The Murder Of Duncan Philosophy Essay

There is no doubt that Shakespeare was a masterful and clever play writer as well as a great story teller. In Macbeth, two major events were never shown on stage – the murder of Duncan and the crowning of Macbeth. Shakespeare may have several reasons for excluding these events from the play. One of these was possibly to keep the play politically correct – he did not want to show how easy it was to kill a monarch since this may have ended up landing the play into the horns of controversy.His motive for keeping both these scenes offstage was also to create drama and add suspense to the play. Hence, instead of the scene of the murder, Shakespeare, who had a cunning eye for the dramatic, created drama and suspenseby narrating the events unfolding off the stage to his audience on both occasions.Part of being a good writer is to know what (or how much) to tell the audience and what to leave to their imagination. Hence, I am satisfied that the two major events were kept offstage as I was able to use my imagination to create my own images of how they may have taken place.

2. Explain the irony of Macbeth’s seeming indifference to Fleance. Is he really unconcerned with whether Fleance dies or not? Explain.

It would be wrong to assume that Macbeth is indifferent to whether Fleance dies or not. When Macbeth learns that Banquo is travelling to attend a feast, he promptly asks him if Fleance will be accompanying him. Shortly afterwards, Macbeth sends his servant to summon two murderers whom he sets loose on the tail of Banquo and Fleance. This clearly shows that Macbeth wants Fleance dead too. Moreover, in Act 3 Scene 2, Macbeth makes several quotes that suggest that although Duncan has been killed, someone who may perhaps be a greater threat one day still lives. For example, Macbeth says,”We have scorched the snake, not killed it” (3.2.15). These lines reveal Macbeth’s fears that someone (most likely Fleance) would try to kill him when he has grown into a man.

3. Do you feel any sympathy at all for Lady Macbeth as she talks about her “doubtful joy” in scene 2? Explain.

Yes. I feel sympathy and pity for Lady Macbeth. This is because she has an inferiority complex which feeds her greed to rise to a higher status. Hence, she chooses the wrong means to reach her goal and this has adverse consequences for her. Although Lady Macbeth was doing everything for her husband and herself, neither of them is glad that Duncan is dead. The murder of Duncan has not brought her the expected joy and Macbeth grows more and more distant from his wife – a thought that is killing Lady Macbeth from inside. Hence, I sympathize with her.

4. Quote and explain a line in this scene which helps develop the theme of sleeplessness.

Methought I heard a voice cry “sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep,” the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the ravelledsleave of care. Act 2 Scene 2.

This line aptly portrays the dilemma that Macbeth is in. In this line, Macbeth is talking to his wife about how he heard a sound in his head that instructed him to ‘sleep no more’. This sound resonates in Macbeth’s mind along with the disturbing images of all the people whom he has cruelly disposed of. To the misfortune of Macbeth, when he betrayed Duncan by getting him killed, he unknowingly also killed his own sleep and rest by branding himself as depraved and evil. As a result, he has not been able to sleep at all and has spent sleepless nights. Hence, this line clearly portrays the theme of sleeplessness. The theme of sleeplessness depicts two ideas in the play -guilt and fear.

5. What mood is created in this scene with all Macbeth’s talk of snakes, scorpions, etc.?

In many cultures and traditions, snakes and scorpions are looked upon as vile and evil creatures. It is interesting to note that Macbeth talks about snakes and scorpions in this scene. The term ‘snake’ is a reference to Duncan whom, no doubt he sees as his nemesis, particularly since he wants to usurp his throne. And, when Macbeth says,” O, full of scorpions is my mind…” (3.2.36), this could imply that his idle mind is full of evil and venomous plots to murder all those who are a threat to him and his plans. However, the word ‘scorpion’ may also depict treachery and betrayal, an allusion to Macbeth’s own deadly thoughts which are plotting venomous and murderous plots. Hence, the line could be Macbeth’s confession where he thinks of himself as a backstabber who has betrayed the one person who was kind and affectionate towards him.

