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We see in the play Macbeth that when the motivation to succeed in life becomes overpowering, other people may easily influence one and elements and one may decide on wrongful actions to achieve a goal. Some of the influences on Macbeth include the witches and the apparitions, Lady Macbeth, and lastly Macbeth’s own insecurities and misguided attempts to control his future.
The witches and their prophecies are the first major influence on Macbeth’s actions. Macbeth seems happy and content with himself until the witches tell him he will be king. He begins immediately to consider murdering Duncan. “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?” (I, iii. 144-147). Macbeth immediately writes Lady Macbeth. “‘They met me in the day of success; and I / have learned by the perfectest report, they have more in / them than mortal knowledge.” (I, v. 1-3). He obviously has great faith in the witches’ words. Later on, the apparitions, called by the witches, influence Macbeth by making him believe he is invincible. “Rebellion’s head, rise never, till the wood / Of Birnam rise, and our high-placed Macbeth / Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath / To time, and mortal custom.” (IV, i. 106-109).
Lady Macbeth is a second major influence on Macbeth. As soon as Lady Macbeth learns of the witches’ words from Macbeth’s letter, we learn Macbeth is considered kind and without cruelty. She intends to influence him to kill Duncan. She says, “Hie thee hither, / That I may pour my spirits in thine ear, / And chastise with the valour of my tongue / All that impedes thee from the golden round, / Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem / To have thee crown’d withal.” (I, v. 24-29). When Macbeth decides not to continue with their plan to murder Duncan, his wife urges him to act on his desires or he will think of himself as a coward. She says, “Art thou afeard / To be the same in thine own act and valour / As thou art in desire?” (I, vii. 42-44). She then makes sure he will perform the deed by taking an active role in preparing for the murder. “his two chamberlains / Will I with wine and wassel so convince,” (I, vii. 70-71) and cleaning up afterwards, “Give me the daggers: the sleeping, and the dead / Are but as pictures; ’tis the eye of childhood / That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed, / I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, / For it must seem their guilt.” (II, ii. 69-73).
After he is named king, Macbeth’s misery and eventual downfall is caused by his own insecurities and misguided determination to take control of his future. Firstly, the witches’ prophecy concerning Banquo’s descendants and Macbeth’s feeling of inferiority to Banquo lead Macbeth to arrange for the murder of Banquo and his son, Fleance. Having Banquo around him is a constant reminder to Macbeth of the evil deed he himself has committed and the knowledge that Banquo’s, not Macbeth’s children, will be kings. “He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour / To act in safety. 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.” (III, i. 57-61) and “Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown, / And put a barren sceptre in my gripe, / Thence to be wrench’d with an unlineal hand, / No son of mine succeeding.” (III, i. 65-68). Also, Macbeth’s insecurity about his support leads him to suspect Macduff. When he learns Macduff has fled to England before he could have him killed Macbeth takes immediate revenge by having Macduff’s family murdered. He says, “from this moment, / The very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of my hand.” (IV, i. 160-162). He is determined from that moment on to take control by acting immediately rather than talking and thinking. His insecurities cause him to see the positive side of immediate action. He is unable to appreciate the negative side of rash actions. Certainly, killing Macduff’s family contributed to Macbeth’s downfall as the act inspired hatred and revenge. Finally, Macbeth is made miserable by the deterioration of Lady Macbeth. He begs the doctor to “find her disease / And purge it to a sound and pristine health, / I would applaud thee to the very echo, / That should applaud again.” (V, iii. 59-62). Surely her condition would have been made worse by Macbeth’s insecurities and regrets on top of his additional crimes of murder.
In this play, the witches awaken Macbeth’s ambition and Lady Macbeth encourages the crime necessary for his ambition to be realized. Both these influences help lead to Macbeth’s eventual failure and death. His insecurities lead Macbeth to rash actions to get rid of his perceived enemies, actions that he later often regrets. Therefore, he is led to murder Banquo and Macduff’s family and others all the while relying on the apparitions’ prophecies that he will be safe. Only in the end does he realize he has been misled and betrayed.