Cycle of Death in Macbeth

In Shakespeare’s classic play, Macbeth, the violence that started with the murder of King Duncan morphed into an uncontrollable loop. Murder after murder took place, justified only by the previous ones. Macbeth found himself in an inescapable cycle when he committed his act of treason. His only way out was for the score to be settled and for him to be killed.

The witches in the beginning of the play were the ones who seeded the idea of treason into Macbeth’s head. Macbeth was already Thane (a form of Anglo-Saxon nobility) of Gladis, but the witches predicted that he would be the Thane of Cawdor as well. In addition they said he would be “king hereafter”. Macbeth was puzzled because he knew who the Thane of Cawdor  was and that he did not hold that title. However, this had all taken place during a war with the invading Norwegian king, and Macdonwald, the original Thane of Cawdor, had defected to the Norwegian side. For that he was stripped of his title and executed. A fellow Scotsman informed Macbeth of what had happened, and that he was the new Thane of Cawdor. This got Macbeth thinking; if the witches’ first prediction came true, than what about the second? It now seemed feasible that he could become king.

Macbeth’s thoughts that were inspired by the witches were greatly amplified by his wife, Lady Macbeth. She was an extremely ambitious woman, and she encouraged her husband into committing the act that he was already contemplating. He held a party at his estate, at which the king and his guardians attended. After everyone was asleep Macbeth resolved (with the help of his wife) to kill Duncan. Then the string of violence began. He had to kill the two guardians because he intended to blame them for Duncan’s murder. His plan was to admit to killing them in a fit of rage for having killed the king, which he did. The cycle had started, and there was no way of stopping it.

After the killings, Macbeth remembered something else the witches had said which troubled him. They had said to his close friend and cousin, Banquo, “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none”. This meant that Banquo’s heirs would be kings even though Banquo himself would not be one. Macbeth worried that all he had done succeeded only in paving the way for the heirs of Banquo. He resolved then to murder Banquo and his son, Fleance. At this point Lady Macbeth consoled her husband by saying “what’s done is done”. Banquo was killed, but Fleance managed to escape. Lady Macbeth was wrong in her statement because it was not done. The killings would continue when Macbeth felt threatened by Macduff and killed his family to lure him back to Scotland. The killings would have continued had not the witches’ prophesy turned against him and he was slain by Macduff.

Lady Macbeth’s remark, “what’s done is done”, was not accurate. In fact, what was done could not ever be undone. The only thing that broke the cycle of murder was the retribution of Macduff in the killing of Macbeth.


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