Prophecy, Temptation, Corruption, and Women

Macbeth, right off the bat, is very forward about what it’s going to be about. The first scene is devoted to the mysterious and foreboding dark-plottings of three witches who are obviously evil and deal in all things  black and wrong. Their chant of “fair is foul and foul is fair” (1.1. 10) suggests an inversion of all things natural and understood by the inhabitants of this world. A few scenes later, in 1.3, the witches meet Macbeth upon the Heath just as they had planned and inform him and Banquo of a few prophecies. The two that pertain to Macbeth call him Thane of Cawdor and then King. The prophecy of kingship excites Macbeth in a way which makes him very uncomfortable and deliveres dark thoughts to his mind about how to make this prophecy true, “Present fears/ Are less than horrible imaginings./  My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,/ Shakes so my single state of man that function/ Is smothered in surmise, and nothing is but what is not” (1.3.136-41). Macbeth is concerned about the dark thoughts that enter his mind when this prophecy is given to him. In that same scene, these thoughts and worries are only intensified when the first prophecy is fulfilled and Macbeth is given the title of Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth now believes the prophecies and his thoughts are taken to darker places.

Now, from the beginning of this play, we are told about Macbeth’s valiance and bravery in battle and his loyalty to king and country. He is clearly a good man and so these dark prophecies throw a monkey wrench in his moral gears. Once he sees that these prophecies are true, his mind speculates more and more on how to gain his foretold kingship. He is now tortured, trying hard to fight these thoughts and figure out a way to make this prophecy happen, comforting himself with the thought, “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me/ Without my stir” (1.3. 143-4).

Macbeth sends all of this news to his wife, Lady Macbeth, who sees a golden opportunity. Immediately when she hears of this prophecy she is planning on how to make it come true. She comments to herself about Macbeth’s virtue and how it will get in the way of him attaining Kingship and when they are united, she requests that he leave all of the dirty work to her because she can handle it.

In a quick summary, I find Shakespeare’s portrayal of women at this point in the play to be a decidedly negative one. The men in this play are all virtuous and good (Duncan, Macbeth) and those who are not are killed (Thane of Cawdor). When Macbeth learns about the prophecy, he is deeply disturbed by the thoughts that run through his head and tries his hardest to push them down and forget them. Lady Macbeth on the other hand, takes them and runs with them. Immediately, she is chastising Macbeth’s virtue and honor and is single-mindedly thinking of how to wi that crown. She plans to kill the king right away when she learns that he will be staying at her castle, there isn’t even a second of doubt in her thoughts. She will do whatever it takes to fulfill that prophecy. Further, the deliverers of the prophecy are the other three women in the beginning of this play, the three terrible witches.

The power of corruption and temptation comes solely from women in this play. Maybe Shakespeare was having some lady trouble at the time of the writing of this play, but it is clear that here women are labeled as the corruptors of men.

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2 thoughts on “Prophecy, Temptation, Corruption, and Women

  1. Kristin Barker

    I agree with the point you made about women being the ones who are making all the trouble in this play. Even the gender roles have switched, Lady Macbeth plays a more masculine role while Macbeth has a more submissive role.Shakespeare is showing a poor image of woman in this play. Almost like he did in King Lear with his two daughters who turned out to be vicious people.

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  2. ~Ariel~

    I think your observations about the women in this play are accurate. The 3 witches completely throw off the Natural order of things right from the beginning. They do seem to plant the seed of becoming King in Macbeth's head, but I think Macbeth always had his own ambitions lurking underneath. Macbeth says that the Prince of Cumberland (Duncan's son) is a step that is in his way. He seems like he already knows that he will not let anything stand in his way. This does occur after the witches tell him he will be king so maybe they really are responsible. It is obvious that Shakespeare has given the women in this play the most power. From the 3 witches to the very cunning Lady Macbeth the females in this play are making the plans and carrying out the important actions. The gender roles are totally inverted in ways that we have not seen in other plays. The females hold all the power in this play without having to dress as men or without having to compromise themselves in any way.

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