A Tale Of Two Theories
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 Macbeth is a literary work of art, and as a piece 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 his ambition. 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 judgment.
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.79-80). 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 that 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 controlled by some mystic force.
The effect of the witches on the action of the play is best summarized by these words: …while the influence of the Witches’ prophecies on Macbeth is very great, it is quite clearly shown to be an influence and nothing more. (Bradley 232) Most important to the theory that Macbeth is responsible 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 ambition. 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.25-27).
Are these the words of a man who is merely being led down a self-destructive 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 has been but for a wayward son,/Spiteful and wrathful, who, as others do,/Loves for his own ends, not for you. (III.v.11-13), 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.