Macbeth Downfall in the Context of Violence

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The context of violence can be interpreted in many ways. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, violence is either viewed as courageous or psychologically destructive. In the story, figures of witches come to the character Macbeth consulting him of prophecies, raising his curiosity and his ambition, which eventually lead to his downfall. Macbeth’s attempt to cover his journey to fulfill these prophecies, which includes becoming king of Scotland, involves increasingly desperate acts of violence. The theme of violence is central to the development of the narrative and the characters by fulfilling the prophecies; violence manifests within.

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Macbeth exemplifies a very violent man throughout the play but in this it is portrayed as courageous. The war fought in the beginning of the story after the battle is won, a bleeding soldier gallavants over Macbeth’s victory, “For brave Macbeth/ Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel/ Which smoked with bloody execution/ Like valor’s minion carvèd out his passage…’. Because of Macbeth’s admiration he starts to take pleasure in the murder of other people. Then comes the admirable Young Siward, “Thou liest, abhorred tyrant/with my sword I’ll prove the lie thou speak’st”. He speaks of standing up to Macbeth and killing him as a way to avenge the murders that Macbeth has caused. Eventually in battle Macbeth kills the young child but has a great significance on how the morality of violence can be interpreted in a valiant way. Also, the murder and beheading of the traitor Thane of Cawdor, ‘No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive / Our bosom interest: go pronounce his present death, / And with his former title greet Macbeth”  , gives King Duncan an image of respect and authority. If you are able to take a man’s life you are looked at as a true honorable leader. In these instances, violence can be elucidated as respectable instead of a horror.

Macbeth’s desire to fulfill the prophecies leads to the murder of King Duncan, his most trusted friend and his king. Blatant murder for Macbeth a thought so far from his mind, “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical/Shakes so my single state of man/That function is smothered in surmise/And nothing is but what is not”. At first the mere thought of murder shakes Macbeth up so bad that he starts to lose his own identity. He wants to be king but he does not yet know how far he will go to get there. Then as time passes, him and his wife plan to murder duncan so he can be king. Macbeth hesitates saying, “We will proceed no further in this business/He hath honored me of late, and I have bought/Golden opinions from all sorts of people,/Which would be worn now in their newest gloss/Not cast aside so soon”. Until Lady Macbeth names him a coward for not proceeding with his plan, as though a man’s honor consists of the willing to commit acts of murder and violence.

What beast was’t, then/That made you break this enterprise to me?/When you durst do it, then you were a man/And to be more than what you were, you would/Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place/Did then adhere, and yet you would make both”. Lady Macbeth practically convinces Macbeth to go through with the plan and murder the king for his throne. The violence ends up being on her hands and effects her conscience just as it does Macbeth’s. After the deed is done, he feels extremely distraught after what he has done, “To know my deed/’twere best not know myself”  . He essentially would rather be dead than look upon the horror that he committed. Macbeth suffocated himself with the thought and the reality of becoming and staying king; he completely lost himself with the act of one violent submission leading to another. The small seed of brutality planted in Macbeth’s head sprouted into something uncontrollable.

Shakespeare infuses the play with blood and uses it symbolically throughout the story.

Macbeth says, “What hands are here! Ha! they pluck out mine eyes”  . The idea is that the sight of the blood, the idea of murder, is so horrific it metaphorically tears his eyes out, indicating the horror and shock he feels after his actions. Macbeth suffers greatly from his guilt of his violent actions with King Duncan, being that he killed him. Not only does blood relate to Macbeth’s acts but also his wife Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is a born instigator of violence until her hands become bloody of her own and the feeling of guilt washed over her while Macbeth reigns. She envisions blood on her hands and unceasingly tries to take it off while saying, “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” . Lady Macbeth wants to cleanse her hands of blood which reveals her haunting guilt over the murders that occured in her presence. Macbeth’s dry acceptance in “I am in blood / Step’t in so far that, should I wade no more / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” , shows his cease to murder and evil. This blood metaphor relates that Macbeth has gone so far deep into acts of violence that he just plainly accepts it. Macbeth’s ambition to be king treads on a bloody path just to come to the conclusion that hollow and empty enterprise of surviving to become and be king is not what he thought.

Violence is not only the linking element of the entire story but the driving force of the plot. Shakespeare explores the morality of violence and the true fight between good and evil. The violence that Macbeth causes in the lives of others fatefully impacts his own life. Violence can control the lives of everyone and become one’s downfall which is the message Shakespeare portrays.  


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Macbeth Downfall in the Context of Violence. (2021, Mar 24). Retrieved from