Many factors contributed to the deterioration of the character Macbeth, of which three will be discussed. These three components are: the prophecies given by the three witches, the influence and manipulation of Lady Macbeth, and the character flaws of Macbeth. Combined, these factors caused the inevitable deterioration of Macbeth’s character, resulting in his descent into madness. To explain how these three components worked together to cause the downfall of Macbeth, each factor will be addressed and explained in relation to the effect that they each had upon his character.
The first factor which contributed to the deterioration of Macbeth was the prophesies, as told to him by the three witches. These original prophesies caused a chain reaction of events to occur within Macbeth, as well as within the world around him. Once aware of his own fate, Macbeth foolishly tried to control this entity, which greatly surpassed his own power and intelligence as a human being. His ignorance towards fate was the first element in this tangled web of deceit and obsession which worked against him. Macbeth’s obsession with these prophesies also played an important role in the deterioration of his character. From the moment that he learned of his fate, each decision that he made was based solely upon these prophesies; his greed and ambition being the driving force behind each and every action made. These prophesies were the causative incident which triggered a chain reaction of ill fated events to occur. In turn, the aftermath of these events plagued the character of Macbeth, causing him to become only a shadow of his former self.
The second factor is the influence and manipulation of Lady Macbeth. This alone contributed greatly to the degeneration of Macbeth’s character, as she introduced him to the concept of murder. From the moment that she learned of the prophesies, Lady Macbeth began to manipulate and control Macbeth; attacking his manhood in an attempt to persuade him to fulfill the prophesies. In Act one, Scene seven, Lady Macbeth states, “Wouldst thou have that which thou 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.” His confidence only slightly shaken, Macbeth responds, “Prithee peace: I dare do all that may become a man, who dares do more, is none.” Instead of respecting the wishes of Macbeth, she presses further, implying that Macbeth’s manhood is at stake, and the only remedy for this is the murder of King Duncan. This conversation was the beginning of the end for Macbeth, as he fell prey to the schemes of his Lady. After Macbeth committed the murder, his character had changed to one which was plagued by guilt. The murder weighed heavily upon his conscience, which triggered the slow deterioration of his character. Madness was inevitable.
The third element which contributes to the degeneration of Macbeth is his character flaws. Macbeth is introduced to the audience as a humble and honest leader. Although, once his fate had been revealed to him, he was driven purely by greed and obsession. His lust for power was elevated, and the knowledge of his fate coined a conceited and misguided trust in what he thought to be his eternal mortality. Due to the fact that Macbeth thrived on power, he lost his entire value of humility and humanity. Yet, in contrast, Macbeth felt remorseful at times for the deeds that he committed. For example, in Act two, Scene two, Macbeth professes his remorse and guilt through the statement, “But wherefore could not I pronounce ‘Amen’? I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’ Stuck in my throat.” By this, the audience is shown that although the prophesies are unfolding, Macbeth regrets his actions as they contradict the values that he once held dear. Yet, his remorse seems to fade as his craving for power increases. Macbeth continues, as the powers of evil feed upon every move that he makes, to make way for his advancement as prophesied by the witches. He hires two men to murder Banquo and Fleance, those who posed a threat to his encompassing reign. With Banquo eliminated, Macbeth surges with a new sense of power. Though Fleance escaped, Macbeth felt no reason to worry at that point in time. This relates back to the recurring theme of “eternal mortality” which Macbeth displays. There is no doubt that he is acting upon the impulses that were aroused by the original prophecies of his fate. In Act four, Scene one, he returned to the three witches, desiring more information about his fortune. In reaction to these prophesies, the theme of his “eternal mortality” is once again at work. With this newfound sense of false confidence, the downfall of Macbeth was inevitable as not one being is invincible. His ambition, greed, obsession, belief of his eternal mortality, and false certitude were the character flaws which caused the degeneration and the downfall of his character.
The prophesies given by the three witches, the influence and manipulation of Lady Macbeth, and the character flaws of Macbeth himself caused and contributed to the degeneration and downfall of Macbeth. Alone, each of these factors are significant as they caused a chain reaction of events to occur within Macbeth. Yet together, these factors intensified in strength; a difficult situation to overcome had become impossible. The prophesies told to Macbeth triggered a lust for power to emerge within himself; a craving so intense it controlled his every action. The influence and manipulation of Lady Macbeth caused the ambitious Macbeth to commit murder. Once Macbeth began this reign of terror, he could not turn back. The road that he chose that fateful night was the one that he would walk upon for the rest of his life. His guilt stricken conscience plagued by remorse, Macbeth was never again at peace. The descent into madness had long since begun. Macbeth’s character flaws also contributed to the deterioration of his character as one of strong morals would not have succumbed to the schemes of Lady Macbeth. His ambition, greed, and obsession only aided his degeneration, as they worked against him from the beginning. Fighting these factors as a unified element would have been as impossible as an attempt to swim against a wild currant. These violent, merciless waters represent the three factors which worked against Macbeth. Together, these elements formed an intense power which left Macbeth at it’s complete and undeniable mercy. Macbeth was but a pawn in the hands of fate. The checkmate? Complete madness.