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Looking At Macbeths Downfall English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2126 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Macbeth, is William Shakespeares shortest tragedy and one of his masterpiece play written between 1603 and 1607. The play is about a Scottish general and Thane of Glamis name Macbeth whose overriding ambition to be King of Scotland, ignoring his conscience brought about his downfall. Throughout the play Macbeth not only murders King Duncan and usurps the throne, but also his friend Banquo and Mcduff’s family mercilessly to secure his title. Macbeth knows his plans to usurp the throne is hellish yet continues to manifest them. He feels guilty and his moral conscience torments him till the end of the play which makes him even though unlikeable, a tragic hero who dies in the end.

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Macbeth (thane of Glamis) was unsure of them coming true. However when Ross announces that the King had honored him the title Thane of Cawdor, he immediately thinks of murdering King Duncan to be king of Scotland which is the following prophecy told by the witches. Such evil thoughts have indeed dawned in him in the first act itself proving that the downfall of Macbeth, the plays tragic hero lies not outside of control but “unleashed by one man’s sinful moral choice” (Ribner 147). It was Macbeth himself who first thought of murder to gain the throne fast. He would rather not patiently wait , and there was no one else to be blamed but him, who thought of killing as the way to fulfill his ambitions. Macbeth’s deep desire to be king is further seen in Act one Scene four ,


The prince of Cumberland! That is a step

On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,

For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;

Let not light see my black and deep desires.

The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be

Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see”(Shakespeare 861).

Through these lines, it is evident that Macbeth still hangs on to the treacherous idea of murder of the rightful king of Scotland, and therefore he himself is the motivator and creator for his evil plans. Ambitions can be positive or negative and in Macbeth’s case it’s was certainly negative. “The ambition of Macbeth leads to consequences that he rightly sees as undesirable, even wrong. Killing the king is quite clearly a wrongful act” (Keller 53). Thus Macbeth was destroyed by the plans “which he himself sets in motion” (Ribner 148).

Lady Macbeth was often accused of tempting Macbeth to murder King Duncan and usurp throne of Scotland. She is symbolized as Eve tempting the serpent who brought about her husband’s downfall. “Lady Macbeth here is the tempting serpent and, of course, is also the deceive” (Coursen 376). Macbeth is equated to Adam in the Bible, who fell from grace to be condemned on earth for being tempted by Eve who was equated to Lady Macbeth as well. “Any discussion of Adam’s temptation or of Macbeth’s must involve Eve-or Lady Macbeth-the element of feminine persuasion, the spur of which Macbeth to murder”.(Coursen 379) However the blaming of Lady Macbeth as the main reason of Macbeth’s immoral decision making must be questioned. To a certain degree, Lady Macbeth did encourage her husband to murder King Duncan, but accusing her for his downfall is not true. This is because; in Act one scene “three itself the thought of murder had dawned” in Macbeth. It is only in Act one Scene five did Lady Macbeth, received a letter and the thought of murder came into her mind.

“Under my battlements. Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.

Stop up the access and passage to remorse”.( Shakespeare 862).

Thus, making it clear that Macbeth was way ahead of Lady Macbeth to plan the death of King Duncan. She then becomes a supporter for Macbeth to manifest his desires and not the main reason for his downfall.

According to the three witches, Banquo’s decedents will ascend the throne of Scotland as kings. To secure his title, Macbeth then hatches a plot to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. However, he did not consolidate or tells his wife about it even though he calls her “my dearest partner of greatness”.( Shakespeare 861). Hence it is apparent, that Lady Macbeth’s part as his partner in evil deeds in the play ends when King Duncan was murdered.


Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,

Till thou applaud the deed.

Thou marvel’st at my words: but hold thee still.

Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.

So, prithee, go with me”. (Shakespeare 870).

Devilish deeds hereafter where done by Macbeth himself. This proves Macbeth himself was the primary reason for his downfall.

Macbeth, is well aware from the beginning of the play till the very end that his actions and plans are immoral and evil to the core. Even then he continues to commit sin after sin to live up to his ambitions. Denying his good side, Macbeth lets the badness within him to take over his soul to become treacherous, murderous and becomes metaphorically the devil. “Like the Satan, Macbeth from the beginning is aware of the evil he embraces, and like the Satan he can never renounce his free-willed moral choice once it has been made. It is thus appropriate that the force of evil in Macbeth be symbolized by Satan’s own sin of ambition” (Ribner 149). As results of his treacherous act, his conscience dwells in guilt and therefore he could not sleep.


Still it cried, “Sleep no more!” to all the house.

“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor

Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more”( Shakespeare 865).

