Tragic Fall in “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’, details the tragic fall of its titular character, Macbeth, as he allows his worldly desires for power and recognition to overtake his reasoning which unbeknownst to him at the time, later on directly leads to his downfall. James Schiffer, in his essay ‘Macbeth and the Bearded Women, ‘ makes the obvious point that while Macbeth does have some considerable amount of autonomy, he is also greatly manipulated by the women that he encounters throughout the play, who according to Schiffer use their supernatural powers and manipulative strategies in an attempt to bring about their own success at Macbeth’s expense.
However, Schiffer is not comprehensive in explaining what it was about those females that made Macbeth so susceptible to their manipulation, and instead seemingly blames it solely on Macbeth’s desire for gender conformity.
Throughout his literary criticism of Macbeth in his essay ‘Macbeth and the Bearded Women’, Schiffer continuously makes the error of taking Shakespeare’s message only at face value.
When analyzing quotes and lines from the text he routinely fails to put it into the context of the play as a whole. Explaining the significance of the main female characters, the witches and Lady Macbeth, on Macbeth, Schiffer claims that, they signify ‘Macbeth’s dread of being overpowered by women’ and that his malleability, or ability to change because of increasing pressure, is attributed to the fact that ‘The more insecure Macbeth is about his manhood, the more vulnerable he is to domination by women’. This reasoning behind why Macbeth followed the words of the witches and Lady Macbeth, could only really be supported by the conversations between his wife and him.
In those moments, Lady Macbeth belittles Macbeth through attacks on his manhood and masculinity while insinuating that she, a woman, would be more capable and bolder than him to accomplish what he hesitates to do. In this instance, it is possible that when it comes to Lady Macbeth, Macbeth did cave in because he didn’t want to be perceived with the believed weaknesses that come with having a so-called feminine nature opposed to a masculine one. However, Schiffer fails to take the witches’ prior interaction with the witches where he is seduced with whispers of greatness and power. Macbeth views the witches as bringers of fate since the first two parts of their prophecy for him became reality soon after, with him already being the Thane of Glamis and then proclaimed the Thane of Cawdor.
The witches tell him that he will become King but don’t tell him how. He is the one, who human nature forces him to, already has greed and the want for power, which could be argued that without the words of the witches he wouldn’t have committed regicide by killing Duncan and then go on a murder spree on the other characters. While the witches do have a considerable amount of power over Macbeth since they are what drive the plot and cause Macbeth to completely alter his way of life to accommodate their prophecies, this is not because of their differences in gender. Macbeth truly believes that they have a say over his life and future events which is why he takes their words too seriously, not because he is intimidated by their somewhat questionable womanhood, as even though they are considered to be women and are referred to with feminine pronouns they are not regular beings but are in fact agents of another realm. He goes out of his way to bring the prophecy to life not because he himself fears being overpowered by women like Schiffer suggests but instead because of his unchecked ambition.
In ‘Macbeth’, Shakespeare argues that a disastrous combination of Macbeth’s free will and him being easily manipulated by the female characters surrounding him was what led him to his inevitable downfall. For Macbeth, he always had two things whispering in his ears at all times: the prophecy given by the witches and Lady Macbeth’s urges. It seems that Macbeth always had a desire to gain more power for himself, even before he committed all of the atrocities that he did. Whether you believe that Macbeth’s future and meeting with the witches were truly predestined or not, all can agree that it was Macbeth’s own hands that killed Duncan and that everyone else was killed under his direction. Assuming that the witches know the future, but not how to bring about it, it was ultimately in the end, Macbeths overpowering ambition that led him to kill Duncan saying later on before the killing ‘ I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself And falls on th’ other.'(I, vii, 25-28)
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