Tag Archives: macbeth

Blame Game 4 – Macbeth


PHASE 4 = Witches #2 → Murder Lady Maduff & kids

Macbeth goes to see the witches again to learn his fate. They tell him to beware Macduff; that he will not be defeated until Birnam wood moves to Dunsinane; and that Macbeth will not be killed by someone born of a woman. Macbeth takes all of these signs to mean that he is invincible. Meanwhile, Macduff, a Scottish noble who suspects that Macbeth murdered Duncan, has gone to England to get help to reclaim the throne instead of attending the Banquet. In England Macduff and Malcolm, the rightful heir, ban together to fight Macbeth. When Macbeth learns of Macduff’s treachery, (Act 4, scene 1 – soliloquy “from this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand”) he sends murderers to Macduff’s home to kill his wife and children. When Macduff hears of this, his resolve to kill Macbeth grows even stronger.

PHASE 4 – Bloody Tyrant

 The Witches

This time Macbeth seeks them out rather than the other way around. Their prophecies are designed to make him feel invincible but it appears as if the witches cannot actually lie to him (after all they do reveal a show of eight Kings with Banquo at the end implying that Fleance will one day ascend to the throne). Thus they can only equivocate (deliberately mislead without actually lying) but they do so brilliantly and lead him on to his destruction.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is entirely absent from this section of the play.


Macbeth realises that Duncan’s sons are not going to quietly disappear. Now that they have the support of Macduff and King Edward’s army, they are bound to attempt an invasion of Scotland and Macbeth has been such a bloody tyrant as King that he cannot rely on the support of his subjects.


Instead of turning to his wife for advice or comfort, he returns to see the witches once more. Initially they give him good news – unless a forest walks and a man is not of woman born, he will not be defeated. He begins to feel invincible. However, they then give him bad news (his children will not be Kings) and he finally admits that he should not trust them “infected be the air whereon they ride and damned all those that trust them”. Nonetheless, as he did at the start of the play he hears only what he wants to hear, choosing to ignore all evidence that his defeat in inevitable. He loses it at this point. The more events spin out of his control, the more he lashes out at those around him and this is particularly evident in his decision to have the wife, children and servants of Macduff murdered.

Blame Game 3 – Macbeth


Phase 3 = Murder of Banquo Banquet Scene

In order to secure the throne for his descendants, he must kill Banquo, the other army general, and Banquo’s son (Act 3, scene 1 – soliloquy “To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus”) because the witches’ told Macbeth that Banquo’s descendants would have the throne after Macbeth. So Macbeth sets a trap and hires murderers to kill Banquo and his son, but Banquo’s son escapes. Shortly after Banquo is killed on his way to a banquet at Macbeth’s palace, Macbeth is haunted by Banquo’s ghost. In the middle of the banquet he sees the ghost of the murdered man and makes a scene in front of the Scottish lords. This outburst makes the lords suspicious although Lady Macbeth tries to play it off as just an illness that Macbeth has.

PHASE 3 – Protecting the Throne

 The Witches

The prophesy the Witches gave to Banquo now starts to haunt Macbeth “to be thus is nothing but to be safely thus – our fears in Banquo stick deep”.

Lady Macbeth

 This next section of the play effectively proceeds without her. She has to ask a servant to tell the King that she wants a word with him. She is full of despair because they have sacrificed their peace of mind and what they have gained (the throne) is meaningless because they cannot enjoy it “Nought’s had, all’s spent, Where our desire is got without content”. However she conceals her depression from her husband instead trying to lift his spirits “Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done”. He still confides honestly in her “o full of scorpions is my mind dear wife” but he no longer includes her in the decision-making process “be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck, til thou applaud the deed” perhaps to protect her? Perhaps because he no longer feels he needs her input. However, she proves vital in the Banquet scene, doing her utmost to excuse his odd behaviour “Sit worthy friends: my lord is often thus and hath been from his youth… the fit is momentary” and then when it becomes clear that Macbeth cannot control himself sending them away before he ruins everything “Stand not upon your the order of your going but go at once”


Once you are King you can get away with anything. Macbeth has no trouble hiring murderers to kill Banquo & his son, convincing them that Banquo wronged them. He’s the King – whether they believe him or not they must obey. However, as ruler you need the support of your nobles. Macbeth cannot force Macduff to attend his coronation feast. He may be using underhanded tactics to spy on his subjects (“there’s not one of them but in his house I keep a servant fee’d”) but this is not likely to inspire loyalty, nor is his erratic behaviour at the feast going to do him any favours.


