Who should bear the final responsibilty for the tragedy in Macbeth?  I have to write an essay answering this question and I just wanted  some help on the introduction and who would you...

Who should bear the final responsibilty for the tragedy in Macbeth?


I have to write an essay answering this question and I just wanted  some help on the introduction and who would you choose.  I have chosen Macbeth. Also I need help with points and documentation that I should include in the essay.

Expert Answers
Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Concerning your essay on Shakespeare's Macbeth, first, write your introduction last--you don't need to worry about that yet.  You need a thesis and supporting points with evidence.  Ideas for introducing your topic will probably come to mind while you're writing the rest of your essay.  Prewriting, organizing, and writing the "meat" of the essay usually comes first--that's what the essay is about.  By the time you've learned your topic through writing, the introduction will probably come easily. 

Concerning the body of your essay, you need three or four pieces of evidence that demonstrate that Macbeth is responsible for the tragedy.  Numerous examples exist, so this should be no problem.  Some possibilities follow:

  • Macbeth reasons the decision out in Act 1.7.  At one point, he decides not to go through with the killing of Duncan.  This demonstrates that the decision is in Macbeth's hands.  If his wife berates him and manipulates him into changing his mind, he allows himself to be convinced and manipulated.  Plus, he does the actual killing.   
  • The decision to kill Banquo and Fleance is entirely Macbeth's own.  Macbeth chooses not only to do it, but also chooses the killers and makes the plan.  This casts serious suspicions on Macbeth (too many coincidences favoring Macbeth, Act 3.6), and the attempt to kill Fleance fails.
  • The decision to kill Macduff's family, because he can't get to Macduff who is in England, is entirely Macbeth's own.  This is almost a temper tantrum--he can't go after the defiant Macduff who skips his parties, so he takes his wrath out on Macduff's family instead.  Killing Macduff's family serves little or no political or military purpose for Macbeth, but it certainly solidifies the opposition against him (Act 4.3).

For your rebuttal paragraph or two (a section that rebuts arguments against your thesis) you could point out that the witches say only that Macbeth will be king--they don't say anything about murdering Duncan.  And, even if the witches are supernatural and know the future, knowing and causing are two different things.  The decisions made are still Macbeth's to make. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that you might want to focus on how Macbeth is the agent of action and thus responsible for what happened.  Certainly, it might be wise to acknowledge the role of the Witches and Lady Macbeth, but it seems like the force of your essay is based on Macbeth being the agent of action in what happens to him.  Certainly, paying attention to the specific acts for which he bears responsibility would be a start.  I think you can make the argument that while he might be motivated and/ or inspired by other forces or individuals, in the end, he is the one to do what he did.  The deeds are his and his alone.  This would indicate that he should bear a heavy amount of responsibility for what happened.  At the same time, I think cataloging all of what he did in terms of actions that he initiated would be a very good and strong point to make.  You will have to focus on what he did, and where his intent was in committing such actions.  Between both elements, there will be a strong enough case made for him to have to bear final responsibility for what happens.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It sounds like this question is somewhat related to the classic debate of fate versus free will in Macbeth.  I say this because some of the players in the story (i.e. the witches) are representative of forces beyond that of human control.  I agree that Macbeth is ultimately responsible for the tragedy that befalls him because he let his greed and ambition take over his good judgement.  When writing your introduction, you will need to clearly state a thesis that will be the controlling idea for the rest of your writing.  Ask yourself why Macbeth is responsible for the tragedy and your answer to this will be your thesis statement.  The remainder of your essay will be an exploration of these reasons including details from the text to support the argument.