There were a number of factors that influenced Macbeth’s decision whether to assassinate King Duncan or not. Each of these arguments worked for or against Macbeth’s better judgement of the situation. Eventually, a combination of all these factors broke down his conscience through his mental weakness; this led to an unwise decision to kill the King. The consequences of this were fairly disastrous because Macbeth began to regret his actions just moments after the deed was done.
The whole concept of Macbeth’s desire to become King of Scotland began when he and Banquo first met the three witches on the moorland. The witches greeted Macbeth each with a prophecy of his future titles:
‘All hail to thee, Thane of GlamisOrder now
All hail to thee Thane of Cawdor
All hail to thee Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter’
Macbeth seemed to be somewhat stunned by the witches prophecies, whereas Banquo continued to question the three witches in a calm and humorous manner. He noticed Macbeth’s troubled facial expression and said:
‘Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair?’
This was the point where Macbeth started to seriously think about the witches’ predictions, the possibilities of becoming King, and how he was going to become King. Although he appears to be head-strong in the opening scenes, the witches’ predictions frighten him because he knows he wants to become King, but he realises that he has to take action to progress any further.
One of Macbeth’s first soliloquies shows us that he has frightening thoughts, as the idea of murder has slipped into his mind. Although the witches did not suggest murder, Macbeth starts to think solemnly about killing King Duncan. Near the beginning of his first soliloquy, he says:
‘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?’
Macbeth is showing here that deep inside him, there are forces that want him to take action to become King, even if this action is murder. In a way, this scares him, as it would you or me if in his position. It is already starting to show that he is brave in battle, but fragile in mind.
Macbeth’s conscience works well for him at first by helping him reject the idea of murder, as Macbeth tells himself:
‘If I chance will have me King, why, chance
may crown me,
Without my stir.’
This means that if the witches’ prophecies are true, then he will become King whatever the circumstances, so he wouldn’t need to commit any crimes, for example murder.
By the end of scene four, Macbeth realises that he may have to take some action to become King, whether it be murder or not. His soliloquy indicates that he wants no one to see what he feels, and what he wants to do. He admits to himself that he has black and deep desires locked up inside him, which he does not want anyone good to see, as he says:
“The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’er leap,
For in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires!
Let not light see my black and deep desires;”
From one of Macbeth and his wife’s first conversations, he proves his reluctance to give his wife a final decision on the matter. As he says:
“We will speak further.”
He seems to have developed an uncertainty about the situation, and fails to stand up to his wife for the first time and say, “I will not murder the King”. He hasn’t completely dismissed the subject, but so far it is in his best interests to let his wife know that he is not all for the idea of murder. This would help her understand Macbeth’s side of the story, so she would not be so much against him.
At the banquet, Duncan proclaims that his son Malcolm is next in line to the throne. Macbeth then acquires the understanding that to become King, he has to overcome an even larger task now- to kill the King and his two sons.
You can already tell that Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, hold no secrets from each other, and that they share a loving and affectionate relationship. This relationship is gradually destroyed by the consequences of both their actions to promote Macbeth to King of Scotland. By the end of act 1 you can tell that Lady Macbeth is the more dominant partner in the relationship. This is indicated by the fact that she takes no less than full control of the situation, and Macbeth is happy to let her have the responsibility.
It is clear by now that Lady Macbeth’s desire to become Queen is just as strong as her spouse’s are to become King. She even went to the limits and called evil spirits upon herself, and gave up all the tender, gentle qualities of a woman to become a sexless pitiless fiend. One of her motives for doing this is likely to be the fact that she would become Queen of Scotland if Macbeth became King. Her only problem is that she knows Macbeth would need a lot of persuasion to complete the task at hand, but she also knows that Macbeth is too loyal to kill the King and his two sons.
In act 1 scene 7, when Macbeth is alone after dinner, he seriously thinks about murdering his King, how he is going to do it, and if he is going to do it. His conscience counter-acts these terrible thoughts by making him think about his duties as a kinsman, a subject of the King, and a host to his guest. He also thinks about the fact that all crime is punished, whether it be in this life or the next.
