Murder Of King Duncan. What Elements Contributed To His Death? Essay, Research Paper
Regicide is the killing of a king. It is an event prevalent in Macbeth as the main focus of the story is of killing to gain power. In the play Macbeth the character Macbeth takes the easy route to power by killing the king and usurping the throne for himself. While this route to power seemed easy in plan the consequences for the country of Scotland and Macbeth are dire.
The chain of being is an idea or philosophy that was prevalent during Shakespeare?s time. It is an ordered hierarchical system of government. In Shakespeare?s time people believed there was a greater power controlling life. As long as this divine order was maintained chaos wouldn?t take control. The murder of the king would throw the system into chaos. The act would be a crime against god. At the top of the chain is god with ultimate power over everything. Down from the top goes King, Thanes citizens and animals at the bottom. As you can see Macbeth?s place is thane. This gives him a duty to the king and god that he must obey, they are his superiors. In Shakespeare?s time a king is chosen by God, it was his will that a king was produced after all; life is an act of God and terminating one so close to god would be a sinful act. This is shown in Macbeth by dark clouds appearing on the horizon and all of Scotland being shrouded in darkness for the entirety of the play, this is meant to represent the evil brewing in Scotland. It is only when the king is finally killed does the country become totally dark, latent natural imagery vanishes from the kingdom as evil takes control. Killing a king, even today in modern society is the utmost crime. It is the only crime in the United Kingdom, which still caries the death penalty. Such an act weighed heavy on Macbeth?s mind and eventually drove him mad. For such an act the only words which spark the beginning of the murder comes from the witches who recite a prophecy to Macbeth.
The three witches are introduced at the start of the play, capturing the scene using dramatic dialogue and atmosphere. They appear amongst thunder and lightning. This dark weather creates a sign of things to come and signals the arrival of evil to Scotland. It could be argued that the witches bring the dark weather and that they summon it as each entrance is met with thunder and lightning. Thunder and lightning are representative of unknown powers and are a destructive force much like the witches. In Shakespeare?s time lightning and thunder were unknown events. They seemingly appeared whenever darkness descended on to the sky. I believe that Shakespeare wanted to give the effect of an unknown element and give the witches an air of chaos by uniting them with mystical elements, and adding to their unpredictable nature and so increasing the impact they have on the people watching the play. This is also represented through their controlled verse and rhyme indicating a cruel and calculative manner and the events they claim to have caused, for example: In act 1 scene 3 this is shown by one of the witches casting a storm to kill a sailor after his wife refuses to give the witch chestnuts. While they command these powerful yet small events it is also shown that they could control a greater power. The ship described in the scene could easily represent the ship of state, controlling it with simple powers. If a ship was toppled by something as small as the wind then Macbeth could topple the state. This signifies how something small could topple a country, showing how brittle the kingdom of Scotland was.
In the play the witches play a fundamental part. They kindle Macbeth?s ambition for kingship and quell his reasoning making him vulnerable to intimidation and seduction in the form of lady Macbeth. Their entrance also brings into the play the idea of fate and the role that it has in the play and in essence they provide a catalyst for the events in the play.
Macbeth?s first meeting with the witches throws his mind into chaos. Their mysterious imagery, rhyme and clothes are representative of something he has not seen before, something beyond nature. He is a soldier and honourable thane of the king, performing orders given to him and vanquishing the enemies of the kingdom. This is seen in his campaign against the traitorous thane of Cawdor (a name which turns out to be synonymous with treachery) and the Norwegian invaders. In his own mind he has a plain understanding, unwilling to look beyond his own foreseeable future. When he sees the witches his eyes appear opened. Through listening to the three prophesies: Macbeth will be ?Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glamis and King hereafter? he is introduced to ideas of greatness, a concept which has not crossed his mind before, therefore making him query the witches for more information to quench his curiosity for this new idea. Another idea to this is that is that Macbeth has previously thought of the murder of Duncan but has never had the drive to commit it. This explains why he is so curious of what the witches are saying as he may be guilty of what he has thought before and suspects the witches know something.
