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There are several other circumstances when Macbeth is manipulative other than when he manipulates the men who kill Banquo. Let’s take a look at one in particular.
In Act II, sc iii, Macduff arrives early in the morning to wake Duncan as he was instructed. We, the audience, know that Duncan has been murdered already and is lying dead in his bed. Macduff, who finds him there and is obviously horrified by finding his king this way, informs the other thanes that the king has been murdered. At that point, Macbeth (even though he knows exactly what the scene looks like) and Lennox go into the King’s chamber to see for themselves. While there, Macbeth kills Duncan’s guards. When Macbeth returns to the room where those who had been asleep have gathered because of the commotion, Macbeth says that in his fury he killed the guards. When asked why did so, he says,
“Who can be wise, amazed, temp'rate, and furious,
Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man.
Th' expedition of my violent love
Outrun the pauser, reason. Here lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood,
And his gashed stabs looked like a breach in nature
For ruin’s wasteful entrance; there, the murderers,
Steeped in the colors of their trade, their daggers
Unmannerly breeched with gore. Who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make ’s love known?
This is good reasoning in 11th century Scotland. A battle weary thane finds his king dead—worse—murdered. who wouldn’t expect him to take immediate revenge? By his own estimation he had no time to “reason”; he saw Duncan’s “skin laced with his golden blood” and the guard’s “daggers unmannerly breeched with gore.” He knows that all of the others present in the castle would understand his response—and he uses this emotional appeal as a means to manipulate them. If they, too, would have been so enraged by Duncan’s death, well, then…how could they blame Macbeth for doing what they would have done? This is exactly Macbeth’s argument, and it’s perfectly timed!
We realize, though, that he most certainly did not murder the guards for this reason—he has a reason far more important: his safety. This is where his manipulation begins. If the guards are dead, they cannot wake up and claim they were drugged. They cannot claim they absolutely did not kill their king. They cannot defend Malcolm and Donalbain’s innocence. As a whole, they cannot divert suspicion away from them if they are, in fact, dead. Therefore, Macbeth makes it so, and by doing this, he protects himself from getting caught. There is nowhere else to look for a murderer, so Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are in the clear.
One thing you may want to note: This example of Macbeth’s manipulation after Duncan dies is probably spur of the moment—neither he nor Lady Macbeth mentions killing the guards as part of their initial plan.
There certainly are other ways in which Macbeth continues to manipulate as the play proceeds. Keep an eye out for more as you read.
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