Macbeth very rapidly loses his moral compass – he freely admits that Banquo is a good man who does not deserve to die “in his royalty of nature reigns that which would be feared” but Macbeth didn’t allow this to stop him when it came to killing Duncan so he’s not going to let it stop him now. He really has transformed remarkably quickly into a selfish ruthless murderer. However, we do get a glimpse of his inner torture when he echoes his wife’s envy of Duncan who is now at peace “Better be with the dead, Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, Than on the torture of the mind to lie In restless ecstasy”. Once you start to feel jealous of those who are dead it’s just one short step to feeling suicidal yourself but Duncan is presumably in heaven whereas they are in hell, now and for all eternity! The banquet scene is proof of something Macbeth himself suspected before he ever killed Duncan – the idea of karma, that what goes around comes around “bloody instructions….return to plague the inventor”. Macbeth may be selfish and ruthless but he is also vulnerable, tortured, paranoid and terrified that he is losing his mind.

Blame Game 2 – Macbeth


Phase 2 = Murder of Duncan Crowned King

Macbeth kills Duncan (Act 2, scene 1 soliloquy – “Is this a dagger which I see before me?”) with his wife’s help, but he is plagued with guilt for the crime. When Duncan’s murdered body is discovered, Macbeth immediately kills the accused guards so that he can cover his tracks. Lady Macbeth also faints to distract attention from her husband. Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, flee Macbeth’s castle in fear for their lives. They are suspected of bribing the guards to kill their father. Macbeth assumes the Scottish throne.

PHASE 2 – Crime & Concealment

 The Witches

They play no part in this section of the play.

 Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is a good actress – she welcomes Duncan managing to “look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it” and she gets the chamberlains drunk as planned but she needs some Dutch courage herself (“that which hath made them drunk hath made me bold”). Even then she hesitates to be the one who actually carries out the crime (“had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t”). Once the deed is done she regains her steely determination, dismissing his husband’s misgivings as foolish (“A little water clears us of this deed”) and returning to the scene to plant the daggers on the chamberlains and smear blood on their faces, thus framing them for the crime. She even faints to draw attention away from her husband after he reveals that he has killed the grooms (the only ‘witnesses’ to the crime).


Malcolm and Donalbain know that the chamberlains had no reason to kill their father. So the chamberlains either did it but were hired assassins or they didn’t do it, in which case someone else is guilty. As next of kin Malcolm and Donalbain know that suspicion will fall on them but they don’t feel safe staying in Scotland – whoever killed their father might come after them. Once they flee however, it is easy to lay the blame at their feet!


Macbeth knows he’ll need powerful allies once he’s in power so before he kills Duncan he tries to get Banquo on side (“if you shall cleave to my consent when tis it shall make honour for you”). However Banquo vows to keep his “allegiance clear”. Immediately before the murder Macbeth hallucinates a dagger but admits that it simply leads him the way he was going anyway! Immediately after the crime Macbeth is almost paralysed with grief and remorse and becomes convinced that “Macbeth shall sleep no more” – his guilty conscience will transform him into an insomniac.

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine”

However, once the house awakens and the possibility of being caught becomes a real and present danger, Macbeth manages to pull himself together, ironically commenting after returning from ‘discovering’ Duncan’s dead body “Had I but died an hour before this chance, I had lived a blessed time” – he may actually mean this. There’s no doubt that he wishes the events of the past hour had never happened but it’s too late for regrets now if he wants to protect himself and his wife. He even impulsively murders the grooms and then fakes remorse “yet I do repent me of my fury that I did kill them” making him in some ways almost as good as actor as his wife. What he says must seem suspicious however because this is the point at which his wife faints to draw attention away from him.