I believe that the witch?s role in the murder is that they start the ball rolling. While they do not partake in any physical act they play on Macbeth?s inner desires, starting him off on a train of thought that will end in the murder of King Duncan. I feel that while they add temptation and influence to Macbeth they cannot control his destiny. Macbeth creates his own misery when he is driven by his own sense of guilt to not fulfilling ?what makes a man? and to lady Macbeth. This causes him to become insecure as to the reasons for his actions. As a result of this he becomes paranoid which in turn causes him to commit more murders in order to secure his already fragile position. The witches offer great enticement, but it is in the end, each individual?s decision to fall for the temptation, or to be strong enough to resist their captivation. Therefore the three Witches are only responsible for the introduction of these ideas and for further forming ideas in Macbeth?s head, but they are not responsible for his actions throughout the play.
One of the main characters in the play is lady Macbeth. she is a figure who feels herself to be weak yet is the plotter for the murder of Duncan. Throughout the play there is a constant theme of ?fair is foul?. Lady Macbeth is the personification of this phrase. Underneath her beautiful and fragile exterior lies ambition and greed. In Macbeth?s letter she is as inspired as Macbeth was when he met the witches and sees what must be done: kill Duncan, but because Lady Macbeth is a woman, she does not have the strength in her female frame, either in heart, body nor mind to carry out the murderous deed. Therefore, she calls upon the aid of the supernatural to give her male powers, so that she may have the gall to go through with the plan to murder the King, and allow Macbeth to obtain the throne.
“The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visiting of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman?s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature?s mischief! Come thick night,
and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry ?Hold, hold!?”
Women have always been considered as the gentler and fair sex. Lady Macbeth feels that to commit this crime, she must become as cruel as she believes men are. She calls for the spirits to unsex her, so she may act as a man so that she may commit these acts and think ambitiously, to become more calculating and give her clarity of mind to perform such an evil act and to give her the power to pursued her honourable husband into such an act. She wishes to be ?posessed? to avoid her emotions of guilt and regret to hamper her. Also the statement ?unsex me here? could link to the witch?s ambiguous sex and how their strangeness confused her husband. It is obvious from the letter Macbeth sends to lady Macbeth that he is amazed and intrigued by these strange ?women? with beards. If these people were to reduce Macbeth the strong general into a curious child in only a few words then she could surely pursued him to murder Duncan to achieve both their aims if she put her mind to it?
When Macbeth finally comes home soon after Lady Macbeth reads the letter, Lady Macbeth asks him to dispatch Duncan. While his answer is non-committal he has clearly been giving the subject a great deal of thought and seems preoccupied.
The following scene is clearly an illustration of how deceitful lady Macbeth can be. It seemed that despite only moments before lady Macbeth had been plotting to kill Duncan, she is able to greet him as a gracious hostess. This is once again an example of ?fair is foul? she is being fair to Duncan while her inner thoughts are foul, this is again confirmed in Act 1, Scene 7, Macbeth is doubtful of Lady Macbeth’s plot to murder the king. He doesn’t think that he will be able to live with the guilt of regicide while the king is staying under his very roof, and then decides that he will not kill the king. When Lady Macbeth notices that Macbeth has left the room, she goes to speak to him. Macbeth firmly tells her that they will he will not take any part in the killing: “we will precede no further in this business”. Lady Macbeth changes his view by turning from fair to foul to psychologically drain Macbeth, causing him to reluctantly agree to the murder. An example of this fair/foul imagery is when she uses the fair image of her baby to convey her foul feelings towards Macbeth?s refusal to murder Duncan. I think that she is only able to say these things because of her possession, which occurred when she called to the spirits in Act1 scene 3. Macbeth is not very confident in her own actions so calls to the spirits to possess and unsex her. This possession only lasts until the end of the murder of Duncan where she begins to feel the pangs of guilt. When Macbeth follows on to kill Banquo and Macduff?s family she finally goes over the edge. I believe that she feels partly responsible for the events unfolding as it was her that unleashed the demon in Macbeth and also he is acting like this so that she will love him. She accused Macbeth of being cowardly that he will not kill Duncan, it is a possibility that Macbeth is killing all these people to gain her love and, after all he is serving her needs as well by securing their throne.
