Who is responsible for the murder of Duncan?Is it Macbeth , Lady macbeth or the witches?I have the witches prophecies, Lady Macbeth's contribution to the murder, and I need a third point for...

Who is responsible for the murder of Duncan?Is it Macbeth , Lady macbeth or the witches?

I have the witches prophecies, Lady Macbeth's contribution to the murder, and I need a third point for Macbeth's contribution to the death of Duncan . I need help writing my introduction.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first scene of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, the newly made Thane of Cawdor hears the prophecy of the three sisters and thinks,

If chance wil have me King, why, chance may crown me,

Without my stir. (1.3.145

But, later he ponders what is to come.  Then, when Duncan arrives at Forres and compliments Macbeth, the King declares his son Malcolm as his successor, naming him Prince of Cumberland.  This act puts an obstacle in the path of Macbeth who now desires to be king:

The Prince of Cumberland!  That is a step

On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,

For in my way it lies.  Stars, hide your fires;

Let not light see my black and deep desires:

The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be

Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. (1.4.55-60)

From this passage, it is implicit that Macbeth has taken the predictions of the witches and suited them to his own "vaulting ambition" which he himself says "o'erleaps" in his soliloquy of Scene 7, thus tying his thoughts to those expressed in Scene 4.  After returning to his castle where Duncan is due to arrive, he shows some reluctance about slaying Duncan.  But, his wife, Lady Macbeth scolds him, telling him to

...screw your courage to the sticking-place

And we'll not fail (1.7. 68-69)

Interestingly, there are three witches, and three accomplices in the murder of Duncan:  the supernatural, Macbeth himself and Lady Macbeth, two triangles of evil.


bonukate | Student

Act 1, scene 7 of William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is a crucial moment in the play, because it is in this scene that Macbeth decides to slay Duncan, his kinsman, his king, and his guest. Once Macbeth commits this murder, he will be responsible for many other killings. Therefore it is crucial to determine who, precisely, is ultimately at fault for the slaying of Duncan. Relevant evidence includes the following:

  • Macbeth enters the scene already contemplating the murder (“If it were done . . .”); the murder therefore is not an impulsive act but a fully considered decision.
  • In the next few lines, Macbeth indicates that he would act at once if he could be sure that the consequences would be positive (“if the assassination . . .”). Again, the fact that hereasons about the murder makes him, finally, the responsible party.
  • Macbeth next worries that by killing Duncan he may set a precedent that would inspire someone else to kill Macbeth himself:

. . . we but teach

Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return

To plague the inventor . . . .

He is less concerned here with the morality or immorality of the act than with its potential to cause him harm. This selfish concern makes him seem even more responsible.

  • A few lines later, Macbeth shows that he realizes that he has a triple obligation to Duncan, who is his kinsman, his king, and his guest.  Macbeth cannot claim, then, to be unaware of his obligations to Duncan, since Macbeth himself acknowledges those obligations very explicitly.
  • Next, Macbeth acknowledges that Duncan has in fact been a good and virtuous king – another fact that makes Macbeth all the more personally responsible for the murder he eventually commits.
  • Next, Macbeth shows that he is fully aware that the murder will be an ungodly act; once again, Macbeth shows that he is reasoning clearly and is thereby all the more responsible for the killing. He is not insane; he is not incapable of rational thought; he clearly knows the difference between right and wrong.
  • Finally, Macbeth acknowledges that his true motive is mere “ambition.” It is not as if he can claim that he is acting on behalf of anyone else, or on behalf of the Scottish people or some higher principle.
  • Crucially, Macbeth does pause when his wife appears (“We will proceed no further in this business”), and Lady Macbeth does then urge him on. She mocks him and insults him, essentially calling him a coward.  However, Shakespeare’s audience would have recognized that the kind of “strength” she commends is in fact moral and spiritual weakness.
  • Macbeth, in responding to his wife, never makes a moral or spiritual case for sparing Duncan; he never seriously tries to refute his wife’s arguments.
  • Lady Macbeth urges her husband to be a “man,” but her argument is ironic, since it was thought, in Shakespeare’s day, that to be truly human was to act as God wanted people to act. To act otherwise was to behave like a “beast.”
  • Instead of being morally repulsed by his wife’s vicious language about being willing to kill an innocent baby, all Macbeth can think of is the practical risk of failure. Instead of arguing with or against his wife, he is still obsessed with his own ambition. His failure to dispute with her makes him, not Lady Macbeth, ultimately responsible for the murder. This is especially clear from his very final words in this scene.