Essay: Macbeth’s downfall is due to both nature and nurture

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  • Subject area(s): English literature essays
  • Reading time: 6 minutes
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  • Published on: July 16, 2019
  • File format: Text
  • Number of pages: 2
  • Tags: Macbeth Shakespeare
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The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest issues within psychology. Nature refers to factors such as genes and heredity that influence one’s behavior. Nurture refers to all the environmental characteristics that impact who we are, including our childhood experiences, how we were raised and the culture we were raised in. Some philosophers such as Plato and Descartes believed that certain things are inborn or that they occur naturally regardless of environmental factors. Both of them suggested that human characteristics are from evolution and individual differences are due to a unique change in one’s genetic code. Other well known philosophers such as John Locke believed in something known as the tabula rasa, which is the belief that the mind is a blank slate at birth and how you think comes from your learned experiences throughout life. From this perspective, psychological characteristics and behavioral differences that appear through childhood are a result of learning. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare shows that despite the external factors that influence Macbeth’s bad decisions, it’s Macbeth’s own character flaws that lead to his downfall.

Regardless of the impact of others, Macbeth’s ambition was the largest factor which contributed to him committing crimes, and ultimately leading to his downfall. However, Macbeth’s ambition was not a gene that was passed down from previous generations, he acquired the trait after he received the witches three prophecies in act 1 scene 3. Sometimes, as related to the nature vs. nurture debate, personality traits are obtained overtime due to certain environmental factors. It was not until Macbeth learned of his prophecies from the witches that he became ambitious. The witches hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, then Thane of Cawdor and eventually king. The first two prophecies come with no effort. “If change will have me king, why change may crown me.” Macbeth was named Thane of Cawdor for his achievements on the battlefield. Macbeth was striving so hard to become king that he forgot about his morals. Sometimes, people became so wrapped up in something they want that they forget what is right from what is wrong. In this case, Macbeth did whatever he needed to do to become king. In order to become king, Macbeth had to commit murders and unnecessary crimes, all because he wanted the authority. The trait of ambition relates to nurture rather than nature. Since Macbeth was not born ambitious, it does not make sense to say that he is ambitious only because of heredity. Macbeth is driven to act in a sense that will eventually name him king, therefore his personality is controlled by nurture, signifying that how Macbeth thinks comes from his learned experiences (his prophecies from the witch).

The murder of King Duncan was one of the most crucial crimes committed by Macbeth. Macbeth was driven by external factors to murder King Duncan. He commits murder because it is the only way he could become king. Macbeth was driven to kill Duncan by his abundance of ambition and his wife. Lady Macbeth told Macbeth that the only way he would be able to become king is if he killed King Duncan. In scene 2 Lady Macbeth said, “What beast was’t then that made you break this enterprise to me?” (Shakespeare pg. 55) Lady Macbeth says this to Macbeth to guilt him into killing Duncan. Since Macbeth is full of ambition, this was a risk he was willing to take. Macbeth drugged the two guards in front of Duncan’s bedroom door. Once the guards were passed out, Macbeth walked into Duncan’s room and killed him with a dagger. Macbeth was not born knowing that he was going to end up killing Duncan in order to become king. He only realized after the witches talked to him that he would need to murder to gain the throne. If this was related to the nature theory, he would be born this way. It is not like Macbeth had a serious psychological disorder all of his life. Macbeth murdered King Duncan when he realized that it was his only option if he wanted to become king. Sometimes, we do crazy things to get what we want (even though it should never get that crazy).

Human nature should not be overseen when it comes to Macbeth’s downfall. As humans, we strive to become as powerful as we can. The more superiority we obtain, the better off we are. Macbeth is so focused on being king that his instinct tell him he must do whatever he needs to do to become king. In psychology, there is something known as the incentive theory of motivation. The incentive theory is one of the major theories that suggests behavior is motivated by desire for reinforcement. Each person is born with instincts which drive them to accomplish a goal. It is apparent that Macbeth’s instincts are what lead him to reach his goal of becoming king. It is understandable why people see Macbeth’s downfall as related to nature. Every human is born with instincts. We are born with motivation to succeed and accomplish goals, therefore, making this pertain to the nature side of the debate rather than nurture.

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