Finally her madness secures her guilt. She appears fragile as if the possession is now totally free from her. She is left a weak shadow of her former self; the candle she is holding which can only cast a small shadow strengthens this metaphor. This candle represents her life and shows that she only has a small amount of time left to live and it can be easily extinguished, another example of ?fair is foul?. In that short space of time Lady Macbeth finally realizes the significance of associating herself in the murder plot, and the severe consequences it will bring. Tormented by nightmares, she sleepwalks through her bedroom and cries,
?What, will these hands ne?er be clean? Here?s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.?
The significance of the blood imagery displays Lady Macbeth?s guilt over Duncan?s murder. Her hallucinations of blood on her hands and her constant efforts to wash it off demonstrate that the agony of having guilty feelings is causing her to go insane, this insane image is the last we see of lady Macbeth before she dies. I feel it is to show Lady Macbeth?s true form and to make us feel sympathy for all the characters. Shakespeare probably did this to show that not everybody is totally bad or good. Every character in the play is a mixture of good and bad, even Banquo who appears a perfect subject thinks of his prophecies.
In the play Macbeth starts out greatly admired with a strong character. As the play progresses, Macbeth’s personality and actions become more deceitful leading to his destruction. Macbeth’s changing character over the course of the play can be seen in his roles a general, husband and a king.
First, Macbeth’s changing character is evident in his role as a general. As the play begins, he is a brave general, well respected by his peers. The captain returning from battle reports of this saying:
“But all’s too weak; for brave Macbeth (for well he deserves that name)”
Duncan later confers his title as king of Scotland, claiming, “No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive our bosom interest. Go, pronounce his present death, and with his former title, greet Macbeth”. These people trust in his strength and depend on him. However, as the play continues, Macbeth becomes ineffective as a general. He becomes fearful at the sight of Banquo’s ghost. He pretends to appear brave by saying, “Thou canst say I did it. Never shake thy gory locks at me,” Macbeth is showing paranoia, a truly fearless General would not have fearful visions of those they have murdered. Macbeth’s sinful deeds not only lead him to be fearful but cornered as well. Siward, Malcolm and Macduff reveal Macbeth’s secret murders. Now that Macbeth’s secrets are out and he has nowhere to hide, he has to face Macduff and meet his destiny.
Macbeth’s changing character is evident not only in his role as a general, but also in his role as a husband. Macbeth tells his wife everything and confides in her via letter. He shares his most intimate feelings and secret plans. Macbeth even calls his wife “my dearest partner of greatness”. This proves the affection and trust he has in Lady Macbeth. When Macbeth really needs someone to turn to, near the end of the play, he grows distant from his wife. Macbeth does not continue to go to her for advice. He even tells the doctor to cure her of her mental illness, and makes no effort himself to help cure her. When Lady Macbeth dies, Macbeth states, ” She should have died hereafter. There would have been time for such a word.” He hears the news of his wife’s death, and reacts nonchalant and unemotional.
