365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

298. Who is responsible for Macbeth’s downfall?

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William Shakespeare’s thrilling tale of revenge, betrayal, and lots and lots of blood, “Macbeth”, has been the source of much speculation and controversy throughout the centuries. The play tells the tale of an ambitious – and, possibly, psychopathic – Scotsman who hears a prophecy by a group of witches, who claim that he will become the king of Scotland. Macbeth takes this to believe that he must kill the current king – and all others who stand in his way – in order to reach the throne. While everything that the witches prophesy does come true, it comes true in a way that ultimately brings Macbeth to his demise.

Whether or not Macbeth’s prophecy would have come true without his actions has been up for debate for probably as long as the play has been in existence. On the one hand, it can be argued that Macbeth’s actions make the prophecy a self-fulfilling one. Perhaps he would not have been crowned if the idea had not been planted by the witches in the first place. However, it is just as likely that the witches knew all along everything that would happen and Macbeth’s actions were all part of the plan. Of course, the witches are probably not the chess masters of the game of Macbeth’s life; rather, it seems quite clear that they are simply messengers, either for their own cruel amusement to see what Macbeth will do, or for a greater and higher force than themselves.

So whether Macbeth’s fate is just that – fate – or whether he has control of his own destiny is how to determine who is truly responsible for his downfall, if anyone. If we decide that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, then it is his own fault that he finds ruin at the end of the play. If we decide that he is naught but a victim of fates larger than himself, then the play truly is the tragedy of Macbeth, rather than the tragedy that Macbeth caused to everyone around him.

The mystery surrounding “Macbeth” and the questions like this one that will probably never be resolved have been the subject of great debate among students, scholars, actors, audiences, and directors for centuries. Because Shakespeare was such a master of leaving the answers up for the readers and audience members to decide, it is likely that we will never know what his true intention was. But that is all right – after all, part of the fascination of “Macbeth” lies in this very question, and it would be a shame if the mystery were solved.


Written by Caroline Mincks

July 26, 2010 at 12:33 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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