6. Explain what Macbeth means when he says, “Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill” (3.2.56). Be explicit as you explain what Macbeth means/plans, and comment on the chaos of a world where this statement could seem true.

When Macbeth makes this statement, the murder of Banquo and Fleance is on his mind. Therefore, the statement indicates that Macbeth is brooding over the fact that he is delving deeper and deeper into the quagmire by ordering more and more innocent deaths. Macbeth sees these deaths as a necessity in order to achieve his ultimate agenda of usurping the throne and knows that he cannot possibly stop now that he has set upon this treacherous path. The chain of events that he has started by ordering the death of Duncan seems impossible for him to stop now that so many murders have already been committed. Hence, he suggests that the immoral acts that he has committed are themselves encouraging him to do more evil acts. Apart from this, the quote has great significance in the play since, in it, Macbeth is almost making a guilty confession in front of the audience as he reveals that he is conscious of the fact that he has acted in a depraved and immoral way by murdering Duncan.

7. There is quite a bit of literary debate about the identity of the Third Murderer in scene 3. While the question is not clearly answered in the play, who do you think the Third Murderer might be? Explain.

Lady Macbeth was indeed a shrewd and ambitious lady who would go to any lengths to help her husband in becoming king. This is evident in the play on various instances. Hence, I strongly suspect that it was Lady Macbeth herself who was disguised as the third murderer. However, this immediately raises the question regarding how she learned of Macbeth’s plan to kill Banquo and Fleance. In act 3 scene 2, Macbeth mentions to Lady Macbeth that there shall be a “deed of dreadful note” before the night is done, quickly adding that she had better not know of the deed until it is completed.This may have aroused suspicion in the mind of Lady Macbeth and sparked her curiosity to learn what it is that Macbeth has planned to do. Hence, she may have dressed up as the third murderer in order to figure out what Macbeth was up to.

8. In scene 2, Macbeth lets the murderers think that Fleance’s murder is an afterthought, just to make things clean and tidy. Do you think the First and Second Murderers would have acted differently inscene 3 if Macbeth had told them how crucial Fleance’s death is to him? Explain.

I believe that Macbeth should have communicated to the two murderers how important it was for him that they also kill Fleance along with Banquo. The fact that he mentions Fleance’s name among the targets as a mere afterthought may have indubitably given the murderers the strong impression that the boy’s death was of little consequence to the agenda that Macbeth was pursuing. In fact, th two murderers may have gotten the impression that Macbeth simply mentioned Fleance’s to emphasize that they do not leave any clues or eyewitnesses behind. As a result, the murderers were little concerned about Fleance becoming an eyewitness nice they were cloaked, meaning that their identities were never revealed. Had Macbeth clearly instructed the two murderers to dispose of Fleance too and emphasized how important Fleance’s death was for him, they would certainly have acted in a much different manner then they did.

9. Do you think Lady Macbeth would have acted sooner to cover Macbeth’ssuspicious comments at the banquet table if she’d known of Macbeth’s plan tokill Banquo?Do you think Macbeth made the right choice in not telling her?

Lady Macbeth was inarguably the closest most loyal and sincere persons that Macbeth knew. Hence, if she had known about Macbeth’s plans to murder Banquo, she would not have been taken aback by the sudden outburst by Macbeth at the dinner table. Instead, she would have acted in time to avoid the confusion that he caused, possibly preventing the Thanes from suspecting that Macbeth had a hand to play in the murder of Banquo. I believe that Macbeth acted foolishly by not sharing his plans to murder Banquo. However, this was part of Macbeth’s transformation as he was becoming increasingly paranoid and was hence, hesitant to trust even Lady Macbeth.

10. How do you think the Thanes around the table are feeling after Macbeth’soutburst and Lady Macbeth’s hasty dismissal of them?

