What mistakes did Macbeth make in the tragedy of Macbeth?

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In the tragedy of Macbeth, the titular character makes two mistakes that set the stage for all the rest. He confides in his wife his desire to murder Duncan, and he goes through with the act.

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Macbeth's great mistake, what we might call his "original sin," was to act on his dark impulse to murder Duncan. Fantasizing about achieving one's deepest desire is one thing—crossing a line into killing to achieve it is another.

Macbeth is already coming to his senses, stepping back, and weighing the consequences of his act by the time he has returned to his castle, not long after quelling the rebels in battle. He realizes that Duncan is a good and merciful king who has treated him generously. He wishes to bask for awhile in Duncan's favor and enjoy his status as the hero who killed the traitor. More profoundly, he sees with clear eyes that once he heads down the path of bloodshed, there is no turning back. He reasons that it would be not so terrible to kill Duncan if it simply ended there, but he realizes, too, that if he goes down that road, it is the beginning of what will become a widening circle of death.

Macbeth has regained his senses at this point but has already made another vital mistake. In the heat of his desire and ambition, he wrote to his wife about killing Duncan. Now he wants to turn back, but she is determined to go ahead and knows how to manipulate him into acting. It is as if his subconscious knew it would later need her to goad him—but that was a terrible mistake. Macbeth should not have let ambition overcome his reason and moral compass.

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Arguably, Macbeth's most serious mistake is his obsession with the Witches' prophecy. Doing so leads him to commit all kinds of heinous acts—most notoriously the murder of Macduff's family—which have less to do with satisfying worldly ambition than succumbing to the forces of darkness and evil. To that end, Macbeth dispenses with the advice and guidance of his wife once he's safely ensconced on the Scottish throne.

This is yet another mistake, one directly related to the first. It is highly unlikely that Lady Macbeth would have encouraged her husband to commit the acts of bestial savagery he carries out against Macduff's family, or even the murder of Banquo. The killing of Duncan, though undoubtedly immoral and treacherous in the extreme, at least had a certain logic to it. At that time, there was nothing remotely out of the ordinary about an ambitious noble overthrowing a king by force.

But all of Macbeth's subsequent actions savor of a pact with the Devil. So long as he was just a ruthlessly ambitious noble who'd taken his chance, he could set about securing his throne, playing off his rivals against each other to consolidate his power. But once Macbeth starts turning into a tyrant—a tyrant invoking the powers of darkness, no less—he allows his opponents to present their opposition not in narrowly political terms, but as part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil. On the field of battle and in the struggle for earthly power, Macbeth has been successful, but in an ultimate showdown between good and evil, he doesn't stand a chance.

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Macbeth makes several drastic mistakes throughout the play, but the most significant, costly mistake he makes is assassinating King Duncan. Before committing regicide, Macbeth knows that his bloody deed will only lead to more bloodshed, which is exactly what happens. After Macbeth kills King Duncan, he becomes overwhelmed with guilt, begins to lose sleep, and starts to hallucinate. In an attempt to secure his legacy and title as king, Macbeth hires assassins to kill Banquo and his son. Macbeth once again makes the mistake of sending unqualified assassins to do an important job, only to discover that they failed to kill Fleance, which heightens his anxiety and stress.

Macbeth then visits the Three Witches again and makes the mistake of viewing their enigmatic, vague prophecies in a favorable manner. Macbeth misinterprets the apparitions and becomes overconfident in his abilities. Macbeth then distances himself from his wife and openly challenges Macduff under the assumption that he cannot be harmed by any man, which is not the case because Macduff was "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb.

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Macbeth's most serious mistake was allowing his ambition to overcome his conscience. Macbeth despised the idea of killing King Duncan to gain the throne of Scotland. He knew such an act was abominable, but he ignored his conscience and his personal regard for Duncan. Instead, he chose to murder King Duncan while he slept--stabbing him to death in a horrible act of violence. Macbeth willingly gave up his own soul to gain political power. 

After this first violation of moral behavior, Macbeth committed one crime after another, including the murder of Banquo and the destruction of Macduff's entire household. Macbeth accomplished each of these terrible deeds to maintain his power. He failed to realize that murder upon murder would make his countrymen despise him so thoroughly that they would rebel and join the English forces in overthrowing him.

Macbeth also made a serious mistake in underestimating the character of Malcolm, Duncan's son. Although he was young and inexperienced, Malcolm proved to be an effective leader who gained the help of the English in defeating Macbeth and regaining his place as rightful monarch in Scotland.

Finally, Macbeth's faith in the witches' prophecies clearly led to his undoing. It is only at the end of his life that he realizes how completely they had tricked him. Had he followed his own conscience, however, nothing the witches said could have hurt him. Their prophecies simply gave him a sense of security as he acted to fulfill his own selfish ambitions. 

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