Who do you blame more for the murder of King Duncan?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare wanted to make Macbeth a tragedy, which meant that the audience needed to have some sympathy for the protagonist. I believe that Shakespeare was trying to shift part of the blame for Macbeth's actions onto his wife, and also that he was trying to shift some part onto the Weird Sisters. Macbeth seems to be trying to talk himself out of killing Duncan.

He's here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off,
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other—     (I.7)

If Macbeth were simply a villain, the audience would have no sympathy for him. In that case they wouldn't feel any pity for him when he can't sleep, when he is tortured by guilty memories, and when he meets his end at the hands of Macduff. In this case. however, we do feel a tiny bit of sympathy for Macbeth throughout the play. It is hard to explain why. It must be--not because he is a nice guy--but because he feels emotions which make him seem human, even decent. He feels reluctant to kill Duncan. He feels terrible guilt right after he accomplishes the deed. He goes through torture when he has to escort Macduff to the chamber where he knows Duncan is lying dead. He tells himself that he wished he had died himself. He never gets over his feelings of guilt, grief, remorse, regret, sorrow, pity, and extreme depression. He wouldn't do it if he had it to do all over again--but it is too late.

What's done cannot be undone.

Nevertheless, he is the guilty party. He is the one who will chiefly benefit. He is the one who is an expert in killing people. He had no trouble killing an old man who was asleep in his bed. In addition to blaming him for the murder, we blame him for being such a weakling that he allows his wife to force him to do something that is clearly against his will. Using Lady Macbeth to dilute her husband's responsibility only adds shame to his guilt. He is afraid of his wife. Shakespeare invented a memorable character when he created her! But it is noteworthy that she seems to fade out of the picture after she has succeeded in persuading her husband to kill the king. Shakespeare hardly knew what to do with her afterwards, since her main function in the play was to push her husband into committing the murder and thereby, hopefully, relieve him of some part of his guilt.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Technically, Macbeth does the actual murder, but perhaps he would not have gone through with the deed if Lady Macbeth had not manipulated him into the act.

Lady Macbeth won't listen to Macbeth when he tells her that he has decided to not go through with the murder. 

 But then, he does go through with the murder, even though his conscience is tormenting him before he murders the king, so it would suggest that Lady Macbeth's accusations against her husband not being a man unless he kills the king were very persuasive. 

In my view, I would say that Macbeth is more responsible for the murder because I don't believe in the concept that someone else can make you do something that you don't want to do, especially something as serious as murder. 

Macbeth wanted to murder the king, Lady Macbeth gave him a push when he wavered from the plan.  If he really didn't want to kill the king, he would not have gone through with it. She certainly has a certain control over him, but he did act alone.

I would say that Macbeth bears 55% of the responsibility and Lady Macbeth 45%.

terafrayne eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth, completely. An individual who persuades another individual to commit a heinous act ultimately bears no culpability. The arguments that Lady Macbeth uses are weak. She tells Macbeth that he's not a real man because he doesn't keep his word. She says that she'd be willing to dash the brains of her baby before she breaks her word. She also says that she would view her husband as a coward if he doesn't go through with it. She also uses her sexual prowess to convince him to go through with it. She also caters to his lust for power. None of these arguments hold up. The fact that he caves in just shows that he lacks a moral backbone. Interestingly, later in the play he becomes more capable of committing heinous of acts without any guilt; yet, Lady Macbeth loses her mind because her conscience wears her down. She can never wash the blood off her hands. But King Duncan can never get enough blood. There is a total psychological reversal that takes place between the husband and wife. I love it!

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ok, just to play devil's advocate, lets blame the witches.  They set the path in motion, telling Macbeth that he is going to be king.  They start him thinking about the idea, which leads him to share the idea with his wife, which leads her to push him in the direction he - and it would appear the witches - want him to go.  Supporting this is scene Shakespeare includes of the witches casting a spell: 

The weird sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the sea and land,
Thus do go about, about:
Thrice to thine and thrice to mine
And thrice again, to make up nine.
Peace! the charm's wound up.

This is just before Macbeth and Banquo enter.  What is the charm?  There are certainly nine murders that happen in the play - perhaps we can blame all the deaths on the witches and their spells?  Consider that defense in court.  Not temporary insanity, but temporary super-natural-ness.

jilllessa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to agree with terafrayne on this one.  Each individual is responsible for their own actions.  Lady Macbeth could never have convinced Macbeth if he had not taken such heed to write to her about the witches and their prophecy.  He fell to the temptation all by himself.  You can compare it to the story of Adam and Eve.  Eve is even more involved in Adam's temptation to sin than Lady Macbeth.  She is the first one to fall to temptation and she is the one who tempts Adam but God holds Adam at least equally responsible for his sin as Eve and both are punished by eviction from the Garden of Eden.  Macbeth could not lay the blame for the murders on Lady Macbeth, although she too is guilty.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tell that to the judge.  Accessories to murder get punished, also.  Without Lady Macbeth, the idea of murdering Duncan would never have been entertained by Macbeth himself.  He loved the old man too much, and Macbeth also loved his "golden boy" image. 

honiara11 | Student

We have recently started looking at macbeth in class, and though my English teacher blames Macbeth i have to disagree. the witches,lady Macbeth, and Macbeth all play their parts but I belive we have the witches to blame. They mess with the human world (even their queen admits that) and they are the ones who ultimately start the problem. Macbeth was only a vessle To carry out their deeds. in class we talked about how witches could enter other people's minds and control them. I belive that's what they did with Macbeth. though he was the one who commited the murder he was being manipulated by the witches and his wife. 

j-e-s-s-i-e | Student

well i think it was macbeths fault because he was a weak character anyway (although he is ambitious and brave) and if it wasnt for his ambition and weakness then it wouldnt of happened i dont think . He lets his wife control him into doing what she wants , i know macbeth didnt want to kill the king for his own satisfaction but he still did . i put the blame on him And macbeths weakness starts taking over his guilt because he is feeling guilt into murdering duncan
:D ThankYouu .

frizzyperm | Student

Didhe witches change the future or merely prophesy it?

I don't think you can 'blame the witches' in any satisfying way. They are a dramatic device and their fortune-telling is an impossibility in reality. You might as well blame fate or destiny. If we want to look at the Macbeths and their moral actions, the witches are simply a starting gun. The witches 'cut to the chase' and focus the play to a simple dramatic storyline. 

They offer Macbeth the promise of kingship. But they never said he had to kill the king to get it. Macbeth could have just let the prophesy come true without getting blood on his hands.

frizzyperm | Student

Macbeth is briefly tempted by regicde, but he rejects it as an immoral action. He desires to be king (this is not wrong) and when he is given believable, magical promises of his future kingship he is temporarily hot-headed. But he soon realises killing Duncan is wrong and he rejects the idea.

When his wife discovers his change of purpose she explodes at him and uses every female dark art to make him do something he doesn't want to do. She completely bullies him into it.

Of course, legally, Macbeth is guilty of first degree murder. But Macbeth is not a courtroom drama, it is a human drama. It is Lady Macbeth who is the ultimate force behind the King's murder. Macbeth is the reluctant accomplice. She is the prime mover. It is her immorality that sanctions the foul deed.

link5592 | Student

personally i think that Macbeth must have had the desires dep within his heart after all the witches knew his deepest desires so therefore brought them to the brim of his thoughts Macbeth wanted to be king so the witches opened a path for him in a sense. Where as Macbeth sends a letter to Lady Macbeth which is not a clever idea he acctually asks her to tempt him in a sense if he did not think of it he wont of sent the letter in the frist place