Macbeth's Decisions And The Witches

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Macbeth’s Decisions and the Witches
By Matthew Caputo

Throughout William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the theme of Decision-making is constantly seen. The three witches are an extremely important element to the plot as they influence many of the decisions made by the characters through their predictions of what is to come. While they are connected to the supernatural ability to see into the future and are quite influential, they do not control Macbeth’s fate entirely. Their predictions are, however, the devices which originally introduce the ideas of murder and betrayal to Macbeth’s mind as a method to further his position. Despite that, Macbeth’s decisions to murder King Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff’s family are all ultimately made by himself, sometimes through the influence of others such as his wife. The witches give Macbeth his first idea to kill; his first dark plan based on their prophecies is when he begins to think about killing Duncan, King of Scotland. When he meets the witches for the first time, he is quite shocked to hear what they have to say: “All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Glamis. / All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor. / All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter” (Macbeth 1. 3. 47-49). When Macbeth becomes Thane of Cawdor, fulfilling their first prediction, he is lead to dark thoughts towards his the King, whom he previously respected more than almost anything. Macbeth reveals that he has newly thought of plans to kill the King when he says,

I am thane of Cawdor. If good, why do I yield to that suggestion Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, Against the use of nature? Present fears Are less than horrible imaginings. (1. 3.137-142)

Macbeth is not controlled to perform this act by the witches, but thinks that it could be necessary because they have said he will become King. He struggles with making the decision, however, and even at one point decides against it. Macbeth shows this unease when he says, “First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, / Strong both against the deed; then, as his host, / Who should against his murderer shut the door, / Not bear the knife myself” (1. 7. 13-16). In the end it is his wife that pushes him to take Duncan’s life through mockery of his manhood, not the witches. Macbeth’s second decision to kill, by hiring murderers to kill Banquo and his son, is also inspired by paranoia about the witches’ prophecies. Macbeth not only gets hung up on what the witches say about him, but also what they say about Banquo. Back when they make their predictions for the new King, they also tell Banquo, “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none. / So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!” (1. 3. 68-69). This prediction comes back to haunt Macbeth after he becomes King and he resolves to have Banquo and his son, Fleance, killed. Macbeth explains to the murders he has hired,

There is none but he Whose being I do fear, and under him My genius is rebuked, as it is said Mark Antony’s was by Caesar. He chid the sisters When first they put the name of king upon me And bade them speak to him. Then, prophetlike, They hailed him father to a line of kings. (3. 1. 56-62)

Macbeth and Banquo were great friends and had a strong mutual respect for one-another, but because of what the witches said, Macbeth develops the idea that it is necessary to have him and his son murdered. In act 3, he expresses to his wife his fear and paranoia of Banquo possibly still being alive: “Come, seeling night, / Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day / And with thy bloody and invisible hand / Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond / Which keeps me pale” (3. 2. 48-52). He does not want him to rob him of his place as King as the witches said his kids would. This shows that the witches did not force him into thinking that way; Macbeth