Why does Macbeth hesitate to murder the king?

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There are several reasons Macbeth hesitates to kill Duncan, and he clarifies these for the audience in a soliloquy in act I, scene vii.

Macbeth begins by saying that he knows there will be consequences for his actions. He suggests that he would not be so anxious about...

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There are several reasons Macbeth hesitates to kill Duncan, and he clarifies these for the audience in a soliloquy in act I, scene vii.

Macbeth begins by saying that he knows there will be consequences for his actions. He suggests that he would not be so anxious about murdering the king if the murder would "be the be-all and the end-all" (line 5). However, even putting aside the inevitable damning of his soul in the afterlife, Macbeth knows that he will deal with repercussions in his mortal life, as well:

But in these cases
We still have judgment here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague th' inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips (7–12).
These "instructions" that "return / To plague th' inventor" seem to suggest, at the very least, the guilt Macbeth will feel and the pressure of keeping his actions secret. In a more literal reading, it's also possible that he's worried that if the king is murdered, other people might think they can murder the new king (Macbeth) to gain position: this concern feeds his paranoia later as he tries to eliminate those he thinks would plot against him or threaten his power.
Next, Macbeth considers his relationship to Duncan and all of the ways he will be betraying the king by murdering him. Macbeth reflects,
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 (13–20) . . .
Macbeth is a cousin to Duncan, so they are "kinsm[e]n." Therefore, the murder would be a clear betrayal. Further, as Duncan's "subject," Macbeth would be a traitor to kill his king. Macbeth also considers that, as he is Duncan's "host," he is breaking fundamental rules of hospitality: he should protect Duncan from harm, not commit harm against him. Finally, he recognizes that Duncan has been a good king; there may be no real crime in assassinating a leader who is unjust or dictatorial, but Duncan "hath been / So clear in his great office." Duncan's "virtues" make Macbeth hesitate.
Macbeth recognizes that his ambition is all that is keeping him going in this plan, and after his soliloquy, he even tries to stand up to Lady Macbeth and say he will not go through with the murder. However, Lady Macbeth shames and persuades him, and a couple of scenes later, Duncan is dead.
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Macbeth is aware that murdering king Duncan would be one of the greatest sins and, he is talking about it in Act I, Scene 7:

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.

Macbeth states that going after his unchecked ambition which entails killing Duncan is wrong for three major reasons. Firstly, Macbeth is Duncan's relative, so it is abnormal and sinful to murder him since they are related. Secondly, Macbeth should be Duncan's most loyal subject, so he should fight for him, not kill him. Thirdly, when Duncan arrives at Macbeth's home, Macbeth will be his host, so he should protect Duncan because he will be Macbeth's guest. Macbeth should guarantee that his guest is safe. Additionally, Macbeth proclaims that the king is benevolent, and he has been recently promoted by the king.

All of the reasons listed above are strong enough, and Macbeth should not go against them. Yet, he states that his ambition is the chief reason why he wants to take the throne and eliminate Duncan.

 

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