To what extent are the witches and Lady Macbeth responsible for Macbeth’s actions?

“What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won”. ‘Valiant’, ‘brave’, and a ‘worthy gentleman’, Macbeth was once a courageous hero, loyal and dedicated to his king. Yet, the alluring prophecies of dark supernatural forces and the persuasion of his wife lead this honourable man into shame and ‘disgrace’, committing regicide, the murdering of friends, women and children, and bringing upon Scotland the worst possible afflictions, a bloody tyranny. However, while the influences of the witches and Lady Macbeth provide Macbeth with motif, support and inspire the spirit of self- assertiveness, it is ultimately his lust for power that may be seen to cause him to blindly disregard the perilous repercussions of his actions, leading him to his downfall.

At the commencement of the play, upon receiving the witches’ prophecies, Macbeth and Banquo are shown facing a temptation - the lust for power that lurks beneath essential human nature. Like Banquo, Macbeth is faced with a choice - to uphold justice, loyalty and live the life of ‘honours’ and ‘golden opinions’ that is bestowed upon him, or to submit to ‘black deep desires’ and destroy his innocence and morality. He knows his motive is inadequate, and confesses: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition”. He knows as subject, kinsman and host, it is morally wrong to commit murder upon Duncan. He also knows that a man should accept the role in society dictated for him by ‘the gift that bounteous nature have in him closed’, and that to usurp another role is a sin against heaven. Yet unlike Banquo, who may be seen to represent the triumph of good over evil, he succumbs to his desires, evident in his imagination of his ‘dagger of the mind’, which may be seen to symbolize his moral collapse. His brutal murder of his friend, a woman and a child, mirrors the slaughter of his natural goodness, and the insanity which it inturn brings upon him.

By choosing the path of tyranny, Macbeth is choosing to live the world promised to him by ‘fate and metaphysical aid’ through the witches. Yet it is unreasonable to say that it is they who cause Macbeth to commit his crimes. Macbeth appears not to be a superstitious man. He realises the true nature and the dangers of the promises presented. While they appear attractive, he knows that they are equivocal and aim to ‘win us with trifle to betray us in deepest consequence’. They have though, surfaced the ‘cursed thoughts’ that were suppressed in Macbeth’s subconsciousness. They provide him with a false sense of fate and destiny, fuelling his ‘black deep desires’, which in turn conquers the goodness in him that have so far averted disaster. Furthermore, they present Macbeth with apparitions, which, while foretell the future, twists truths to mislead him. Blinded by his obsession for power, Macbeth gives in to a false sense of security, thus resulting in his final defeat.

While Lady Macbeth delivers to her husband a series of arguments, it is inadequate to say that she is fully responsible for the foul deeds committed by Macbeth. A gallant and devoted ‘lion’, it appears unlikely for Macbeth to be so easily manipulated. She does, however, support and inspire the ‘spirit’ of self- assertiveness within Macbeth, which rises up and crushes all the ‘compunctious visiting of nature’ that impede him from crossing the boundary between contemplation, and execution. She is essentially the symbol of Macbeth’s temptations, ‘cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose’, draining him of his ‘milk of human kindness’, leaving him free to commit the ‘unnatural deeds’.

While the witches and Lady Macbeth may be seen to influence Macbeth, it is he who appears to be fully aware in his terror and horror of the consequences of the crime he contemplates. He knows that to kill the King is to commit ‘sacrilegious murder’, and that even the ‘Angels will plead trumpet tongued against’ the evil deed. As “a falcon…was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed’; he knows it will overthrow the natural order, thus directly rejecting God’s orders. To see only outside influences as the cause of his demise