It has often been said that Macbeth is a
character of powerful contradictions. He is evil
and all-powerful. Are his violent acts and his
criminal activities simply the result of Macbeth’s
ambition to be King of Scotland? Why is he willing
to kill his king and his best friend with
apparently no remorse? Are his acts the result of
blind ambition? No, Macbeth is the target of
manipulation. He is not the manipulator, but
instead is manipulated by different people and
Macbeth encounters his first group of manipulators
in the form of witches. The witches prophesize
that Macbeth will one day be King of Scotland and
that the descendents of Banquo will become kings.
Having shared this prophecy with Lady Macbeth, the
goal of being king becomes very enticing.
Macbeth’s first act of evil is the killing of
Duncan. Before the murder, Macbeth tries to tell
Lady Macbeth that he will not go through with it.
She has to goad him into killing the King. After
committing the murder, Macbeth seems almost
delirious. He says that “all great Neptune’s
ocean will not wash this blood clean from my
hand”(Act II, Scene ii, lines 60-61). When he
murders Banquo, Macbeth is still in torment, but
the cause of his anguish seems to have changed.
He is afraid of Banquo, because Banquo knows about
the witches and because the witches predicted that
his descendents would be kings. Banquo’s death,
he says will put his mind at rest.
As the play goes on, there is a fundamental change
in Macbeth’s character. Due to the manipulation
of others, Macbeth has lost all sense of morality
and right and wrong. The craving for power and
obtaining more control consumes Macbeth. Macbeth
orders the murder of Macduff’s wife and children.
Their killings gain him nothing. He has good
reason to fear Macduff, but slaughtering his
enemy’s family is pointless. Macbeth wants to
spite Macduff. He kills Macduff’s family to
maintain control and power. Despite the witches
new prophecies, Macbeth is paranoid of losing the
crown. Since he cannot get at Macduff directly,
he lets loose this senseless violence.
As the target of manipulation Macbeth strikes out
at random, and his moral sense seems to have
entirely disappeared. The brave hero we met in Act
I who at least seemed honorable, is completely
twisted. Macbeth’s crimes have cost him dearly.
His reaction to Lady Macbeth’s death is a sign of
complete despair -all feeling is dead in him.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” (Act V,
Scene v, lines 17-28) is less an expression of
grief than it is a speech about the utter
meaninglessness of life.
Macbeth’s ambitions are now stronger than his
conscience. The witches have tempted and
controlled him with the idea of becoming king.
Lady Macbeth manipulates him to overcome his
natural hesitation to commit murder. Due to his
manipulation, Macbeth chooses the crown over his
honor and material gain in this world over
salvation in the next world. Once he has killed
to get the crown, the other crimes seem
inevitable. In order to keep what he has taken,
Macbeth learns to lie and kill as a matter of
course. His values become totally confused.
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” to him now; he
has lost track of the difference.
By the end of the play, manipulation by others has
completely consumed Macbeth. Once Macbeth kills
Duncan, he is committed to a course of lying and
killing. His sense of right and wrong is eaten
away. Even before Macbeth is killed, he is dying
of a diseased spirit. Scotland is also infected,
and Macbeth is its disease. Macbeth is a prime
example of the corruption of power, and how
absolute power corrupts absolutely. Shakespeare’s
play Macbeth is a study of manipulation, control,
and power. It shows how individuals can control
the mind and actions of others. That control when
evil, can create not only turmoil within the
person being controlled, but can lead to death and
destruction of others around the person. In the
case of Macbeth, not