Macbeth, had many possible choices he could have made in regard to the many murders that were committed throughout the course of the play
IB Lit and Language
27th October 2011
Condemned to Choose
Every human being is free to choose his or her own actions and intentions. Every person must determine their own values and make choices. Even if one chooses not to decide, they have in fact, made a decision. Every person is condemned to make choices. Even though we are free to make our own choices, we are also held accountable for our choices. Macbeth, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, had many possible choices he could have made in regard to the many murders that were committed throughout the course of the play. Macbeth allows himself to be persuaded to murder, he ignores his morals and purposely looses touch of humanity, and puts his own thirst for power above everything else. He is responsible for his decisions and is therefore morally responsible for the murders in the play as he.
Initially, Macbeth refuses to kill Duncan, due to his own moral reasoning, but he allows himself to be persuaded by Lady Macbeth. Macbeth starts off by talking to himself about the kinds of precedents he will be setting if he follows through with the murder and he explores the repercussions of the plan if it is put in action. He starts by talking about what the impacts of his actions will be. “But in these cases we still have judgment here, that we but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague th’ inventor: this even handed justice commands the ingredients of our poisoned chalice to our own lips” (1.7.7-12) In this passage Macbeth has his first moral consideration that when you commit a violent crime in order to gain power, you are teaching others that it is acceptable to gain power. It is this flawed logic that, in the end, hurts the instructor. He also considers this idea that no human is an island. Your choices impact everyone, and justice levies an appropriate punishment for your actions. As Keller points out in his journal article “The Moral Thinking of Macbeth”, Macbeth’s first moral consideration is “To undertake an evil deed is to give that deed authenticity, to assign it a status in the world of values and the world of deeds dependent on those values. To act is to assign value to the deed; to value a deed is to commend it as worth doing, by others as well as by oneself. Thus, evil action is in part known as such for its power to rebound upon the doer.” In short, Keller states that Macbeth is anticipating Satire’s idea that “in choosing, one chooses for all humanity”.
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After expressing why he would be foolish to follow through with the murder, Macbeth convinces himself, that Lady Macbeth is correct, even though he knows she is not. Even though he expresses concerns with the plan, he allows himself to be reassured by Lady Macbeth (1.7.58-78), and he allowed Lady Macbeth to corrupt his moral standards with her ideas of what men should do (1.7.36-60). After this discussion of social standards and morality, Macbeth decides to “bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat” (1.7.79-80).
Macbeth continually ignores his own code of ethics, and in the end loses his touch with humanity, especially when faced with a tough decision. For example, before killing Duncan, Macbeth argues with himself about what kind of precedent he will set, and how in the end, justice will punish him (1.7.7-12) and how he only “Dare(s) do all that becomes a man; who dares does more is none”. Yet he still kills Duncan. He decides to kill Duncan despite his own set of ethics, that he loses his touch with humanity. This is reflected in many of his future decisions.
Prior to making the decision to kill Macduff’s wife, children, and servants, Macbeth decides to act so “the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand.” (4.2.153-154) In short, he concludes to act without consideration to the consequences of his actions. It is this dangerous line of thinking that leads to many unneeded deaths. Ignoring consequences becomes his mode of operation, as seen in 5.5.19-28 where he states that his actions do not have serious repercussions, and in the end do not matter as “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time” (5.5.19-21). He believes that his actions will never make a lasting impact, and so it is ok if he acts in a self-interested manner, thus losing sight of humanity and morality. This tyrannical and narcissistic thinking, and proves that Macbeth only cares about himself. He cares not what happens to other people. He does what is best for him, which includes how he decides there is no limit to his action needed to maintain his power.
Macbeth’s undying thirst for power, his attempts to stay in power, and his desire to be powerful, even in the throes of his own death lead to many uneeded deaths. Before committing any murders, Macbeth states, “I have no spur to prick the sides of intent but only vaulting ambition, which o’er leaps itself and falls on th’ other.” (1.7.25-28). Macbeth’s ambition caused all of the murders prior to the battle in Act 5. It was his ambition to become king that caused him to kill Duncan and to murder Banquo and attempt to murder Fleance. His ambition to be powerful and intimidating caused him to murder Lady Macduff, her servants, and her children (4.2.150). And lastly, it was this ambition also lead to the unnecessary battle in which Siward’s son and many other soldiers are killed. Macbeth knows that he is going to die eventually, but he wants to die in battle. He does not care that many people will also be killed in this battle. He only cares about himself. Instead of surrendering, battles to the death.
Everyone is held accountable for their actions and the consequences of their actions. Macbeth agreed to kill Duncan. Macbeth decided to have Banquo and Fleance killed. Macbeth decided to have Macduff’s wife, children, and servants killed. Lastly Macbeth is the one who decided to die in a battle instead of surrendering, and preventing the loss of many lives. Macbeth committed all of the murders, and he cannot be allowed to push his responsibility onto Lady Macbeth or something as nebulous as fate. Macbeth demonstrates a lack of humanity, forethought, and morality; therefore, Macbeth is ultimately responsible for the murders in this play. All humans have the option to make ethical and moral decisions. They must choose to do so. Every person must be held accountable, for his or her decisions, ethical and unethical.
“Man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”
Keller, Gregory. “The Moral Thinking of Macbeth.” Philosophy and Literature.1 (2005): 41-56. Print.
Shakespeare, William. “Macbeth”. Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine. Folger Shakespeare Library. New York. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. 1992. Print.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Existentialism and Human Emotion.” New York. Kensington Publishing Corp. 1985. Print.