Macbeth

What could cause his downfall?

Curiosity Sparked the Flame, Ambition Made Him Burn

Throughout time the same question has been asked about Shakespeare's most superstitious and dark play, Macbeth. What caused him to be driven to murder so many innocent people? Countless theories have been presented blaming other characters turning him to madness, but I believe the real answer lies not in the who, but the what. Macbeth made the decision to kill by himself, so the real thing to blame would be his own ambition to become (and stay) king.

Macbeth's descent into madness begins when the witches prophesy that he is to become Thane of Cawdor, and later even king. At first he was quite skeptical of these "Weird Sisters," but after some consideration, Macbeth states,"If good, why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs against the use of nature?" (25). The idea has arose the possibility of murdering King Duncan to get his way to the throne. All the witches had done was prophesy, Macbeth's murderous thoughts brought him to his knees. As for the involvement of Lady Macbeth, she had come to the same conclusion that the King should be murdered. Macbeth then begins to question whether or not the deed should be committed. He speaks to himself again, "If the assassination could trammel up the consequence, and catch, with his surcease, success, that but this blow might be the be-all and the end-all here, but here, upon this bank and shoal of time, we'ld jump the life to come. But in these cases we still have judgement here, that we but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor" (41). He means that if only the KIng could be murdered and Macbeth claim the throne without consequence looming, then it would be good to commit what he had thought to do. But in good judgement, most terrible deeds tend to backfire. Even as he doubts himself, you can sense the ambition and what he might be feeling. You can tell from this if there was nothing to stop him Macbeth would have murdered Duncan without second thought. Lastly, after Macbeth has become king it is still not enough when Banquo begins to suspect his past deed. He hires murderers to kill him, but before he consults them he speaks to himself, "For Banquo's issue I have filed in 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!" (81). At the first meeting with the witches they had also said that Banquo would not be a king, but beginning with his sons would be a line of kings. Macbeth, would not like his crown, the "eternal jewel" to be his until it is taken by the sons of Banquo. Once again, his own ambition and greed causes him to commit another murder through those he hires.

There are more than a few literary devices that are key in Macbeth. First, Macbeth being the tragic hero of the story. He starts off being a hero in the eyes of King Duncan and the other Thanes, earning him a new title. But after he murders Duncan, his error then led to his ultimate demise. This is excellently explained in his speech in Act 5 after the passing of his wife. He says, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (171). Another literary device used often in the play is the use of analogies. When Macbeth begins to fear that Banquo has found out what he had committed, he says, "There is none but he whose being I do fear; and under him my genius is rebuked, as it is said Mark Antony's was by Caesar" (81). He feels as if Banquo's presence threats his rule, as Caesar did Mark Antony. Lastly, throughout the play lots of foreshadowing can be found, especially with the witches. In the witches meeting with Hecate, she states to them, "This night I'll spend unto a dismal and fatal end" (109). Hecate means to bring a gruesome end to Macbeth, and that she does when he is finally killed by Macduff.

Panic at the disco - Emperor's new clothes lyrics

Macbeth's New Clothes

To support the claim that Macbeth was led to his downfall by ambition and greed, I believe the song that best illustrates this is "Emperor's New Clothes" by Panic! At the Disco. Macbeth is greedy for the crown, just as the lyrics, "if it feels good, tastes good, it must be mine" sound just as Macbeth was as he sought after the crown. Also, in the song it says, "I'm taking back the crown. I'm all dressed up and naked. I see what's mine and take it." These lyrics apply to Macbeth in the sense that he's trying to become king by force, taking the crown that's supposedly rightfully his according to the witches' prophecy. The phrase "all dressed up and naked" refers to the story The Emperor's New Clothes, in which the emperor is tricked into wearing nothing but his skin by spinsters. This does not, however, symbolize the witches tricking Macbeth. It stands for how Macbeth has what he wants (the throne) yet has nothing.
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Macbeth in Art

The piece of art that best describes Macbeth's downfall is Gustave Dorés illustration of King Minos as seen in Dante's Inferno. Minos is shown as the ruler of a hellish place, with a serpent coiling around his body. This is much like Macbeth, who rules over Scotland but is surrounded by those who later learn of his deeds and work to dethrone him, forming his own "hellish dimension." As for the serpent, it symbolizes Macbeth's own murderous deeds that got him the crown in the first place. Macbeth states after he finds that Banquo's son lives that "There the grown serpent lies; the worm that's fled hath nature that in time will venom breed, no teeth for the present" (99). This means that though the serpent (evil, Fleance, or in some cases even Macbeth himself) does not show venom now it will develop and strike. Macbeth himself, just like his quote describing Fleance, has fled human nature and is like a serpent poised to strike.