To what extent was Lady Macbeth responsible for Macbeths downfall?

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Zara Choudary


  • To what extent was Lady Macbeth responsible for Macbeths downfall?

Having read the play, I feel that Lady Macbeth is responsible for Macbeth’s downfall but only to a certain extent, as there are the witches and Macbeth himself who also play a role in his downfall. 

Shakespeare opens the play with a meeting taking place between the three witches and Macbeth. Once the reader has read just the opening of the play they are not made aware of the significance of the witches. It is in Act 1 Scene 3 that the audience discovers the true nature and role of the witches.

Shakespeare introduces the witches in an atmosphere which reflects upon their nature. At first, in Act 1 Scene 1, the witches appear in ‘thunder and lightening’. The fact that Shakespeare uses such an atmosphere to present the witches, illustrates to the audience the witches are evil and sinister beings in the play. Also when Shakespeare uses insects in the cauldron scene, the audience are made aware of the destructive and fearful atmosphere apparent when the witches are present.

In Act 1 Scene 1, the witches say, ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair.’ Shakespeare uses words with stressed syllables, ‘ fair…foul.’ The use of stressed syllables is commonly used alongside spells and the supernatural. Hence, through Shakespeare using such words, he effectively conveys the supernatural powers of the witches – again making the audience aware of the powers the witches possess.

At the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, witches were seen to be significant beings and problems which would arise would be blamed upon the witches – as seen in this play, the witches are partially to be blamed for Macbeth’s downfall, alongside Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who is the main cause of Macbeth’s downfall.

The witches had made Macbeth believe that his great prize was near, ‘ All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.’ This makes Macbeth more determined to go ahead and find out for himself if what the witches say is what will really take place.

The witches had chosen the right moment to approach Macbeth, as he was in that state of mind where he could have had anyone easily persuading him to carry out anything evil. This is because he had just returned from the battle and killing others. Here we see that the witches had an affect on Macbeth’s state of mind at that time in the play as they themselves knew that if they came to him at that particular moment in time, then Macbeth would have thought that whatever they had said about murder or evil wasn’t anything abnormal.

They showed him they have the power of prophecy by showing him the 3 apparitions and predicting his future, which must have made Macbeth feel more at ease by knowing that what the witches tell him must be what is going to come true or take place.  

They torment Macbeth with riddles. In the 2nd apparition, ‘ the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.’ Here the witches are saying no one born from a woman would cause any harm to Macbeth. This apparition has its explicit meaning, which is clearly seen, whereas the implicit meaning doesn’t look into the depth of the apparition. Macbeth doesn’t look deeply into how the apparition is also saying that being born through caesarean isn’t the same as a normal birth – which thus leads him to the murder of Macduff, which eventually leads him to his own destruction as Macduff, being born by a caesarean is an exception to this apparition, hence he has the ability to harm Macbeth. Thus, from the above we come to see how the witches are beings that seek to lead man away from that which is moral.

One may argue the witches are the major cause of Macbeth’s downfall, yet I would disagree as I think they are the ones who only act as a trigger to initiate all events in the play, whereas it is Lady Macbeth who continues to be forceful towards her husband throughout the play. Thus I feel that Lady Macbeth is the most influential person in Macbeth’s downfall.

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Throughout the play, the audience come to realise the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is a paramount issue. Initially the relationship that exists between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth seems to be quite normal and is like that of a genuine married couple. Only once the reader reads on, do they realise it is Lady Macbeth who undertakes the role Macbeth should be playing – instead of Macbeth laying down rules and regulations, Lady Macbeth does so. Lady Macbeth is the one who becomes more dominant in their lives and has more authority over Macbeth than Macbeth does over ...

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