Macbeth's Downfall

What causes the downfall of MacBeth?

Expert Answers
pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth's downfall is attributed to a sense of over-confidence and unchecked ambition, and the impact of the witch's prophecy all three seal Macbeth's fate and his destruction 

At the start of the play, Macbeth is a loyal, courageous servant of the King of Scotland, but he is a man who harbors a hidden ambition for power.  He is both noble and brave in his defense of the King in battle, he is rewarded for his actions.  Macbeth has an encounter with a trio of witches and his life is changed.

Once the witches show him his future, he becomes obsessed with speeding up the anticipated coming into power.  He is told he will be King of Scotland, so Macbeth makes it happen by killing the King, which casts a shadow of doubt on his two sons, thereby allowing Macbeth to ascend to the throne.

Once Macbeth seizes power through violence and murder, his life is darkened with the crime of regicide, he has killed a rightful, good and much loved king.  His life begins to fall apart after this because he develops a serious case of paranoia over having the crown stolen from him.

He becomes a slash and burn murderer and he loses sight of his humanity, he has no morality governing his actions.  He thinks that he will be able to maintain his power through murder and intimidation.

This leads to Macbeth's isolation from everyone, his wife commits suicide and Macbeth is killed by Macduff.

eabettencourt eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth is typically considered to be a tragic hero, so most would believe his tragic flaw is what causes his downfall.  Arguably, this tragic flaw is his blinding ambition or his lust for power.  He is so blinded by this that he neglects to make wise (or moral) choices, such as trusting the witches or becoming so steeped in murder that he feels he can never go back.

kierabug2010 | Student

Macbeth's downfall is caused by Macbeth himself.  Some could even say that it was fate.  Macbeth chose his own path that ended in his own self destruction.  It was Macbeth that chose not to listen to the weird sisters and Macbeth who chise to take his wife's advice in murdering Duncan.  Macbeth knew the risks he was taking and ended up being the cause of his own demise.

Yojana_Thapa | Student

Macbeth's downfall is caused by the society and himself. Gender plays a big role in this play by Shakespeare. Macbeth being the tragic hero is a man and as a man in his society is expected to be strong and violent. Lady Macbeth manipulated him into killing Duncan. She manipulated him by making him prove his manhood.  

Lady Macbeth says "Unsex me" "take my milk for gall(poison)". This dialogue says a lot because for her a man is associated to be fearless, evil, and violent. Also in the beginning of the play the captain talks about Macbeth's violent act. He in fact praises it. So in this society violence is a good thing for a man. It defines a man. 

This is what was expected in this society. In Macbeth's soliloquy he expresses his inner feeling saying that he doesn't want to kill Duncan because there is absolutely no reason. Everybody loves Duncan. When he tells Lady Macbeth that he doesn't want to kill Duncan, after what  she says, he transforms. You know why? Because he wants to prove himself. Every time Macbeth shows signs of weakness , Lady Macbeth falters him saying that he is less of a man. Lady Macbeth manipulates him saying that he will be more of man if he does this deed. A lot is expected of him. 

Macbeth tries to fit into this role by killing Duncan and finally proving to his wife that he is a man. The guilt is constantly killing Lady Macbeth, that now a little water won't wash away the blood that is stained in her hand. Blood is a motif, it is stained in their hearts. She commits suicide because of the guilt.

Macbeth in the other hand goes far from killing Duncan. he kills Macduff's wife and his children, when they aren't even a threat to him. He kills Banquo, who's ghost triggers him. All of this causes his downfall. The fact that he tried to fit in his role as a violent man. Macduff on the other hand represents the good notion in this play. He says that he will fight back with remorse (feelings). According to him a man has feelings. He won at the end because he represents the good notion.

bettykirkers | Student

There are many factors that can be argued to cause the downfall of Macbeth; the first being his hubris (fatal flaw): “vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself”. This, Macbeth himself states, is the only impetus behind his desire to kill Duncan. This ambition lies dormant until the witches promise that he will be “king hereafter”, a statement which manifests in a murderous action plan. The murderous path Macbeth embarks on as a result of the prophecy can be said to cause his downfall as “blood will have blood” – eventually Macbeth must pay for his crimes.

To this extent, the downfall of Macbeth can be attributed to the duplicity of the witches. Through their equivocation they lull Macbeth into a false sense of security, as he believes no one “borne of woman” can hurt him. Unbeknown to him, Macduff was born through caesarean section and thus not “borne” so much as “taken” from woman. This lack of access to the entire truth sees Macbeth eventually killed; a sentiment epitomised by Banquo’s wise words that foreshadow the eventual fate of the play’s namesake:

The instruments of darkness tell us truths
Win us with honest trifles
To betray’s in deepest consequence

Therefore the downfall of Macbeth can be attributed to the deceitful, scheming witches, and perhaps even circumstance, as this puts him in their path.

Furthermore, his wife does not help him along the way. Her mockery of his manliness “when you durst do it then you were a man” forces him to act to retain her affection. She persuades him to act through emotional manipulation, following his declaration that “we will proceed no further in this business” and can thus be said to play a key role in the downfall of Macbeth.

There is also evidence to suggest that the play Macbeth is a means by which Shakespeare can explore ideas about psychological evil and mania; from Macbeth declaring that he “hath murdered sleep” it can be said that Macbeth begins his 'downfall'. As his physical health deteriorates his choices grow increasingly questionable – from hiring murderers to kill his best friend and his son, to the murder of Macduff’s innocent wife and babes. Perhaps, therefore, one reason for the downfall of Macbeth is his own mental health. The idea of mania is epitomised in “is this a dagger which I see before me?” and is a credible explanation as to why the “brave and noble Macbeth” is reduced to merely a “dead butcher” by the plays conclusion. 

emilyhoang7 | Student

Macbeth's downfall was Lady Macbeth, the 3 Witches and Macbeth himself.

Macbeth caused his downfall due to over-confidence and ambition. When the witches told him his prophecies, he believed it. He becomes obsessed with all the power, Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and King. When he was told he will be King of Scotland, Macbeth knew it meant something will happen in order for him to become king. In page 29, Macbeth says “If change will have me king, why change may crown me.” Macbeth was clearly getting obnoxious and wanting the prophesies to be true. When Macbeth starts becoming violence and murdering all the people he once cared about, his life fell apart. He starts having paranoia because he killed Duncan and his close friend Banquo. He was so fond of power; he was blinded by all the good choices he could’ve made. Macbeth was his own enemy.



albomamii | Student

The witches' Prophecy causes Macbeth's downfall.Also the witches were poking fun at him making him believe that even though he committed all those murders he'd be safe until someone not born of woman challened him and until Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane Castle which happens later on in the play.But Macbeth should have listened to the apparition when it said "Beware Macduff." becuase little did Macbeth know Macduff was technically not born of woman.He was born from a sea-section.