Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

Macbeth book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Are there any sympathetic characters in Macbeth?

Expert Answers info

huntress eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write373 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and Law and Politics

I think it would be fun and interesting to argue that MacBeth is a sympathetic character, at least in the beginning. He is honorable and brave in the beginning, and even after the Weird Sisters tell him he "shall be king hereafter," he is reticent about taking Duncan's life. He is pushed to do it--or at least begin the deed--by his wife, who lacks or suppresses the very humanity that makes him balk. She challenges his manhood, and he still does not finish the deed; she has to go in and do it for him. After this, he is plagued with guilt and continues down the path he has chosen only because "I am in blood / Stepped in so far that should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er" (III.4.142-5). 

He is a villain, of course, because he lacks the backbone to stand up to his wife, but that does not negate his being sympathetic. 

I would argue that we are meant to sympathize with MacBeth as it helps us see how easily we ourselves might sink to the same depths of depravity. 

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

August Billingsley, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Professor

bookPh.D. from Columbia University

calendarEducator since 2006

write46 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and History

One opinion is that the most sympathetic character in Macbeth is the priest who prays, watching Lady Macbeth. In the "sleep walking" scene, one of the most poignant, scary, and psychologically modern scene in an Elizabethan play, the priest prays for the sinner's soul, for Lady Macbeth:

Foul whisperings are abroad,

Unnatural souls do breed unnatural troubles,

Infected minds to their deaf pillows

Discharge their secret

God, God, forgive us all!

Notice, that in these lines, there is not a word of blame; only lament for what is unnatural (In the Elizabethan world order, to go against nature was the most horrible crime -- and murder was unnatural). "Infected minds to their deaf pillows/Discharge their secrets" -- it is the priest who understands human nature,he is a psychologist before "psychology" was invented.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write5,416 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Some of the minor characters in the play are sympathetic. The Doctor attending Lady Macbeth seems very authentic in his speech and mannerisms. We sympathize with him because he is dealing with a patient whose ailments he feels powerless to cure and also because he has to deal with the patient's husband, who is acting like a madman and expressing contempt for physicians. Lady Macduff and her young son both seem like sympathetic characters, although they only appear in one scene. We admire the courage of the boy when confronted by a terrible murderer, and we feel pity for his mother who is alone and defenseless. Lennox, who is just a young lad, is sympathetic because he is dragged through all kinds of harrowing scenes. One might describe the Porter as a sympathetic character because he is funny and harmless.

Banquo is a major character who seems entirely sympathetic. He keeps his poise and dignity throughout. We feel some pity for him when he is ruthlessly murdered and while the murderers are trying to capture his son Fleance. Malcolm also seems like a sympathetic character, as noted in the first answer above. Duncan, too, is a sympathetic character.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write5,848 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

There are a number of sympathetic characters in Macbeth. Duncan, for example, is portrayed from the beginning of the play as trusting, and seems to be universally respected by the characters, including Macbeth, as a strong, decent leader. It is significant that Macbeth evinces so much guilt for killing him.

Macduff, on the other hand, can be interpreted as being responsible for his family's murder, but he expresses extreme remorse for leaving them, and is ultimately the man who does the most to return legitimate rule to Scotland. He is the character who brings about something approximating justice, both for the slain Duncan and Banquo and for his family, in this otherwise startlingly bleak play.

Malcolm is also a sympathetic character, though some of the characters briefly suspect that he has something to do with his father's murder when he flees to England. He emerges, however, as a strong and wise leader, using a clever ruse to determine whether Macduff is sincere in his claims to support him:

The king-becoming graces, 
As justice, verity, temperance, stableness, 
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness 
Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude, 
I have no relish of them...

Malcolm's trick, which is to claim to be a lecherous coward, so distresses Macduff that Malcolm knows he is sincere and that he has Scotland's best interests at heart. In this way, two of the play's most sympathetic figures reveal their true character.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

theasiangangster | Student

King Duncan

He trusted and liked him.

King Duncan's Guards

They were framed.


He was Macbeth's closest friend 


He lost his whole family.

Macduff's wife and family

They didn't do anything wrong and the children were so young.

Young Siward

He lost his life fighting Macbeth.


diali | Student

i think King Duncan, Lady Macbeth and Macduff

nicoledesilva | Student

Sorry, I meant Lady Macbeth and not Mecbeth.

nicoledesilva | Student

You can also count Lady Mecbeth as a sympathetic character as afterwards she has nightmares about that night and cannot have a peaceful sleep. She is not a sympathetic character throughout the play as at the start she actually urges Macbeth to kill Duncan. It is only in the second half of the play that we can sympathise with her as her death didn't even cause any greif to Macbeth.