Macbeth’s angry tirade at the dining table certainly does well to alarm the Thanes and arouse suspicion in them regarding the sudden and unexpected murder of Banquo. Macbeth starts shoutingat the empty chair since he perceives that Banquo’s ghost is occupying it. This sudden and uncontrolled outburst from Macbeth raises suspicions in the minds of the Thanes as to the character of Macbeth so that they start to get the strong impression that he is a tyrant who has used despicable means in order to further his agenda to usurp the throne.

11. What does Macbeth mean when he says, “There’s not a one of them but inhis house/ I keep a servant fee’d” (3.4.132-33)?

In this statement, Macbeth is merely suggesting to his wife that he does not trust anyone and that none of his people are loyal to him. In this statement, he implies that all he has had to buy the loyalty of servants in all the major households in Scotland by paying them a fee.

12. Carefully read the second half of Hecate’s speech. As specifically as possible,explain what Hecate plans to do as she plays on Macbeth’s desire to besafely on the throne.

Shakespeare has strongly indicated that the weird sisters in the play are the Sisters of Fate. Therefore, the fact that Macbeth meddled with the affairs of Fate herself by murdering Banquo before his death was due and trying to kill Fleance has upset Hecate. Hecate accuses Macbeth of interfering with fate in order to meet his own despicable ends. Hence, he orders the three weird sisters to tell Macbeth half-truths in order to make him overconfident while keeping the details from him. This is their way of getting back at Macbeth for meddling with their affairs.In the second half of her speech, Hecate describes how she will plot a fatal and hopeless end to Macbeth’s story. She chooses the power of illusions and magic to manipulate Macbeth so that he believes that he “shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear/he hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace and fear”. Hecate plans to achieve her goal by giving Macbeth a false sense of security by convincing him that he will not die at the hand of a mortal man who has been born of a woman’s womb.

13. Describe the tone of the discussion between Lennox and the Lord.Do you think as a reader/audience member, you are properly preparedfor this absolute change in the opinions of Macbeth’s Thanes? Explain.

The change in the view and opinions of Macbeth’s Thanes regarding Macbeth is very sudden. However, this change is not completely unexpected. Macbeth’s outburstat the feast is one of the major blunders that he makes throughout the play as it plants the seed of doubt in the minds of the Thanes.At first, the Thanes only suspect Macbeth of killing Banquo. However, soon they are convinced that he had a hand to play in the murder of Duncan as well. Their suspicions are confirmed when they realize how brutally and heartlessly Macbeth murdered the two guards who were positioned at the entrance of Duncan’s chambers to provide security. To be honest, I was prepared for this sudden change in opinion.

14. It is a common Elizabethan notion that when there is corruption in the royalfamily, this corruption “trickles down” to every aspect of the kingdom. Thenatural world, the King’s subjects, even the economy can fall apart as aresult of the King’s wrongdoings. Quote at least three examples the speakers in scene 6 give of the negative impact of Macbeth’s leadership on the rest of Scotland.

“we may again/Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights/Free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives/Do faithful homage and receive free honors” (3.6.33-36)

“a swift blessing/May soon return to this our suffering country/Under a hand accursed!” (3.6.48-50)

“That, by the help of these–with Him above/To ratify the work (3.6.32)

Act 4 -Questions

1. Are you surprised that Macbeth plays so willingly into the hands of the witches? Shouldn’t he have learned his lesson by now? Explain your answer.

It is surprising to see that Macbeth falls into the deceitful web of the weird sisters yet again and believes their prophecies, even after going through such an ordeal with the previous prophecies. However, it should be remembered that Macbeth is not himself at the start of Act 4 as he has radically transformed into a heartless and cold-blooded monster who is so drunk on power that he would do anything to meet his goal.The fulfillment of the three prophecies one by one also encourages Macbeth to believe that he is the one who has been chosen by fate to lead the kingdom. Hence, it is nearly impossible for Macbeth to learn his lesson since the prophecies convince him that he has divine authority to rule the kingdom.

