A Tale of Two Theories
Macbeth(c.1607), written by William Shakespeare, is the tragic tale of Macbeth, a virtuous man, corrupted by
power and greed. This tragedy could in fact be called “A Tale of Two Theories”. One theory suggests that the
tragic hero, Macbeth, is led down an unescapable road of doom by an outside force, namely fate in the form of
the three witches. The second suggests that there is no supernatural force working against Macbeth, which
therefore makes him responsible for his own actions and inevitable downfall. It must be remembered that
Macbethis a literary work of art, and as a peice of art is open to many different interpretations, none of
them right and none of them wrong. But the text of the play seems to imply that Macbeth is indeed responsible
for his own actions which are provoked by an unwillingness to listen to his own conscience, the witches, and
First, Macbeth ignores the voice of his own psyche. He knows what he is doing is wrong even
before he murders Duncan, but he allows Lady Macbeth and greed to cloud his judgement. In referring to the
idea of the murder of Duncan, Macbeth first states,”We will proceed no further in this business”(I.vii.32).
Yet, after speaking with Lady Macbeth he recants and proclaims,”I am settled, and bend up/Each corporal agent
to this terrible feat”(I.vii.7980). There is nothing supernatural to be found in a man being swayed by the
woman he loves, as a matter of fact this action could be perceived as quite the opposite.
Second, the witches
have to be dispelled as a source of Macbeth’s misfortune before the latter theory can be considered.
It is admittedly strange that the weird sisters first address Macbeth with,”All hail, Macbeth! hail
to thee Thane of Cawdor!”(I.iii.49), a title which not even Macbeth is aware he has been awarded.
Even stranger is the third witch calling to Macbeth,”All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!”(I.iii.50).
However as stated by Bradley,”No connection of these announcements with any actions of his was even hinted by
the withches”(232). Some are still not convinced though of the witches less than supernatural role;
nevertheless, Macbeth appears throughout the play to be completely aware 3 of his actions, as opposed
to being contolled by some mystic force. The effect of the witches on the action of the play is best
summarized by these words:
…while the influences of the Witches’
prophecies on Macbeth is very great,
it is quite clearly shown to be an influnce and
nothing more.(Bradley 232)
Most important to the theory
that Macbeth is reponsible for his own actions would be a point that the infamous witches and Macbeth
agree upon. Such an element exists in the form of Macbeth’s ambiton. In the soliloquy Macbeth gives
before he murders Duncan, he states, “…I have no spur/To prick the sides of intent, but only/Vaulting
ambition,…”(I.vii.2527). Are these the words of a man who is merely being led down a self dustructive
path of doom, with no will of his own? Or are they the words of a man who realizes not only the graveness
of his actions, but, also the reasons behind them? The answer is clear, Macbeth is a totally cognizant
principal and not a mindless puppet. Later the head witch, Hecate, declares,”Hath been but for a wayward
son,/Spiteful and wrathful, who, as others do,/Loves for his own ends, not for you.” (III.v.1113),
which again highlights Macbeth’s ambitious nature. The most significant part of the play is the part
that is missing, and that is a connection between Macbeth’s ambition and some spell cast by the weird
sisters which might be said to magically cause an increase in his desires.
While purposely played in a
mysterious setting, the location is not meant to cloud the true theme of the play with the supernatural.
Macbeth simply succumbs to natural urges which take him to a fate of his own making. Everyone has character
flaws that he must live with; Macbeth simply allowed those flaws to destroy him. Works Cited:Bradley, A.C.
“The Witch Scenes in Macbeth.” England in Literature. Ed. John Pfordesher,Gladys V. Veidemanis, and
Helen McDonnell. Illinois: Scott, Foresman, 1989. 232233 Shekespeare, William. Macbeth. England in Literature.
Ed. John Pfordesher, Gladys V. Veidemanis, and Helen McDonnell. Illinois: Scott, Foresman, 1989. 191262