Villain or victim? Is Macbeth a victim of external circumstances or a man solely driven by evil?

Authors Avatar
Villain or victim? Is Macbeth a victim of external circumstances or a man solely driven by evil?

Macbeth is the most widely translated Shakespeare play for good reason. The legend of Macbeth is a timeless tragedy, the hero succumbing to his fatal flaw. All Shakespeare's tragedies focus on this same idea; a single flaw in the person that leads to their destruction, desperation and death. Macbeth's fatal flaw is ambition, once the flame of his desires is lighted, it grows and engulfs all that it comes into contact with. But what is it that drags our 'noble', 'brave' Macbeth into the pool of devastation and evil? Is our tragic hero simply a victim of external circumstances, or a man solely driven by evil?

It is clear that throughout the play, Macbeth's evil actions do not come unprovoked. Macbeth's ambition was unleashed the second he met the witches. The witches do not stumble upon Macbeth, they plan their meeting upon the heath, and they see the destruction he will cause. Though Macbeth does not immediately appear to believe the prophecies,

' be king

Stands not within the prospect of belief

No more than to be Cawdor.',

He soon warms to the idea. The witches speak in riddles, and in a different rhythm to Shakespeare's usual iambic pentameter, emphasising their abnormality and evil. Angus awakens Macbeth to the idea by telling him of the Thane of Cawdor's downfall and Macbeth's first thought is of the future,

'The greatest is behind.'.

This shows Macbeth's eagerness to be King, indeed it is at the forefront of his mind and he seems hurt and amazed when Malcolm is appointed as Duncan's successor

'...That is a step

On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap',

And already his flaw, his relentless ambition is evident.

Yet Macbeth's nobility and honour stands in the way of his aspirations. It is then that another, vital external factor comes into play- his wife. It is Lady Macbeth who is determined for Macbeth to kill Duncan, despite Macbeth's reservations,

'We fail?

But screw your courage to the sticking-place
Join now!

and we'll not fail.'.

It is her who intricately and unscrupulously plans Duncan's death, and through her keen powers of persuasion entices Macbeth to the deed. Here it is evident that Macbeth was not alone in the massacre, his wife had her part to play. It was her ambition to be Queen and to be powerful, not Macbeth's, that lured him into this crime, and spawned his own ambitious slaying of others. Nevertheless, as the play further unfolds, it is her that is racked with guilt for their crime and she contributes no further in Macbeth's villainous ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

This essay offers a thoughtful and at times subtle account of Macbeth's development in the play, and it makes a determined and effective effort to answer the question set. Another strength is its engagement with the play, but at times it is too personal in tone. Accurate use of the apostrophe is expected at 'A' level. ****