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Macbeth(c.1607), written by William Shakespeare, is the tragic tale of Macbeth, a virtuous man, corrupted
by power and greed. This tagedy could in fact be called "A Tale of Two Theories". One theory suggests
that the tragic hero, Macbeth, is led down an unescapable road of doom by an outside force, namely fate in
the form of the three witches. The second suggests that there is no supernatural force working against
Macbeth, which therefore makes him responsible for his own actions and inevitable downfall. It must be
remembered that Macbethis a literary work of art, and as a peice of art is open to many different
interpretations, none of them right and none of them wrong. But the text of the play seems to imply that
Macbeth is indeed responsible for his own actions which are provoked by an unwillingness to listen to his
own conscience, the witches, and his ambition.
First, Macbeth ignores the voice of his own psyche. He knows what he is doing is wrong even before he
murders Duncan, but he allows Lady Macbeth and greed to cloud his judgement. In referring to the idea of
the murder of Duncan, Macbeth first states,"We will proceed no further in this business"(I.vii.32). Yet,
after speaking with Lady Macbeth he recants and proclaims,"I am settled, and bend up/Each corporal agent
to this terrible feat"(I.vii.79-80). There is nothing supernatural to be found in a man being swayed by the
woman he loves, as a matter of fact this action could be perceived as quite the opposite.
Second, the witches have to be dispelled as a source of Macbeth's misfortune before the latter theory can be
considered. It is admittedly strange that the weird sisters first address Macbeth with,"All hail, Macbeth! hail
to thee Thane of Cawdor!"(I.iii.49), a title which not even Macbeth is aware he has been awarded. Even
stranger is the third witch calling to Macbeth,"All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!"(I.iii.50).
However as stated by Bradley,"No connection of these announcements with any actions of his was even
hinted by [the withches]"(232). Some are still not convinced though of the witches less than supernatural
role; nevertheless, Macbeth appears throughout the play to be completely aware 3 of his actions, as
opposed to being contolled by some mystic force. The effect of the witches on the action of the play is best
summarized by these words:
...while the influences of the Witches'
prophecies on Macbeth is very great, it is
quite clearly shown to be an influnce and
nothing more.(Bradley 232)
Most important to the theory that Macbeth is reponsible for his own actions would be a point that the
infamous witches and Macbeth agree upon. Such an element exists in the form of Macbeth's ambiton. In the
soliloquy Macbeth gives before he murders Duncan, he states, "...I have no spur/To prick the sides of
intent, but only/Vaulting ambition,..."(I.vii.25-27). Are these the words of a man who is merely being led
down a self dustructive path of doom, with no will of his own? Or are they the words of a man who realizes
not only the graveness of his actions, but, also the reasons behind them? The answer is clear, Macbeth is a
totally cognizant principal and not a mindless puppet. Later the head witch, Hecate, declares,"Hath been but
for a wayward son,/Spiteful and wrathful, who, as others do,/Loves for his own ends, not for you."
(III.v.11-13), which again highlights Macbeth's ambitious nature. The most significant part of the play is
the part that is missing, and that is a conn!
ection between Macbeth's ambition and some spell cast by the weird sisters which might be said to
magically cause an increase in his desires.
While purposely played in a mysterious setting, the location is not meant to cloud the true theme of the play
with the supernatural. Macbeth simply succumbs to natural urges which take him to a fate of his own
making. Everyone has character flaws that he must live with; Macbeth simply allowed those flaws to
Bradley, A.C. "The Witch Scenes in Macbeth." England in Literature. Ed. John Pfordesher,
Gladys V. Veidemanis, and Helen McDonnell. Illinois: Scott, Foresman, 1989. 232-233
Shekespeare, William. Macbeth. England in Literature. Ed. John Pfordesher, Gladys V.
Veidemanis, and Helen McDonnell. Illinois: Scott, Foresman, 1989. 191-262
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Characters in Macbeth, English-language films, British films, Regicides, House of Moray, Macbeth, Three Witches, Gruoch of Scotland, Macduff, Fleance, lady macbeth, power and greed, literary work of art, tragic hero, latter theory, virtuous man, weird sisters, william shakespeare, supernatural force, two theories, peice, witches, misfortune, downfall, work of art, hail, matter of fact, judgement, psyche, murders
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