In William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, who is responsible for Macbeth's murder of Duncan?Is it the witches, his wife, or himself? Provide AT LEAST 3 points (the more the better), each with...
In William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, who is responsible for Macbeth's murder of Duncan?
Is it the witches, his wife, or himself?
Provide AT LEAST 3 points (the more the better), each with textual evidence.
(Do not need to write an essay; instead, just provide an outline with 3 arguable points and textual evidence which I will analyze by myself and write an essay about.)
Many perspectives will be respected. Thanks!
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 he reasons 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.