‘Macbeth’ was written around 1606, it has being described as ‘darker’ as it is said to reflect the ‘insecurities’ of the people at that time. King James was not popular at that time and Shakespeare was said to have wrote the play to please the King and warn people of the dangers that could happen if there was any opposition or treasonous thoughts towards the new King. This is highlighted and explored through the character of Macbeth, who kills the king and as a result loses everything and eventually ends up getting killed. Willard Farnham’s argues that Macbeth is “a morality play, written in terms of Jacobean tragedy. Its hero is worked upon by forces of evil, yields to temptation in spite of all that his conscience can do to stop him. . . and is brought to retribution by his death. ‘It can be argued that Macbeth is responsible for his downfall as suggested by Samuel Johnson, he got too ambitious and greedy. On the contrary, it can also be argued that Macbeth is not responsible for his own downfall because there are certain characters like the witches and his wife who may have played a large influence in his downfall.
It can be argued that the witches are the ones responsible for Macbeth’s downfall, ‘You shall be king’. They enticed him with their words and convinced him he was going to be king, ‘All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!’ This suggests that they used their knowledge to plant a seed of ambition in his life, as Macbeth could have lived a happy untroubled life had it not been for their prophecies. Coleridge explains Macbeth’s vulnerability to the witches’ prophesies by talking about the beliefs of actual soldiers: “Superstition, of one sort or another, is natural to victorious generals; the instances are too notorious to need mentioning.’’ This shows that it would have been hard for Macbeth to ignore and not listen to the witches’ prophecies. The fact that they know exactly what their prophecies would do to Macbeth and how he would react show how they clearly take perverse delight in using their ‘knowledge’ of the future to toy, destroy and amuse themselves. However, their predictions raise the question of whether they actually know the future or if they make their own prophecies come true by influencing other people.
In addition to this, it’s their predictions that prompt him to murder the king, ‘Why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair…’, even though he knows its ‘against the use nature’. This suggests that that their predictions planted a seed of ambition and unrest that eventually drew him to kill the King in order to fulfil his own prophecy. Unfortunately for Macbeth, their influence does not stop there. They promptly tell him and Banquo afterward that he shall not be King for long and they tell Banquo that his ‘descendants will be king, even though you will not be one…’ This creates conflict between Macbeth and Banquo as Macbeth becomes constantly at unease and restless, even more so after killing King Duncan as he knows he won’t be king for long. As a result of this, he goes on a killing spree, first killing Banquo, then his sons so as to eliminate competition. It is because of this prediction that Macbeth slowly becomes mad and paranoid. This also suggests that the witches purposely told him this in the presence of Banquo to get him even more worried and as a means of spurring him on to try and change what they know is inevitable. Finally, the witches make one last appearance to Macbeth before he dies, ‘Speak/Demand/ We’ll answer’. In this scene the witches use outside power to manipulate Macbeth, ‘Be bloody, bold and resolute. Laugh to scorn the power of men, for none of a woman born shall harm Macbeth’. This shows how the three witches lead Macbeth into a false sense of security, making him think that he could not be defeated.
To counteract this point, the witches were only responsible for his downfall…