2. Do you have any sympathy for Macbeth in Act 4, scene 1?

As an audience, I certainly feel sympathy for Macbeth at the start of act 4. This is Macbeth is shown as a man who is no longer in his senses and is completely drunk on his ambition to acquire more power. He is completely trapped by the temptations of evil both outside and inside him.Macbeth’s state evokes sympathy also because he is portrayed as a man who is being so easily duped and manipulated by the weird sisters. Also, Macbeth literally pleads to young Siward not to provoke him to fight with him. In this particular scene, he confesses to him that his is a soul condemned to hell and that he does not want another shred of guilt on his conscience. This is Macbeth’s conscience speaking and this convinces the audience that there is indeed a soul inside Macbeth.

3. Imagine you are directing this scene. How would you:

design the set

dress Lady Macduff and her son

direct the characters to act etc.

To maximize the sense of innocence – i.e. the more innocent Lady Macduff and her son seem to the audience, the crueler their murders seem, and the more wicked Macbeth will look.

To add to the drama, I would design the set to show the bedroom of Macduff’s son where Lady Macduff is tucking her son in bed. Since they are both retiring to bed, they are wearing their nightgowns, and the room is dimly lit. There is only one candle placed beside the bed that illuminates the room and casts shadows in the far corners of the huge chamber. From one of these dark corners suddenly springs the murderer as he moves swiftly and stealthily towards the targets, plunging the dagger into the bosom of Lady Macduff, narrowly missing her heart but fatally wounding her nonetheless.Lady Macduff falls on to the bed, holding her terrified son tightly in her hands and frantically begging the killers to spare her son. In one swipe of the dagger, the killer stabs the child in the neck, killing him instantly. The killer then advances towards the horrified Lady Macduff to finish the job.

4. In Act 3, Macbeth begins to act without the counsel of Lady Macbeth. Here in Act 4, after the apparitions are presented to him, he begins to act impulsively, seeming not to consult his own reason. His order to murder Macduff’s family is the first impulsive act he takes. Do you think that if he’d stopped and really considered possible outcomes that he would have decided against this action or do you think that he would have killed Macduff’s family anyway? Explain.

The state of mind that Macbeth was in was highly unstable and there was little chance that the murder of the Macduff’s would have been prevented if Macbeth had stopped to consider the possible outcomes of such a crime. Although Macbeth acts impulsively, it is clear that he is growing increasingly paranoid and is losing his trust in everyone around him. Indeed, it was paranoia and insecurity that motivated Macbeth to murder his good friend Banquo and his son Fleance. Therefore, the murder of the Macduff’s would have been of little consequence to Macbeth so that he was not inclined to give it much thought. Hence, even if he had considered all possible outcomes of slaughtering the Macduff’s, there is little likelihood that he would have stopped from carrying out his despicable plan.

5. Just after Macduff hears his family has been murdered he says, “And I must be from thence!” (4.3.212) Explain Macduff’s priorities, i.e. which is more important to him, country or family? Are you bothered by Macduff’s priorities? Do they make you feel differently about Macduff?

When Rossebrings word that the entire family of Macduff has been brutally slaughtered by Macbeth, Macduff’s reaction is impulsive. Such a reaction from Macduff does not bother me as an audience since it was emotional, personal, and very much human. The first thought that comes to Macduff’s mind is that of going to his family and grieving over their dead bodies. However, it is only upon the insistence of Malcolm that he decides to accompany them in the destruction of Macbeth. This shows that,for a man of his position, his first priority was his family rather than his country. Moreover, when he does decide to accompany the others in their march towards Macbeth’s downfall, it is because he is filled with uncontrollable rage and vengeance as he wants to slay Macbeth with his own blade.

Act 5 -Questions

1. Aside from the obvious manifestations of Lady Macbeth’s guilty conscience in Act 5, scene 1, quote another piece of evidence, discussed early in the scene, that reveals Lady Macbeth’s mind is never at ease.

