said, I cannot imagine that Macbeth would not be responsible for his actions.  If not he, who?  This is not to say that he exists in a vacuum and that there are no influences on his behavior; it is simply to state that he made the decision (admittedly a very bad decision made by an otherwise good man), and he alone must bear the responsibility for his actions. If this is not the case, what significance do his actions have for us?

robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an excellent question which touches on one of the key problems in Macbeth: are the events of the play Macbeth's fault? And, as so often with Shakespeare, you can construct an argument both ways.

The first interpretation might see the play as a tragedy of (what Macbeth himself calls) "vaulting ambition": Macbeth has always harboured the desire to be king (look at his soliloquy after the witches' prophecies, where he admits that his desires are not just "black" but "deep") and the play charts his course from worthy Thane to "dead butcher", fuelled by brutal ambition. Seen thus, the events of the play can be traced back to Macbeth himself as a character.

The second interpretation of the play might consider Macbeth as a man manipulated by forces outwith his control. "Peace! The charm's wound up" say the witches, shortly before Macbeth's first entrance: but what is the "charm" or spell that they have cast? Who does it effect? Is it the witches who make the dagger appear to "marshall" Macbeth towards Duncan's murder? Or are the dagger and Banquo's ghost figments of Macbeth's imagination?

You might argue one way, or a combination of both - not forgetting, of course, if you choose the first argument, the influence that Lady Macbeth has over her husband (see, particularly, Act 1, Scene 7). Both are plausible readings of Macbeth. Just remember to justify your argument using quotes from the text!

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the great questions in Macbeth is whether free will or outside forces are responsible for the actions in the play.  Do the events unfold simply because Macbeth chooses to become king, or does the supernatural influence his behavior.

In my opinion, it is a combination of both.  Macbeth had the seeds of desire within him to become king, so therefore, when given the prophecy, he seized the opportunity.  His behavior is heavily influenced by the witches, but, he already has within him a deep envy of the king and the prince.  His murderous nature emerges as a result of opportunity and the dark feelings that overtake him.  His greed and ambition overwhelm his good sense.

Lady Macbeth has a major role in the course of events in the play.  When Macbeth struggles with the conflict of whether or not to kill Duncan, she urges him over to the dark side.  She convinces him that he must not let this moment of destiny for them pass.  She is just as responsible for the events in the play as Macbeth.

So, it is a combination of human actions, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, in conjunction with the supernatural forces of the witches.  There is just enough suggestion from the witches to send Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into a bloody rampage.  They become consumed by the desire for power, unchecked ambition that is not informed or constrained by morality, law or conscience. 


litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Macbeth made choices based on his superstitions.  Like Oedipus, he was so worried about cheating the prophecy that he ends up bringing about his own doom. This is partly what makes him a tragic hero. He is so concerned with his death that he causes it.

duckie | Student

i was just wondering what everyones opinion is
do you agree that macbeth is a tragic hero or not??

kad4 | Student

I'm a little confused about the question. Is this an essay topic given to you, or did you create this topic? Is is possible to disagree with the question as stated? The nature of a Shakespearean tragedy by definition implies that the tragic hero has some tragic flaw within himself that leads to his downfall. Certainly other influences play a part, but ultimately, it is the choices made by the main character that create the tragedy. That said, it would be worthwhile to pursue an essay which examines the external forces working against Macbeth. As a thesis though, you may want to narrow your focus to the aspects you think have the most influence then proceed to examine that influence. Note that ambition is not an external influence - that is within Macbeth. I'm not sure where you are going with all the other ideas - for example religion and irony are elements of the play, but they don't really contribute to the "tragic events which occur."

Before you can continue your essay, you need to examine what you really have to say about the elements. For example, can you find supporting quotes to support that issues of concealment or masculinity somehow contribute to Macbeth's actions? I will suggest that you avoid the "Lady Macbeth made him do it" type of essay as it probably won't impress your teacher - though do examine her influence on Macbeth and how that influence changes throughout the play.

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