Macbeth, an Undeserved Sympathy

Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare’s most acknowledged plays. The play brings out a character called Macbeth whose ambitions land him tragedies. He comes out both as a tyrant who unleashes terror on others while in pursuit of his ambitions and as a victim of circumstance who only acted under manipulation and against his own conscience. The question is; did Macbeth deserve any sympathy? For the purposes of this article, as much as his positive life should be celebrated, there should be no sympathy on the basis of the curses he brought upon himself.

Shakespeare’s play first introduces Macbeth together with his counterpart, Banquo, as they conquered army troops from Ireland and Norway. At this point, according to McGinn, Macbeth is a brave man and a hero. On their way home, the two encounter three witches who reveal to them some prophecies. In these prophecies, Macbeth was to one day become the Scottish king while his friend, Banquo, would get kings in his lineage in the days to come although he would not become a king himself.

After availing the prophecies, the witches vanish, leaving these gentlemen with a lot to contemplate about. Unfortunately, they interpret the prophecy in a manner that leads to their split. As the play continues, Macbeth becomes too obsessed with the issue of becoming the king. With the manipulation of his wife, he pushes his way to becoming the king by killing king Duncan, thereby ensuring the prophecy comes to live. He kills anyone who stands on his way or threatens his stay on the throne. He murders his friend, Banquo, so that the prophecy that he will get kings could be averted. He also tries to kill Banquo’s son, Fleance, just to stop the prophecy.

Macbeth’s attempts to avert the prophecy about Banquo and to remain in power failed to bear any fruits. He gets a short reign characterised by many uncertainties and his former ally’s lineage finally comes to pick up the mantle of leadership. As Smith rightly observes, although Macbeth unleashes terror on those who threaten his reign, he turns out to be the ultimate loser (2003). He loses his sense of wisdom, friends, family, supporters and reputation, among other things he so much cherished. At the end, his uncalculated quest for power costs him his already troubled life.

Although the writer paints Macbeth as a victim of manipulation and attracts sympathy from the audience, this does not absolve him of blame. If one was to feel sympathy for Macbeth, a man who killed to realise his dream, then what will he feel for the victims of his actions such as King Duncan, Banquo and Macduff? Macbeth may have been manipulated, but his blind ambitions and greed made him vulnerable to such manipulations. He may not have wanted to act that way, but he acted, anyway. While those who manipulated him have their share of condemnation, Macbeth remains a tyrant who killed to gain and retain power. Consequently, he did not deserve any sympathy from any quarters. While his positive side is celebrated, his negative side should be condemned in the strongest terms possible.