Macbeth’s changing character is revealed also in his roles as a king. Whist he initially appears strong in his position the guilt of the murder returns to haunt him. It is as if he is wearing borrowed robes and that he does not really deserve them as he is not a natural king. This is shown by echoes of Duncan?s past speeches and the absence of nature or rather a haunting of natural imagery with phrases such as ?disease? and ?sickness?. He said earlier in the play that Duncan was a good king stating that Duncan ?has been so clear in this great office? he could be plagued with paranoia that he is not as good a king as Duncan. Also his guilt in killing such a good king has made him so paranoid that life becomes insubstantial. He is so fearful that he will lose his position that he goes on a ?killing spree?, killing Banquo and Macduff?s family needlessly. What?s more he does not have the fortitude to commit the act himself, hiring murderers to kill these innocents so distancing him from the murders. It seems that the more Macbeth tries to cover up, the more powerless he becomes as King. He does not succeed in killing Fleance; Macbeth is powerless to stop Fleance’s escape. Macbeth is out of control. He winds up being murdered by Macduff, leaving Malcolm as ruler of Scotland. This event leaves everyone acclaiming “Hail king of Scotland.” To their new king. The question is: is Macbeth really that bad a king. From the play it would seem that Macbeth had affected very few people through his murders yet Malcolm demonises him. It is obvious from this that Malcolm is a highly intelligent person, much more than Duncan was, as Malcolm never trusts anyone. He knows how to exploit people, even more than lady Macbeth and appeals to the other thanes giving them all grander titles. The question is, is Malcolm any better a king than Macbeth. We do not know this but the natural imagery present seems to indicate so.
The multiple roles of Macbeth as a general, a husband and a king all show his changing character throughout Macbeth. The play portrays the complete evolution of Macbeth’s personality. It follows him from being a respectable person down the shameful path he takes to self-destruction. Everything about Macbeth falls apart and he loses control. Shakespeare’s message is that nothing good comes out of destroying others on your way to the top, even if you seem to get away with it.It is a study of human greed and desire.
Macbeth?s first prophetic event occurs when he first meets the witches. At this point Macbeth is relatively unscathed by psychological torment. Even though he has been in a battle he laughs and jests with his companion Banquo, bathing in glory when the mist unfolds around them uncovering three un-natural beings. He is extremely curious of these ?women with beards?. While Macbeth seems ?rapt with awe? Banquo holds his distance, jesting with Macbeth over his apparent fear of them. Banquo does not take the witches entirely seriously. While he appears to have not taken any notice he draws back on the witches later, asking Macbeth whether he has thought of them when his manner suddenly starts to become strange. A reason for this could be that the witches do not directly include him in their prophecies. Whether he isn?t the subject of their intent or he is incorruptible is uncertain. However the witches do play on his personality and use it to unsettle Macbeth. His prophecy concerns his son and his family?s line of kings. This could influence him to be more of a father and reach for his main strength and weakness as a character thus fulfilling his part in the story and the big picture.
His next psychological step is towards the end of the scene where he is throwing around ideas in his head (while said aloud). It seems he does not know what to make of the prophecies, one of the prophecies has already come true and Macbeth does not know what will happen next. The anticipation of what will happen next and the possibilities of the knowledge he has been given, with him weighing up the ?pros and cons? of it indicates the fragile balance of Macbeth?s mind. Also it has only been a few minutes since this information was given and Macbeth is already taking the major psychological leap of murdering the king. Being a soldier it seems reasonable that his first way to get power would be through conflict, but as a human being this is a huge leap. Before all his conquests were fought for a purpose, he had a known enemy and this is what kept him going. Now he is confused, he sees and easy way to get power yet seems too na?ve to use it. I feel that one of the major factors leading to his murder was for him to change from a general to a murderer. The fact that the diplomacy and forethought involved is so demanding. This could also indicate Macbeth?s reluctance to partake in the murder until lady Macbeth persuades him. While he seems to be non-committal in the letter scene it takes her to forcefully give the command for him finally to kill Duncan before he does so.
Once he has agreed for the last time, the murder the deceit and treachery starts to take place. Macbeth has psychologically reached the final jump: the actual regicide. This is the point where Macbeth seems to have cracked up mentally. As he is contemplating the murder for the final time a dagger appears before him. This is probably symbolic of the murder he about to commit, a psychological dagger showing Macbeth that this is the final jump. Macbeth takes this sign to indicate that this is showing him to murder the king although it could be a warning indicating that if he performs this act it will be his own blood on the blade. The fact that blood appears on the blade could mean that if Duncan is murdered Macbeth?s fate is sealed leading to a bloody death. Alternatively the blade could be the final psychological preparation showing that he had every intention of killing the king: that he had an order and he was going to follow it. One other interpretation is that the dagger is a sign sent by the witches. Maybe they were worried that Macbeth was not going to complete his task and his sense of honour was too great. This dagger is the final signal of moral disintegration for Macbeth, it is the last sign we see of Macbeth as anything near sane and rational.
