The thane did it in the bed chamber with the dagger. Even if you are given this information at the beginning of the story of Macbeth, it does not spoil the story. Macbeth is not simply a story of Scottish nobles and the death of kings. Like Aesop’s fables, the story is only the vehicle used to get the message across. The story may be entertaining as a story, but it is not essential to the message. The story could just as easily be set in ancient Egypt, modern Europe, or even on an animal farm. The setting and characters could be completely changed, but the message would remain the same.
The message of Macbeth is the important thing. To understand the message of the play though, you have to understand the story. The most important part of the story that you have to understand is who is to blame for the tragic actions that occur in Macbeth. If you do not understand who is to blame, then you will miss the message. The three witches, Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth are the three candidates for who is to blame. I will discuss each of them and then I will discuss what they mean.
The first suspects I want to look at are the three witches. They tell Macbeth he will be king in the future. This sets all of the actions into motion, so they are to blame right? No I don’t think so. Although some people claim that the witches represent a supernatural force that controls Macbeth and causes him to do what he did, I do not find any evidence to support that. Macbeth calmly discusses his “vision” of the witches with Banquo. He writes his wife a letter telling about the future where he is king. When Macbeth comes home his wife tells him that she read his letter and he must kill the king tonight when he visits Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth simply says “We will speak further.”
All of his actions show that Macbeth is clam and logical. He is not acting like he is being controlled by witchcraft. When his wife suggests the outrageous treason of killing the king while he is at Macbeth’s castle, Macbeth is not outraged. He is not even surprised. He is calm and he simply says “We will speak further.” This certainly does not sound like someone being controlled. It sounds like someone who has already thought about it a lot and decided what he wants to do.
The witches did not tell Macbeth to kill the king, only that he would become king. Here is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of their “prophesy.” Since Macbeth is a loyal thane that the king just promoted, it is possible that he continue to provide loyal service to the king so the king names him heir to the crown in the future. Since Benquo is such a good friend of Macbeth it is possible that Macbeth has no children to inherit the crown so he names his loyal friend’s children to become king after him. No deaths, betrayals, guilt, or remorse were implied by the “prophesy” of the witches.
I am not done with the witches yet, because I think they are an interesting part of the story. When you watch a movie and a little devil appears on one shoulder and an angel appears on another shoulder of a person giving them opposite advice, no one thinks they are real. I think the three witches are similar to this. They do not represent any supernatural control over Macbeth or the events in the story, because they are not real. They just represent what is real.
In Greek mythology, the lives of all humans are controlled by the Fates. The Fates are three sisters that determine the course, events and length of human lives. They determine our fate. It is not a coincidence that there are three witches and they are telling Macbeth about the future events in his life. The three witches represent the three Fates. While the Fates may not be real, our fates are real. Three sisters do not decide our fates; we decide our fates by our actions. I think this is what the three witches represent, fate. The discussion between Macbeth, Benquo and the three witches is just a discussion between Macbeth and Benquo about what they want their fates to be in the future. There never were any witches. The witches just represented fate.
The nest suspect I will look at is Lady Macbeth. She got her husband’s letter saying he would be king. She heard the king was coming to Macbeth’s castle and she came up with the plan to kill the king. She was the first person to mention killing the king, so she is to blame, right? No, she isn’t. Again I come back to Macbeths reply “We will speak further.” He is not outraged at her treason. He does not say “No! Of course not!” That’s because he already thought of it before her. He is not surprised because he knows her. He already wrote her that letter saying he would be king. Lady Macbeth was certainly a willing participant in the death of the king, but she pays the price of her guilt.
That only leaves one suspect left, Macbeth. He was a loyal thane for the king. He fought bravely. However, he had a fatal flaw. He was overly ambitious. He would not be happy with just being a thane, he wanted to be king. His ambition caused him to lose his morals and do whatever it took to become and remain king. Macbeth clearly and logically planned how to get what he wanted, and then he clearly and logically acted on those plans. He did terrible, immoral and unethical things in the course of those plans. Eventually, his loss of morals caused him to also lose his sanity. His actions became more tyrannical and irrational. When he was talking to a ghost, I think he was just arguing with his own conscience because he knew what he did was wrong.
Macbeth was responsible for his own actions. No imaginary witches controlled him. The witches did not even give him any details on how he would become king. The witches did not force him to do anything. There was not even anything supernatural about the story. His wife was able to determine his plan by reading his letter and the fact that the king would spend the night in Macbeth’s castle, but she did not force Macbeth into any action either. She strengthened Macbeth’s resolve, but from start to finish, it was always Macbeth’s plan. Macbeth fought well on the battlefield, but he lost the battle between good and evil and paid a terrible price for that loss. He did not just lose his life. He also lost his wife, his friends, and his quality of life.
Now that you understand this, you know the real message of the story. The message is complex and multipart. I am not sure this is all of it. The first part of the message is that ambition can be the engine that drives you to success, but it can also be the poison that corrupts your morals and leads you to do evil. Overly ambitious people will do any evil you can imagine to attain their ambitions. You have to find a balance. Another part of the message is you need strong morals and principles to guide you so that you don’t let ambition corrupt you. Macbeth used his ambition to be successful in his military career before he lost control. The last part of the message is that there is a terrible price to pay is you do let your ambition over rule your morals. Lady Macbeth eventually killed herself because she could not deal with the guilt of what she had done. Macbeth eventually created both the conditions and the enemy that killed him. Unbridled ambition can even kill kings.