November 8, 2018
Macbeth and the Dangers of Supposition and Suggestion
You know what they say happens when you assume things? Well, in the case of Macbeth, he kills a sitting King staying in his house as a guest, orders the murder of an innocent man and his son during a hunting trip, and sends murderers to kill the unguarded family of his political enemy, all upon the supposition that his destiny is to be king and that no harm may come to him. Of course, many of his thoughts are not originally his; Macbeth consistently faces ego-building discussions on the topics of his own fate and manhood from a select number of female characters he interacts with. While the female characters, including the Witches and Lady Macbeth, present Macbeth with incomplete definitions of masculinity and destiny that begin to swirl around in his head, no one stands as blameworthy for Macbeth’s tragic fall from grace as Macbeth himself is. The witches and Lady Macbeth present what could and should be, respectively, affirming Macbeth’s belief in what is or will be. Some modern scholars seem to agree. Kiley asserts that Macbeth “commits himself to his fate without invoking the usual excuses that serve to cushion a fall and that make popular martyrs out of eager killers” (Kiley, 1960, p. 589). Without legitimate motivation beyond ambition and self-servitude, Macbeth “sins deliberately”, and sins alone. Goehring similarly contends that Macbeth “lost grip on his self-control” during his ascension (or more accurately, usurpation), letting his “paranoia set him on a self-destructive course” (Goehring, 2005, p. 1526) that ultimately costs him his life. Even Greenblatt in The Norton Shakespeare admits in his introduction that “more than the homicidal Richard III, the treacherous Claudius in Hamlet, and the cold-hearted Iago in Othello, Macbeth is tormented by an awareness of the wickedness of what he is doing.” (Greenblatt, 1993, p. 2710). A first-time show-goer would likely feel as though Macbeth is tricked and cheated into the coffin, but closer analysis showcases the consistent and deliberate villainy Macbeth pursues to secure his power against the threat of those ahead of him. To better demonstrate Macbeth’s conscious descent, this essay will review the emotional burdens of destiny and masculinity thrown upon him by both the witches and Lady Macbeth, while proving that Macbeth is still solely accountable, with perceivable agency in his actions. Additionally, some of the dialogue spoken by Lady Macduff whilst criticizing her husband further illuminates the faults and failings of Macbeth: he is similarly impatient, dishonest, disloyal, and is rewarded for his crimes with titles and power. A gentle whisper of glorious fate in one’s ear may sound enticing and attainable, but deceit lurks just around the corner….
The witches cajole Macbeth into action. As early as their first appearance before Macbeth and Banquo, they hail Macbeth as the future...