The next scene (2,2) shows Macbeth soon after the murder, he enters traumatised, confused at the enormity of what he has done. Not only has he killed a king and gone against the natural order but he has not performed his job as host to Duncan. The guilt Macbeth is feeling must be huge as he starts having paranoid delusions. It is evident from Macbeth?s past speeches that he does not fear what happens after death and that the only thing he fears is to be found out. This fear is shown in Macbeth supposedly hearing someone shouting ?sleep no more, Glamis has murdered sleep? This paranoid delusion plays on this fear, there was no way that anyone could have known what Macbeth was doing so Macbeth claiming he hears a voice calling is probably Macbeth?s madness setting in.
In the play it is evident that Macbeth has many doubts about the murder of Duncan. If it were up to him and him alone I don?t think that he would have murdered Duncan, he may have contemplated it but without an order (which Macbeth always follows) I think his sense of honour would have been too great. I also think that Macbeth performed this act against his will. It is obvious he was reluctant about it and I think that he eventually performs the act because of Lady Macbeth?s pressure over him and the guilt that he is not a man if he doesn?t do it. This is the emotional blackmail that specifically affects Macbeth as his while job is focused on being a ?man?. Macbeth is obviously enormously concerned about bravado; he is a proud man so even if the act was wrong he would be perform it to prove his bravery. Macbeth?s ambition is also a prime factor, which cannot be ignored. After he has met the witches his ambition has been kindled and even before he meets lady Macbeth he has stated that he desperately wants the throne:? 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.? Although this is the case I think that the murder was performed against his will.
Fate and destiny in Shakespeare?s time was a major factor in life. It was believed that some greater force controlled life. The use of fate in ?Macbeth? can be seen from the very start of the play in the weird sisters. They approach Macbeth with prophecies that will all come true in the end. It would appear that Macbeth is just following destiny at first. However, Macbeth always has a choice throughout the play to choose his own fate, whether he takes the correct ones are determined by his own conscience and the influence of others around him. Therefore Macbeth created his own fate through his own free choice, a human vision of life.
In Act I, the three witches visit Macbeth and Banquo on the heath. The witches make three predictions; Macbeth will be the Thane of Cawdor, he will be King, and Banquo?s sons will be king but not Banquo. Even though the witches did make these prophecies, Macbeth?s fate was not sealed. Later in the same scene, Ross and Angus meet Macbeth. They tell Macbeth that he is now the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth then reflects on the predictions and says, ?Present fears are less than horrible imaginings?. Macbeth is relating his fear that he may have to do something violent in order to become king but he hopes that it can come about by ?chance?. Almost immediately after the witches have visited him, Macbeth begins to interpret their prophecies as a reality. He is almost trying to fulfil the tempting predictions, now that his mind is lustful for power, instead of remaining loyal to the King. This is an example of Macbeth?s fatal flaw. His ?vaulting ambition? is the factor, which eventually leads to his downfall. Macbeth seems to blame this for events. While he does not want to perform the act of murder it seems that his natural ambition exceeds his morals, almost so much that he cannot control it anymore as he describes it as having ?no spurs?. This is an example of his changing carechtor. Previously he was a moral character but now he has shunned all he was before, the events such as the battle against the traitors at the start of the story, count for nothing, he is a shadow of his former self.
