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Essay: The Root of Macbeth’s Downfall

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During the Elizabethan era, the late sixteenth century, belief in supernatural forces was common. If people thought something was out of the ordinary, they would attribute it to supernatural elements (Moniz). In many of William Shakespeare’s plays, the supernatural has a substantial role, including Macbeth. Although the supernatural spur Macbeth’s ambition, he freely chooses to perform evil. His corrupt decisions flood him with guilt and paranoia. The mystical forces around him influence his overconfidence, but he prefers to act recklessly as a result. Despite supernatural influences, Macbeth commits evil actions out of his free will, which leads to his downfall.

In the first place, ambition induces Macbeth to execute destructive actions that lead to his demise, despite supernatural influences. Although one of the witches’ prophecies includes Macbeth becoming king of Scotland, he murders Duncan in order to speed his fate and claim the throne. Macbeth demonstrates his vicious desires when he expresses, “Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires: / The eye wink at the hand! yet let that be, / Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.” (Shakespeare. 1. 4. 57–60). Shakespeare refers to the Great Chain of Beings, where the stars are at a higher level, thus have greater power over mankind. Macbeth portrays this when he calls on darkness to hide his evil thoughts. Since he calls on darkness, contrasting with light, Shakespeare foreshadows that Macbeth will cause his own downfall as he chooses to call on darkness, opposing the powerful stars. Shakespeare personifies light when Macbeth says that he does not want light to see what his hands desire, which is to murder Duncan. Macbeth wants his eyes, as well as others’, to be blind to what his motives, but in the end he wants the evil deed done. This displays how Macbeth is aware of his malevolence, but he still chooses to murder his kinsman because he is consumed by rampant ambition. Macbeth is willing to go to any lengths to become king and wants it to be secret from everyone around him. Although Macbeth does not have a direct claim to the throne, his diabolical actions provide him with the satisfaction of kingship, but in doing so he brings about his own destruction. The witches only provide Macbeth with information about his fate, which he can ignore just as Banquo does, but he chooses to believe in the prophecies and rush them to claim the throne faster.

Therefore, Macbeth’s ambition causes him to willingly execute vile actions that ultimately lead to his demise.
Consequently, Macbeth’s evil actions induce paranoia and guilt, which bring about his downfall. To begin, after murdering Duncan, guilt and paranoia first start to chase Macbeth. In act 2, scene 2, Macbeth’s descent into madness is expressed when he says, “Methought, I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep” – the innocent sleep, / Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care, / The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, / Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, / Chief nourisher in life’s feast—” (Shakespeare. 47–52). Macbeth’s mind creates these unreal sounds because he feels remorse for murdering Duncan in his sleep. Shakespeare personifies sleep as being innocent to emphasize how Duncan was an innocent man and vulnerable in his sleep when Macbeth kills him. Shakespeare also uses a series of metaphors that compare sleep to peaceful objects and conditions. He describes sleep as a silk thread that smooths out the day’s problem; a completion of each day; a bath that refreshes a weary worker; a balm that soothes hurt minds; and a feast in which the second course, the main dish, is the most nourishing, thus day is the first course and sleep is the second. These metaphors signify that by murdering Duncan, Macbeth induces psychological burden and guilt upon himself that will deprive him of the nourishment of sleep at night. The choice to murder Duncan is sprout out of Macbeth’s free will. The witches do not force Macbeth to carry out this nefarious deed. As a result, Macbeth feels guilt and paranoia for his actions, which contribute to his collapse.

Furthermore, Macbeth hallucinates Banquo’s ghost due to his paranoia, which causes him to admit his wrongdoings in front of his guests at the banquet, cuing his downfall. Revealing to his guests, Macbeth shudders, “murders have been performed / Too terrible for the ear: the time has been, / That when the brains were out, the man would die, / And there an end: but now, they rise again, / With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,” (Shakespeare. 3. 4. 93–97). Macbeth murders Banquo because he is paranoid about the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s son will become king. Fleance escapes the murderers, leaving Macbeth to feel insecure about his kingship. Along with escalated paranoia after murdering Duncan, guilt overcomes Macbeth for now murdering Banquo and so he imagines Banquo’s ghost haunting him. Macbeth fears that Banquo has risen from the dead to seek revenge and taunt him about his kingship, which he achieved through sinful acts. In his dismay, Macbeth partly confesses to his murders by saying, “murders have been performed … With twenty mortal murders on their crowns”. Twenty fatal wounds on Banquo’s head cause his death and Macbeth’s guilty conscious admits that in front of his guests at the banquet. His confessions endanger his kingship since now the Thanes are suspicious of his crimes. Hence, Macbeth’s immoral choices spur his guilt and paranoia, leading to his downfall.

In addition to the witches’ prophecies, they show Macbeth apparitions after he willingly visits them to learn more about his future, which urge him to feel overconfident. First, Macbeth’s reliance on the witches’ apparition that nothing can defeat him until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane develops his overconfidence. He expresses his boldness when he says, “Bring me no more report; let them fly all; / Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane / I cannot taint with fear.” (Shakespeare. 5. 3. 1–3). Macbeth does not want any reports of the incoming attack since he is confident of his victory over Malcolm’s forces. Instead of being cautious and preparing for battle, he acts recklessly by disregarding his men. He hints that the Thanes who are standing with him can “fly” as he is certain that he will win, regardless of the shortage of his soldiers. Out of his free will, Macbeth decides to go to the witches. Then he chooses to rely on his interpretation of their prophecies because he thinks that the trees of Birnam Wood can never move out of their roots to come to Dunsinane. This builds his overconfidence, making him feel immortal. However, once the army actually comes to his castle, in their camouflage of branches, he is unprepared and lacks soldiers. The soldiers that end up fighting with him do so half-heartedly. Thus, Macbeth’s belief in the witches’ apparitions compel him to feel overconfident, foreshadowing his demise.

Similarly, another one of the apparitions shown by the witches was a bloody child, which gives Macbeth the illusion that no one born of a woman can kill him, adding to his overconfidence. Macbeth demonstrates his dependence on the witches’ prophecies when he says, “Thou wast born of woman. / But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn, / Brandish’d by man that’s born of a woman born.” (Shakespeare. 5. 7. 16–18). After Macbeth slaughters Young Siward, his confidence further increases. Shakespeare personifies “weapons laugh[ing]” to emphasize how Macbeth laughs in the face of deadly weapons. He blindly follows the witches’ apparitions that no one born of a woman can kill him, which to him is everyone. Macbeth believes that he will remain king until his natural death. Due to his overconfidence, he does not take his opponents seriously, ultimately leading to his failure. Therefore, the witches’ apparitions incite Macbeth’s overconfidence, which causes him to commit imprudent actions, bringing about his downfall.

To summarize, although Macbeth is exposed to supernatural elements that provide with information about his fate, he chooses to rush his fate by committing evil actions, leading to his demise. His unchecked ambition motivates him to perform atrocious actions that he must keep secret from the people around him. He becomes overcome with guilt and paranoia for his wrongdoings. He also chooses to act rashly because of his overconfidence, which is the last step towards his downfall. Through Macbeth, Shakespeare encourages people to think deeply about whether the decisions they make contribute to their circumstances, or if it is all nature’s doing.

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