The other piece of evidence, apart from the obvious manifestations of Lady Macbeth’s guilty conscience, in Act 5, scene 1, revealing that her mind is never at ease is discussed earlier in the scene when the Gentlewoman is informing the Doctor of Lady Macbeth’s habit of walking in her sleep: “Since his majesty went into the field, I have seen her rise from bed, throw her night-gown upon her, unlock her closet, take forth paper, fold it, write upon’t, read it, afterwards seal it, and again return to bed; yet all this while in a most fast sleep.” (5.1.3-7). It is being discussed further when the Doctor asks the Gentlewoman if she has heard Lady Macbeth speak or say anything in her sleep; when the Gentlewoman refuses to share annotations: “In this slumber agitation, besides her walking and other actual performances, what, at any time, have you heard her say?”; “That, sir, which I will not report after her.”; “You may to me, and ’tis most meet you should.”; “Neither to you not any one, having no witness to confirm my speech.” (5.1.9-15)

2. Is the murder of Duncan the only death that troubles Lady Macbeth? Answer specifically with direct quotations from the text.

The murder of Duncan is not the only death that troubles Lady Macbeth, and this is revealed when, in her sleep, Lady Macbeth refers to Banquo being buried and not returning from his grave: “Wash your hands, put on your night-gown, look not so pale: I tell you, Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on’s grave.” (5.1.54-56)

3. Are you satisfied that Lady Macbeth is revealed in this state at the beginning of Act 5, or do you think that she should have had more scenes through the middle of the play? Explain your answer.

Given the vile rumors already surrounding the death of Duncan and Banquo, Lady Macbeth indeed is, to a great extent, revealed in the state that she is in at the beginning of Act 5. Her constant attempts on trying to get rid of the imaginary blood stains on her hand go to show that she surely had someone’s blood on her hands: “Yet here’s a spot!” (5.1.26); “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” (5.1.29); “[Rubbing her hands] What, will these hands never be clean? (5.1.38); “[Her hand to her nose] The smell of the blood is still there. All the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten this little hand. [She sighs deeply] Oh, oh, oh! (5.1.44-46). All of this, compounded by the fact that Duncan died at her residence as her guest, and that she mentions Banquo’s name as well: “I tell you again, Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on’s grave.” (5.1.55-56), leads to the most obvious conclusion, i.e. she played a pivotal role in arranging the murder of Duncan and Banquo.

4. What does the Doctor mean when he says of Lady Macbeth, “Therein the patient/ Must minister to himself” (5.3.45-46)?

The doctor, here, is trying to explain to Macbeth as to why he cannot cure Lady Macbeth. He realizes that there are things within her conscience that have to be worked out, specifically her guilt on what has transpired in the past. He realizes that cure to her present ailment does not lie within an earthly medicine, and that the only way to cure her is for her to come to terms with her own demons that haunt her still.

5. Describe Macbeth’s state of mind in scene 3.

Macbeth’s state of mind in the third scene of Act 5 strongly suggests how delusional and anxious he has become under the influence of the prophecies of the weird sisters. Rather than fearing the oncoming army that is headed towards his castle to bring him down and most probably kill him, he takes the prophecy in its literal sense, rejoicing over the false notion that he is invincible. This sense of being invulnerable has been evoked in him by the weird sisters who prophecy that unless BirnamWood itself marches towards him, Macbeth will not die. The weird sisters also prophecy that the one who will slay Macbeth will not be born of woman born. Since all men are born of woman and trees don’t march, these prophecies give Macbeth a false sense of security by making him believe that neither man nor man-forged weapon can slay him.

6. In his grief for Lady Macbeth, Macbeth reminds us for a moment of Macduff. Compare and contrast the emotions and reactions of both men as they learn of their wives deaths. Are there other clear examples of ways in which Macduff and Macbeth are parallel characters? (i.e. emotions, relationships,situations, etc.) Explain.

