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Shane Marcus
Mr. Watkins
English 3
22 December 2011
Tragedy of Macbeth
Throughout the Tragedy of Macbeth, Shakespeare foreshadows Macbeth’s downfall
several times. Macbeth’s tragic fall is one in which he brought upon himself, and was eventually
going to occur whether he wanted to or not. Three important factors within the play influence his
decisions that he makes to cause this downfall; allowing himself to be manipulated by outside
forces, his “vaulting” ambition, and inevitably his guilty conscience/overwhelming courage
collapses on him. Macbeth’s conscience brings upon an even worse fate for himself than he
would have anticipated.
“I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition” (1.7.25-38).
In these three lines Macbeth clearly indicates that he has but only ambition that drives him to kill
Duncan. Prior to the scene where Macbeth meets the three witches, he has already wanted to take
the throne for himself, but never really had any sole purpose or reason to do so. The witches’
prophecies merely feed the growing fire, and gets the ball going in the right direction (or wrong
direction?), and drive him to plot how to kill Duncan. “However, the witches do not control
behavior in the play. They are symbolic of evil and prescient of crimes that are to come, but they
neither encourage nor facilitate Macbeth’s actions. They are merely a poignant external symbol
of the ambition that is already within Macbeth” (Foster par. 4). Macbeth’s ambition never seems
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to be satisfied, because even after he has become King, he still must rid of any obstacles along
the way who may threaten his safety of keeping the throne within his family (Banquo).
Macbeth’s downfall is largely contributed by his ambition, whereas if he had none for becoming
King, he wouldn’t be such a hated person.
Besides his “vaulting” ambition, another one of his vulnerabilities include his tendency to
be manipulated by several outside forces. One of those outside forces is Macbeth’s wife, Lady
Macbeth. Once she has learned that Macbeth will be the Thane of Cawdor, and he received
strange predictions by weird witches, she sets her mind that she must aid Macbeth to become
King. “She therefore rouses him to do at once that from which she knows nothing but fear of
detection deters him; and, feeling that there are no conscientious scruples to overcome, applies
herself to show that the present is the most favorable instant. It is for him she thinks—for him
she is unsexed—for his ambition she works” (Maginn par. 1). Lady Macbeth manipulates
Macbeth to overcome his fears of actually committing the murder, to keep him moving forward,
and stopping him from thinking twice about the action. “Wouldst thou have that which thou
esteem’st the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem” (1.7.41-43). After this
suggestion of Macbeth being a coward because he will not pursue what he had been planning,
the deal was sealed and would commit the murder. Lady Macbeth twists his words around and
breaks him away from anything that would deter him. However, Macbeth then shows how easy it
is for someone to manipulate him, thus contributing to his downfall.
If a winner was to be selected, Macbeth’s guilty conscience would be that winner of all
three. Due to his hallucinations of the floating dagger, and Banquo’s ghost, his mind was left
floundering always paranoid about his surroundings. “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
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crown” (3.4.79-81). The vision of Banquo’s ghost stirs him utterly and reveals to a great deal of
the guests at the banquet that something he has done shakes his very soul to disturb him in a
natural state. “but on the trap that the givens of the circumstances and of his character have
arranged for him: he cannot abstain from action because he will loath himself for not daring to
kill the king, but when he kills the king he loathes himself for having done it, no third option
being available” (Sadowski par. 1 ). This quote suggests the fact that if he had no killed the king,
Macbeth would have eaten himself away for not taking the chance of killing Duncan, because no
other time would be perfect to do so. But, since he did in fact kill Duncan, the guilt of knowing
the fact he killed his beloved father figure will also eat away at his soul until nothing is left.
Macbeth’s courage plays a role in his downfall, in such a way that he feels invincible after he
receives the predictions from the three witches’ master. He feels that in no way possible that
Burnam Woods could march to Dunsinane, or there is no one of woman born that could kill him.
But, he overlooks certain possibilities, thus leaving him in a state of unpreparedness. Due to
these facts, they could be considered the largest contributing factor to Macbeth’s downfall.
Macbeth’s tragic downfall nonetheless is caused by no one but himself. Due to his
“vaulting” ambition, being easily manipulated by outside forces, and his guilty
conscience/overwhelming courage are the three major factors that he brings upon himself to lead
to his death. Since Macbeth is made out to be a static figure, he would then do nothing to try to
avoid all of these downfall-factors. So it turns out, Macbeth is not such a momentous leader he
thought he would be after all.
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Works Cited
Foster, Edward. “Macbeth.” Masterplots 4 (2010): 1-3. Literary Reference Center. Web.
Maginn, William. "Lady Macbeth." The Shakespeare Papers of the Late William Maginn, LL.D.
Ed. Shelton Mackenzie. Redfield, 1856. 171-208. Rpt. in Shakespearean Criticism. Ed.
Laurie Lanzen Harris and Mark W. Scott. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale Research,
1986. Literature Resource Center. Web.
Sadowski, Piotr. "Macbeth." Dynamism of Character in Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies
Macbeth, New Edition, Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations (2010): 273–99, 315–17.
Literary Reference Online. Web.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. The Language of Literature. Eds. Arthur N. Applebee, et al.
Evanston, Ill.: McDougal Little Inc., 2006. 323-433. Print.