Furthermore, Macbeth and his wife grew further apart and his noblemen started to despise him, which led him to earn the name tyrant. Thus, it is evident that Macbeth’s downfall lies not outside of control, because he was the director of his evil plots and so was defeated in the end. He deliberately rejected god and “the law of nature” (Ribner 150). Macbeth knows right and wrong, sin and moral and what are treachery and faithfulness, yet he denies his knowledge in order to achieve his ambition to be the King of Scotland and his descendants as well. Good deeds will be blessed and bad deeds lead to punishment and Macbeth deserves downfall for his cruelty.” His voluntary choice of evil moreover, closes the way of redemption to him, for in denying nature he cuts off the source of redemption, and he must end in total destruction and despair” (Ribner 150).

The three witches in the play Macbeth were also accused like Lady Macbeth as the cause of Macbeth’s downfall. Witches are a symbol of evil. There are foul and usually lead people astray with their dark magic and predictions On the contrary, Macbeth who knew these truths, decides anyway to solely believe in the three witches and their prophecies. All the predictions they gave Macbeth on Act one Scene three did came true but with a hefty price in return which was his peace. That did not stop from him from seeking their prophecies again. It was Macbeth who seeks their predictions knowing them to be evil hags and not the witches who came after him. In Act four Scene one, their predictions were,


Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware Macduff. Beware the thane of Fife.


Be violent, bold, and firm. Laugh at the power of other men, because nobody born from a woman will ever harm Macbeth.


Be brave like the lion and proud. Don’t even worry about who hates you, who resents you, and who conspires against you. Macbeth will never be defeated until Birnam Wood marches to fight you at Dunsinane Hill” (Shakespeare 874).

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (Shakespeare 858). Macbeth believed every word they mentioned and build over confidence within him. Furthermore, the more cruel deeds he did in order to save his title. For example, killing Macduff’s family was not only merciless but a cowardly act as well. Banquo had also received prophecies that his decedents will be king. However he was far more cautious and wiser than Macbeth then believing those witches.


But ’tis strange.

And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,

The instruments of darkness tell us truths,

Win us with honest trifles, to betray ‘s

In deepest consequence”( Shakespeare 860).

As Banquo doubted, the prophecies told by the witches were not what they seem. What is worst, the witches tormented Macbeth so they could gain pleasure but Macbeth lost it all.


And, which is worse, all you have done

Hath been but for a wayward son,

Spiteful and wrathful, who, as others do,

Loves for his own ends, not for you” (Shakespeare 873).

In the end, Macbeth brought about his own downfall believing in those wicked witches and ignoring his moral conscience. “He relies upon this promise, trusting the prophecy of the witches to the very last, and thus unknowingly bringing about his own destruction and the restitution of natural order”( Ribner 152).

King Duncan trusted that Macbeth was very loyal to him. He rewarded not only the title Thane of Cawdor but also stayed in Macbeth’s abode to celebrate their victory against the rebellions of the Kingdom. This deep trust was then used by Macbeth against Duncan to achieve his ambitions. Macbeth also knows that Duncan and his sons are the rightful Kings for Scotland .Yet he decides to murder King Duncan who was in his place and without protection. This shows that Macbeth does not care for Scotland as long he fulfills his desires. His greed triumphs over his conscience and Macbeth kills the rightful king of Scotland.


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. 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;

After Macbeth becomes king, the whole of Scotland was not in peace .Macbeth could not heal his wife and bring about harmony in Scotland which proves that Macbeth is not the rightful king of Scotland. Next, Macbeth knows that the punishment for treachery would be execution. He knew that the previous Thane of Cawdor was executed for raising rebellions against King Duncan. However Macbeth proceeds to murder King Duncan, proving that he went against the law of his country to satisfy his greed and dreams. “Cawdor execution in the opening scenes as a failure of didactic-ism, both on the state and theater scaffolds: the exemplary traitor’s speech does not instruct Macbeth to avoid treason but potentially offers him a model, a namesake even, for his own criminal desires”(Lemon 28). Overwhelming greed “marshaled forces of his ethical thinking” (Keller 47) and made Macbeth a big loser in the end. Hence, brought about his downfall by his own extreme greed to achieve what he wanted which was not rightfully his.

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In conclusion, much of what contributes to Macbeth’s downfall lies not outside of control. His evil ambition and unethical behaviour were the primary reasons for his defeat and death. Blaming solely on feminine evil who are the witches and Lady Macbeth for Macbeth’s failure is unacceptable. The witches were deceivers and Lady Macbeth played a small part in supporting him in his evil deed throughout the play. Macbeth’s killing of the king made him live and rule in fear, making him susceptible to more unethical thinking and plots. Therefore, Macbeth our tragic hero in this play accepts evil in the third scene of the play. In the second act he commits the deed to which his choice of evil must inevitably lead him, and for the final three acts, as he rises higher in worldly power he sinks deeper and deeper into evil, until at the end of the play he is utterly and finally destroyed” (Ribner 147).

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