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Joshua Johnson
Mrs. Hawkins
Period 5
19 October 2016
Corruption and Culpability in Macbeth
The lauded President Abraham Lincoln once stated, Nearly all men can stand adversity,
but if you want to test a mans character, give him power. He implies that power is the best way
to judge the intents of a person because it can corrupt so quickly and completely. In the highly
acclaimed Shakespearean tragedy

of Macbeth, the chivalrous and battle-proven thane Macbeth is

told of his destiny to become thane of Glamis and eventually King of Scotland. However, as
Macbeth attempts to hasten his fate, he and his wife morally deteriorate away from chivalry to
corruption with the promise of power. It is clear that both Macbeth and his wife were at fault for
their decline, for reasons such as their own greed, their ability to incense each other and
themselves to horrible deeds, and the need to conceal responsibility as opposed to admitting
One clear example of the Macbeths greed is displayed in his reaction to Malcolm being
named as the Prince of Cumberland, or heir to the throne of Scotland. He vocalizes his jealousy
by saying, The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step on which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,
for in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires. The eye
wink at the hand; yet let that be which the eye fears, when it is done, to see(1.4.55-60). This
shows that Macbeth has already set his heart upon eventually becoming King, and he has no
moral objection to thinking murderous and treasonous things in order to satisfy his selfish
desires. Another

example of greed in Macbeth would be Lady Macbeths denunciation of female

gender roles, asking the spirits to unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
of direst cruelty! allowing her to think murderous thoughts equal to those of her husband.
(1.5.391-393). She continues in a manner similar to Macbeths, asking That [her] keen knife see
not the wound it makes(1.5.402). This reveals her deceiving sadism and greed, and her
inclination to killing the King. She doesnt want to even think about the murder, but just execute
it in cold blood. Furthermore, a similar example of the Macbeths unhealthy ambition is when he
comes to the conclusion that there is no good reason to kill the King, other than his ambition. In
his monologue he recognizes that he [has] no spur to prick the sides of [his] intent, but only
vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself and falls on the other (1.7.25-28). This shows the
severity of his greed and ambition, showing that even though logically there is no reason to
murder the King, his selfishness overshadows that rationale, giving him sufficient motive to
murder. Greed is clearly evident when murder becomes an option, as can be seen often in
Though neither of the Macbeths could totally take matters into their own hands in regards
to killing the King, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth were fatally successful in goading each other to
committing deeds more heinous than before. A primary example of this is when Macbeth had
nearly dissuaded himself from murdering King Duncan, but Lady Macbeth forced him to change
his mind by playing on his emotions, making him seem like he wasnt a man, and calling him a
. . . coward in his own esteem if he didnt do what she lusted for. (1.7.520). Without her
intervention, Macbeth might have made a much more benign decision, and the story would have
been much different. In a different way, the way Lady Macbeth responds to Macbeths
insinuation of Banquos murder could be seen as a confirmation of his actions. When Macbeth
tells Lady Macbeth that a deed of dreadful note would take place that night, she simply
responds by simply asking Whats to be done, instead of trying advocate against it.

(3.2.1218-1219). This shows that she trusts and even encourages him to do whatever he might
believe to be necessary, even however erroneous. An alternate example of this would be when
Macbeth hallucinates a dagger in the air, as if whatever was left of his conscience was making a
futile attempt to constrain him. Albeit, he dismisses it as . . . a false creation, proceeding from
the heat-oppressed brain(2.1.617-618). Even though Macbeth hasnt done anything yet, this was
his last chance at salvaging his character. Notwithstanding, he ignores the pleading of his
conscience, and rationalizes instead. On the whole, instead of using each other as a voice of
clarity and reason, Macbeth and his wife compound their corruption and destroy their lives.
One who would oppose the fact that the Macbeths were at fault for their own
demoralization might claim that the deliverers of the prophecy, the witches were to blame.
However this opinion is a fallacy because Macbeth and his wife were at liberty to come clean
and confess their guilt at any time, and suffer the deserving consequences. Instead, they chose to
shroud and conceal their actions. As Macbeth is planning the murder with his wife, he shows his
premeditation to mislead and misdirect when he says, False face must hide what the false heart
doth know(1.7.566). Macbeth plans to act as if he was in anguish over the Kings death, as
opposed to admitting it. After killing Duncan, Macbeth shows the same idea by feigning grief,
saying that as a result of his death that There 's nothing serious in mortality: All is but
toys(2.3.876-877). This is a blatant lie on Macbeths part, because all he desires in life is closer
to coming about because the King is dead. In a like manner, Macbeth also hides his iniquity after
Banquo is murdered. During a banquet, he discreetly pins the blame of the absence of Banquo on
misfortune, saying, Were the graced person of our Banquo present; Who may I rather challenge
for unkindness than pity for mischance!(3.4.1324-1326). Even the weight of the murder
Macbeths dear friend wasnt enough to cause him to confess, which exhibits further the

tendency of deceit. As can be clearly seen, the corruption of Macbeth and his wife was amplified
by their lack of confession.
In conclusion,it is easy to determine that both Macbeth and his wife were at fault for their
moral degeneration, for reasons such as their unbelievable ambition and greed, their ability to
catalyze each other and themselves to morally unsound actions, and the need to suppress guilt for
their crimes instead of admitting their fault. Given these points, there can be very little doubt as
to the fault, but practical lessons can be learned from this fictional tragedy. Morals might include
picking good partners, curbing excessive ambition, and admitting fault to avoid more serious
consequences in the future. The Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck said, Power does
not corrupt. Fear corrupts... perhaps the fear of a loss of power, which can be applied to
Macbeth, who followed a flawed trajectory in an attempt to gain and remain in power.