The characters Malcolm and Macbeth are polar opposites and the deaths of their wives evoke different reactions in both the men. Where Malcolm is devastated as well as enraged by the murder of his family, Macbeth seems to be indifferent. He has become so cold and heartless after committing the terrible actions that he cannot even react properly to the death of his dear wife. Rather than grieving his wife’s death, Macbeth talks about the evanescence of life, explaining how “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow /Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,” and that life is “a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound andfury, / signifying nothing” (5.5.18-27). This is in stark contrast to the reaction of Malcolm towards the murder of his wife and son.

7. How does Lady Macbeth die? Quote and cite lines from the end of the actto support your response.

According to the play, Lady Macbeth was suffering from a serious mental illness in the days before her death. Although the illness was not clearly specified in the play, it was probably aggravated by fear, guilt and depression that affected the mental condition of the lady. In the end, Lady Macbeth is thought to have committed suicide, possibly to repent for her foul deeds or simply to seek an end to her agonizing state. This is implied by Malcolm’s speech in the final play when he says,”Who, as tis thought, by self and violent hands/Took off her life” (5.8.71-72)

Essay Section


Macbeth, a nobleman of good character and virtue,was driven towards evil.

The failure of the Thanes to realize that Duncan’s death could be an assassination played a pivotal role in strengthening Macbeth’s ambitions.

Macbeth’s devious and manipulative wife was evil and she had a major hand in leading her husband down the path to damnation

Essay (Approximately 600 words)

It is indeed more surprising that there is as much good in the world than evil. It is interesting to note that Macbeth was initially portrayed as a nobleman man of good virtue and unquestionable loyalty to his king. These qualities were what earned him the title Thane of Cawdor. However, in spite of so much good in the world, the desire and the tendency of man to do evil is innate as well as incorrigible. Although he had the favor of the king at his hand, Macbeth was influenced by the lust for more power and the greed to achieve his political ambitions. There is no denying the fact that this lust for power and might was implanted in his mind by Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth played a major role in leading Macbeth towards the dark path. She coerced him by attacking his manhood, saying:

“And shalt be,

What thou art promis’d: yet do I fear thy nature;

It is too full of the milk of human kindness,

To catch the nearest way. . . .” (1.5.11-14)

Even then, Macbeth is reluctant to spill blood in order to meet his goal. This is clear when he exclaims upon hearing the prophecy,

“If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, Without my stir.” (1.3.143-145)

However, Lady Macbeth is persistent and relentless in her persuasion and, in the end, Macbeth finally succumbs to the pressure. This newly found ambition for more power corrupts Macbeth’s thoughts and blinds him so that he is unable to realize what repercussions they will have for him. With a little coercion from his devious and manipulative wife, Macbeth has he set out on the path that would ultimately turn him into a monster, permanently. Ironically, when Lady Macbeth teriwes to convince him later that he can make amends, Macbeth says,

“I am in blood

Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.5.136-137)

This line has great significance in the play since it signifies how Macbeth acknowledges that he has committed such heinous crimes that he cannot possibly turn back and repent for his wrongdoings. It is surprising that even with all the good in the world, and the noblemen who could have stopped Macbeth from following this treacherous and evil path, fate played what she had planned and none of the good men were able to stop him. Evil triumphs when good men fail to act. This is the predicament that has been presented so masterfully in the play Macbeth. It is not because Macbeth was so intent on committing evil acts that he was able to achieve so much through careful conspiring and plotting and was even able to manipulate those who were noble.

Macbeth’s plans bore fruit because Macduff, Malcolm, Banquo and Lennox were not willing to consider the possibilities that the king was assassinated by someone within their own ranks. After all, what motive would two guards possibly have for killing the king? Therefore, it was the failure of good men to act that played an equally destructive role in the unfolding of the events. For example, Macbeth’s murder of the two guards who were stationed outside Duncan’s chamber may have alarmed Macduff and the others.

All the events that unfold systematically throughout the play should have been averted since Macbeth had so many good men around him. And yet, he was almost successful in his plans. This reflects the truth in the above-mentioned statement that it is more surprising that there is as much good in the world as evil. This is because even in the presence of good, evil has her own way of manipulating the weak.

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