Summary of Degrees of Responsibility in Macbeth, or Who Is Guilty in Macbeth?

Updated on December 2, 2016
The First Folio - Macbeth
The First Folio - Macbeth

Introduction of Characters Responsible

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, several characters have a certain degree of responsibility for the assassination of King Duncan and the murders that follow. Macbeth, being a soldier, knows how to kill and is familiar with this act. This may be damning evidence that Macbeth is completely responsible for the murders he commits throughout the play. However, while Macbeth may be thought of as ultimately responsible for his actions, there are certain steps taken by other characters, such as the witches, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan’s guards, and even King Duncan himself, that push Macbeth to his eventual downfall. This essay will examine the different characters and the forces they exert that lead to the assassination of Duncan, Banquo, and others by Macbeth.

The Witches

The seeds of of Macbeth’s downfall are first planted near the beginning of the play when the witches tell Macbeth that he shall be Thane of Cawdor and King (I.3.48-50). Next to Macbeth, the witches seem to hold the most responsibility for the eventual assassination of King Duncan. Had the witches not told him he would be either Thane of Cawdor or King he would not have believed that he was to become king. However, once he becomes Thane of Cawdor, he trusts that the other prophecy must also be true. The witches could have told Macbeth any forthcoming truth and that he would be king, and Macbeth still probably would have committed regicide to obtain the title of King. This is because he became confident that the witches were honest once one truth they had told him came true. While the murder of King Duncan may appear to be a result Macbeth’s own personality, had the witches not planted the idea in Macbeth’s head, he may not have committed the tragic murder.

Lady Macbeth

The next culpable character for Macbeth’s downfall is his wife. Lady Macbeth knows her husband is too “full of the milk of human kindness” to murder Duncan with no persuasion (I.5.15-17). Once Lady Macbeth learns of her husband’s potential new position as king, she constantly challenges his masculinity and reliability to force him to kill King Duncan, which he has doubts about doing. She first challenges her husband’s reliability when she asks him if he will live as a coward letting “I dare not” outweigh his “I would” the rest of his life (I.7.43-45). She then goes on to challenge his manhood by saying that he was a real man when he said he was going to follow through with his plans, and if he actually follows through with his plans he will be even more than just a man (I.7.49-51). She continues to bolster their plans by saying that if she had made such a promise as he had, she would follow through with it, even if it was a promise to murder her own baby (I.7.54-59). Lady Macbeth is very responsible for being the prick in the sides of Macbeth’s intent to murder the king. Had she not pushed him he may have not followed through with his plans to murder the king. However, Lady Macbeth’s constant belittlement and demoralization, until the deed is done, makes her nearly as guilty as Macbeth for his actions.

Duncan and His Guards

King Duncan’s guards and King Duncan himself are also responsible for Duncan’s death. Had the guards not drank so much, and the king allowed them to drink, they would have been sober and ready for Macbeth’s attack. King Duncan also knew of Macbeth’s capabilities of violence. The bloody man told Duncan about Macbeth carving through the battlefield with his sword and unseaming Macdonwald, beheading him, and placing his head on the battlements (I.2.17-23). This should have been a sign to Duncan that Macbeth is a violent man, and to not grant him more power than is necessary. Had Duncan not granted Macbeth Thane of Cawdor, he wouldn’t have sought the kingship. Becoming Thane of Cawdor was a stepping stone that Macbeth needed in order to crave becoming king.

Macbeth Himself

Finally, and most importantly, is Macbeth’s responsibility in the murder of King Duncan. It is possible that, had not the witches told Macbeth he would be king, and if his wife had not pushed him to take the kingship, Macbeth wouldn’t have committed the murder. However, immediately after learning about becoming Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth begins thinking about and plotting to become king (I.3.116-20). He even mulls over the idea of murdering Duncan almost immediately after becoming Thane of Cawdor (I.3.137-42). The letter to his wife shows that he is thinking about taking the kingship and believes what the witches have told him is true (I.5.1-13). Once Lady Macbeth has done her coercing of Macbeth to kill the king, nobody drives the dagger into Duncan but Macbeth. Even his wife admits that she couldn’t do it because he too much resembled her father (II.2.12-13). This is also a sign that Lady Macbeth will regret pushing Macbeth into murdering Duncan. While Macbeth does feel regret throughout the rest of the play for killing an innocent king, he continues to murder. He orders murderers to kill Banquo and Fleance (III.1.123-126) and to kill Macduff and his family (IV.1.172-75). This shows that while Macbeth may have doubts about killing Duncan, he doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone else in his way.

In Conclusion

In Macbeth, there are many levels of culpability weighing on different characters for the murder of Duncan. However, Macbeth is the most guilty person as he is the only one who followed through on the plot to murder the king. While there may have been other forces at work prodding him in that direction, ultimately, Macbeth is the only one to actually murder the king.

Work Used

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. New York: Penguin Classics, 2000. Print.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      eshaal 

      5 days ago

      nice

    • profile image

      jaja 

      8 months ago

      this is good

    • profile image

      cooper newman 

      16 months ago

      hi guys i believe king Duncan's dad is guilty of the murder because it was his dads choice to make him and bring him into the world. this was a horrible outcome.

    • kaspereagan profile image

      kaspereagan 

      17 months ago

      Macbeth is an aristocratic warrior who lives within a primitive system of clans and alliances. He's willing to live and die by the sword, and is quite happy to accept supernatural nonsense as a shaky pretext for attempting to usurp the throne of the monarch.

      Here I found a couple of nice Macbeth guides:

      http://www.gradesaver.com/macbeth

      https://studentshare.net/student-help/macbeth-by-s...

      Macbeth has always won the horrified sympathy of the public despite his heinous deeds because people believe that if not for the witches’ prediction, he would never had made his wife a murderer, killed his friends, lost a battle, and died humiliatingly. But when you think about, in every situation Macbeth was the one who made the final decision.

    • profile image

      king james 

      3 years ago

      Wow nice

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)