Student Question

What concern prompts Macbeth to say, "Upon my head placed a fruitless crown," in Shakespeare's Macbeth?

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In Shakespeare's "Macbeth", Macbeth expresses his concern about his "fruitless crown" due to his fear that his friend Banquo may jeopardize his kingship. Banquo is aware of the witches' prophecy that Macbeth would become king, but it also predicts that Banquo's son would inherit the throne. Macbeth, who has sacrificed his conscience and soul to become king, is frustrated and angered by the thought that he cannot pass his throne to his own offspring.

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By scene one of act three of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Macbeth is firmly established as king of Scotland. Of course he usurped the throne by violence--while Duncan was a guest in his home, no less--and has since been suffering from a guilty conscience. Something else has begin to happen, as well; Macbeth has begun to worry about his friend Banquo.

Banquo is the only other person (other than Lady Macbeth) who knows about the witches' prediction regarding Macbeth as king. Macbeth has a reason to be worried because, though Banquo has not said anything yet, he could do so at any time, jeopardizing Macbeth's kingship.

The idea of the Divine Right of Kings is something an Elizabethan audience would have been well aware of, and killing a king was tantamount to (equal to) condemning oneself to eternal damnation. Macbeth knew the cost of his actions and was willing to pay it. What is becoming quite galling (irksome) to Macbeth, however, is the fact that he is the one who has sacrificed his soul and his conscience by killing the king but, according to the predictions, Banquo's son is going to inherit the throne.

There is none but he
Whose being I do fear.... He chid the sisters
When first they put the name of king upon me
And bade them speak to him. Then, prophetlike,
They hailed him father to a line of kings.
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown
And put a barren scepter in my grip,
Thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If ’t be so,
For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind;
For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered;
Put rancors in the vessel of my peace
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!
Macbeth is beginning to get angry that he has been given the "fruitless crown" and a "barren scepter" and has compromised his eternal destiny for another man's son. If the prediction is true (and let's be honest, Macbeth has consistently assumed the predictions are true), Macbeth is beginning to get very resentful that he has done all the work to earn a throne he will not be able to pass on to any son he might have. His language--fruitless, barren, filed (defiled), rancors, wrenched, unlineal--indicates the level of his unhappiness.
Unfortunately for Banquo, once Macbeth begins to have such resentful thoughts, someone is probably going to suffer--and it will not be Macbeth. 
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How is "Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown" portrayed through the character of Macbeth?

When Macbeth murders Duncan, he can no longer go back to the point when his conscience was more or less clear. He has stepped into the realm of darkness, where he is tortured by his thoughts of insecurity and doubt. The witches' prophecy becomes engraved in his mind, and he cannot help but remember the witches said Banquo's sons would inherit the throne one day. This news greatly perturbs him:

They hail'd him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench'd with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. 

Although Macbeth gains power when he takes the throne, in a way, he loses more. He loses his peace, compassion, and all sense of right and wrong. He becomes tormented by his insecurities and his belief that others will attempt to dethrone him. 

Macbeth takes the witches' prophecy too seriously and decides to kill Banquo and his son. This will lead to many more misdeeds on Macbeth's part because he has forever lost his common sense. He wants to get rid of anyone who could potentially harm him in any way. This will lead to his imminent downfall.

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