Blame Game 1 – Macbeth


Phase 1 = Opening scene Decision to murder Duncan

Macbeth is a Scottish general who is loyal to Duncan, the Scottish king. Along with Banquo, he helps to defeat two rebel armies (led by Macdonwald & invaders from Norway). However, after Macbeth meets three witches who prophesy that Macbeth will be king, (Act 1, scene 3 – soliloquy “why do I yield to that suggestion?”) the general is no longer satisfied to remain loyal to his king. Although Duncan rewards Macbeth for his bravery on the battlefield with a new title and a royal visit to Inverness, Macbeth and his wife nonetheless hatch a plot to kill the king under their own roof and frame the guards outside the king’s bedroom for the murder. Although Macbeth has misgivings about killing the king (Act 1, scene 7 soliloquy – “he’s here in double trust”) his wife convinces him to go through with it.


The Instigators – The Witches

The Witches lay in wait for Macbeth and somehow seem to know his deepest darkest desires. They offer him the Prophesies to tempt him “Thou shalt be King hereafter” but disappear before he can question him further. However, they never actually mention murder and their powers are limited – they can predict the future and they can influence the elements but they CANNOT directly kill or injure a man “though his bark cannot be lost yet it shall be tempest tossed”. Thus if Macbeth wasn’t open to manipulation there is little else they could have done to change the course of the future.

The Accomplice – Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth exerts huge influence over her husband. He trusts her, treats her like an equal and at first confides absolutely in her – she is his “dearest partner of greatness” and he writes to her because he values her opinion. Lady Macbeth believes that her husband is “too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” and she worries that he will never fulfil his dreams and ambitions as a result. She claims he will grow to hate himself for being too cowardly to act and will have to “live a coward in thine own esteem” for the rest of his life, full of regret and bitterness. She manipulates him, questions his manliness “when you durst do it then you were a man” and rants that she would never break a promise to him no matter how difficult it was to keep her word “I have given suck and know how tender tis to love the babe that milks me. I would, while it were smiling in my face, have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed his brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this”. The question is does she want what’s best for him? Or for herself? Or both of them?

The Circumstances

Macbeth hears the prophesy just as he has fought and won two decisive battles so he’s feeling confident and powerful.

It is never explicitly stated but it is implied in the letter and in Lady Macbeth’s mention of a ‘promise’ that they had previously spoken of their desire to be King and Queen so the witches are telling him what he most wants to hear.

Also Duncan’s announcement that “we will establish our estate upon our eldest Malcolm” and his decision to visit their castle for the first time (“this castle hath a pleasant seat”) provides the Macbeths with both the motive and the perfect opportunity to commit the crime and get away with it.

The Murderer – Macbeth

To what extent should we hold him responsible for his own actions? Certainly he foolishly places an absolute trust in what the witches say even though Banquo warns him not to “the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles to betray us in deepest consequence” perhaps because they tell him what he wants to hear; perhaps because their prophecies unexpectedly start to come true and he becomes Thane of Cawdor.

He also confides immediately in his wife surely knowing that she is more ruthless and determined than he is, surely knowing that she will tempt him further rather than hold him back? Does he want her to talk him into it?

Nonetheless, Macbeth knows that Duncan hath been “so clear in his great office that the angels will plead out trumpet tongued against the deep damnation of his taking off” – he knows that he should against his murderer “shut the door not bear the knife myself”. He decides “we will proceed no further in this business” because he knows it is morally wrong and that the only thing driving him is his “vaulting ambition”. Is it fair then to lay the blame squarely at the feet of his wife? Or if he were a stronger man would he be able to resist her manipulation? Does he agree because he wants to do the wrong thing, the selfish thing, but just needs someone to push him over the edge? Or is he afraid to disappoint his wife? Is he afraid to appear weak and effeminate in her eyes?

Macbeth in Monaghan

Macbeth was on the Leaving Cert in 2007 and Alan Stanford (Actor, Director, Writer and forever known to your parents as George in Glenroe) along with RTE recorded this discussion with then Leaving Cert Students of the main characters, themes and key moments in the play.

Well worth a listen.

It’d be a good idea to download the MP3s, stick them on your phone or ipod and listen to them while out for a walk. Study’s all well and good but you need fresh air and exercise too…

Here’s the link: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/podcast/podcast_macbethinmonaghan.xml