One of Macbeth’s most justified reasons against murdering the King, is that his death would be mourned throughout Scotland, and regarded as a tragedy in the extreme. Macbeth also begins to think about King Duncan’s kind-hearted and trusting character, and how he considers him to be a King of almost divine excellence. Macbeth then studies his own despicable motive for killing the King, and he can only find one pathetic reason. He refers to this as his ‘vaulting ambition’, and he realises now that such a high vault could only lead to a fall with undoubtedly severe consequences.
Macbeth finally makes his decision on this matter and tells his wife:
‘We will proceed no further in this business’
This is the most decisive Macbeth has ever been in the play, and so he starts to think highly of himself for standing up to his dominant wife for once. He obviously didn’t think about the consequences of his actions and was totally unprepared for the fury and insults his wife was about to give him. Lady Macbeth uses a wise way of convincing Macbeth to change his mind to kill the King. She picks on three main points which, by the end of her speech, breaks down Macbeth and so once again she gets her own way.
The first point is when Lady Macbeth says:
‘From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire?’
What she is saying to Macbeth here is ‘if you don’t do it, then you don’t love me’. This influences him because he does love his wife and he doesn’t want to lose her affection. So this helps to change his mind.
The second point is probably the most influential issue of the three; this is when Lady Macbeth says:
‘Wouldst thou have that
Which esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’,
Like the poor cat i’ the adage?’
What Lady Macbeth is doing here is calling Macbeth a coward. This would deeply offend him because it is insulting his manlihood and is basically challenging his right of being a man. This makes him want to prove her wrong and redeem himself from being called a coward.
The third point is the one that finalises Macbeth’s decision; this is when Lady Macbeth says:
‘I have given suck, and know
How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me;
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from its boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I sworn as you
Have done to this.’
This means that she’d never break a promise and always keeps her word. She is implying that Macbeth doesn’t know how powerful a promise can be to a person, and how far you should go to keep one. To give an example of this, she uses a foul and disgusting way of expressing how far she would go to keep a promise that she had sworn on. The example she gives of beating the brains out of her own child just proves that she is beginning to go insane and psychotic. All of this abuse from his wife defeats him and immediately alters Macbeth’s final decision and so he has agreed with his wife to kill the King.
By now, Macbeth is starting to show signs of stress, for out in the courtyard, he seems to speak few words in reply to Banquo’s comments and questions. Also, he is very confused about what is going on and what he is about to do in the near future. He is convinced that he is living in his own nightmare. Macbeth is alarmed when his imagination first creates the dagger, because it is a part of his conscience and his deteriorating mental state. The hallucination he is experiencing is caused by stress.
What makes the situation worse, is that his conscience is almost certainly lost now, and instead of helping him, it lures him further down the corridor. As Macbeth follows the floating dagger, it is as if the pace of his words slows down as he walks along the corridor. This is a good use of language because it makes it sound as if his steps are getting heavier. Although he was scared when the dagger originally appeared, he doesn’t seem to mind murdering his King as much as he feared before, because Shakespeare introduces a touch of sick and frightening humour into Macbeth when he says:
‘The bell invites me.
Hear it not Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.’
Immediately after the terrible deed is done, Macbeth begins to regret what they have planned and done. He and his wife show signs of great tension and stress, by the way they speak. Instead of speaking in an intellectual and poetic sense, they begin to talk to each other in less complex single word sentences. Although they are both tense and uncertain whether they have made the right decision or not, Lady Macbeth shows now to be the stronger partner in the duo.
As a conclusion, I think that the final event that modified Macbeth’s decision was the speech from Lady Macbeth. When she used emotional blackmail, insulted his manlihood, and said she’d even kill her own baby in order to keep her word, she completely turned Macbeth around. Although this was the main turning point for Macbeth’s lifestyle, there were many other factors that influenced his final decision to commit the crime of murder. All this so far has come together to prove that Macbeth maybe strong and valiant on the outside and very mentally stable and confident in battle, but he just can’t stand up to his wife.
This may be because he doesn’t want to lose his wife, or it could mean that he is just mentally weak when it comes to his emotional situations. This shows that he has very little will power and is an emotional coward. All of the Shakespearean plays end in tragedy, and Macbeth was not an exception. Macbeth, as the main character, and also a battle-scared hero, is the person whose life ends in tragedy. He enters the play as a ‘valiant’, and ‘brave’ man, but ends up a twisted wreckage of a hero who once was.