It is once again apparent that Macbeth does control his own destiny when the witches make their second appearance to him. They show Macbeth three apparitions. These tell Macbeth that he will be king until Birnam Woods meet Dunsinane Hill and he cannot be killed by anyone born of woman. At this point in the play Macbeth has nothing else. His wife is useless to him so the only way he can have any control is by knowing his fate: by using the witches as a guideline to his life. The apparition that he cannot be harmed by anyone born of woman creates a false sense of security within himself. Even at this point, Macbeth still has a choice of whether or not to believe the witches. I don?t believe the witches ever put a spell on him; they have played to Macbeth?s own weaknesses and his greed.
From the beginning, Macbeth chose to follow the witches instead of letting things just naturally occur. Banquo serves to show how the predictions were not just destiny and did not control his life. Even when he sees that many are becoming true, he states, ?May they not be my oracles? He is stating that he will just let events occur and not try to fulfil the prophecies. Macbeth also had this same choice. If he had taken the same approach as Banquo, a claim could be made that it was destiny that Macbeth would murder Duncan. Also if fate really controlled Macbeth?s future then he could have refused to kill the king. If fate would control his future then he would have been made king a natural way. If he had taken this route to kingship he would have not followed the path of evil and not have had doubts about his kingship.
Macbeth?s downward spiral was created through his own free will. The witches did foretell his future but they never directly controlled his actions. The sisters did not cast a spell to make Macbeth commit his crimes although they did plant the seeds of chaos that sparked them. He was engulfed in his lust for power and his battle with his conscience; this led to his insomnia and ultimate downfall. In the end his false sense of security created the atmosphere for the battle in which he was to be killed in. Therefore I think that the witches representing fate do not have an important enough role to control Macbeth.
I feel that the most responsible person in the regicide of Duncan is Macbeth himself. I think this is the case not only because he performs the act but that all the way through the play he has been given a choice. He had a choice whether to take the witches prophecies to heart and whether to say no to Lady Macbeth. Even when it seemed he was at the point of no return he could have ignored the dagger and not gone ahead with the murder. I believe that Macbeth is a conscious individual in his own right, he knows right from wrong and he is loyal to his king but he is not very strong emotionally. He allows other people to control his destiny, people like Lady Macbeth to whom as her husband, could have told her simply no. Instead of doing this he was non-committal, making him appear weak. For most of the play Macbeth is a vessel for lady Macbeth, Lady Macbeth can only influence her life through her husband, to this degree she has power and managers to exploit her husband. I think that she is the second most influential power to the murder of Duncan and it is she who finally pushes Macbeth to the point where he must make his own decision about the murder. She accuses him of not being a man but a coward, taunting his masculinity. This is one of Macbeth?s major weaknesses and his weaknesses make him vulnerable.
The third most influential party in the murder of Duncan are the witches and fate. While they do not say much or have an active part in the murder of Duncan they manage to confuse Macbeth with their prophecies. These prophecies are the key to the whole play, if it wasn?t for the prophecies I don?t think that Duncan would have been murdered, however they do not influence Macbeth beyond this, which means they do not have to dictate to him. However they make the most valuable contribution to Macbeth?s decision-making process: the prophecy. Without the prophecy, even Lady Macbeth probably would not have thought of doing such a thing. It is not that the desire for Macbeth to become king would not have existed if the witches had not talked to Macbeth; the desire existed in both Macbeth and his wife naturally in their position as nobles. The significance of the prophecy is that it brought this desire to the foreground, and made it a reality. This changed Macbeth?s thoughts from whether or not he would be king to how he would get to be king and provided the mental leverage for lady Macbeth to show him to commit the murder so that he could fulfil his destiny.
Therefore I must conclude that Macbeth is the main contributor to the death of Duncan, however his actions are augmented by the influence of others. Duncan provided an opportunity to assume the throne, his wife encouraged him to step forward and fulfil his destiny, and the witches make Macbeth and Lady Macbeth believe that it is possible and inevitable. With these factors all in correlation the single path in Macbeth?s mind is opened. Through commitment to this task Macbeth chose the death of Duncan above his own honour. While he performed the act himself no man is an island. He relied on the influences of those around him in order to form his decision.