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Old 01-27-2013, 10:57 PM   #1
crich70
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Nature vs. Nurture in Macbeth??

I'm watching a program about MacBeth and one of the points they discuss is did the witches implant MacBeth's impulse to commit murder or did they just give him the final push. It occurred to me that the play is actually asking is it nature or nurture that makes us do things. That's a pretty old theme in writing going at least back as far as the ancient Greeks. In the Oedipus plays everything starts with a prophesy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Was it pre-ordained that it would happen or was the path set by the oracle telling his parents what would happen. Shakespeare certainly knew how to ask questions that keep people thinking generation after generation.
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Old 01-28-2013, 06:48 AM   #2
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I never did understand the point of the witches in Macbeth. They make great characters for spoofs and so on, but their importance/relevance to the play itself? ... It leaves me feeling rather short.
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Old 01-28-2013, 07:09 AM   #3
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I never did understand the point of the witches in Macbeth. They make great characters for spoofs and so on, but their importance/relevance to the play itself? ... It leaves me feeling rather short.
Maybe they make it more entertaining? If they weren't there it'd be a somewhat anvilicious morality play about Klingon promotions.
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Old 01-28-2013, 07:18 AM   #4
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Just thinking that perhaps my previous point reveals my opinion that the witches had little to do with how Macbeth behaved. That's not to side with nature or nurture specifically, or not in regard to the witches; anyone that goes looking to mystics for their answers will probably come away exactly what they were looking for in the first place.
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Old 01-28-2013, 07:24 AM   #5
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To put it another couple of ways, it's about choosing vs following or internal vs external or ...
I think it embodies all those possibilities and that is what good writing can do. It doesn't spell it out precisely, but let's the reader (playgoer) decide based on their own knowledge and experiences of life.
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Old 01-28-2013, 11:17 AM   #6
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To put it another couple of ways, it's about choosing vs following or internal vs external or ...
I think it embodies all those possibilities and that is what good writing can do. It doesn't spell it out precisely, but let's the reader (playgoer) decide based on their own knowledge and experiences of life.
Yep, it's a question that has no one answer as it depends on the reader/viewers point of view. Does Macbeth commit the murders because the witches tell him what they do or does he do it because they help him justify it to himself. That's something each person brings to the play I think and one of the things that keeps it alive. Shakespeare knew how to make a person think. Of course in his day witches weren't fantasy, they were real and could actually cause harm (or at least people believed so).
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Old 01-28-2013, 11:21 AM   #7
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I blame Lady Macbeth.

And c'mon, if some witches you believed in said you could not be killed (okay, so there was a loophole) you wouldn't act any differently?

I agree it isn't clear cut, nature versus nurture. As a classic tragedy, echoing Greek drama, I imagine there has to be an innate flaw in Macbeth. He has to have an intentional hand in bringing about his downfall. If we accept that it was forces beyond his control then there is no hubris-then-fall, no tragedy, just "a dingo ate my baby!"
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Old 01-28-2013, 11:22 AM   #8
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He's an ambitious noble. One of the time-honored ways of obtaining a crown is to pluck it from the lifeless head of the previous owner. Whether that is considered to be bad or good depends on your perspective viewed from the perspective of the current owner of that crown. The usurper who failed, there's a villain for you. But the usurper who succeeds, and builds a dynasty, there's a hero. The witches just give Macbeth a little nudge. Macbeth thinks he is the master of his own destiny, but he is the pawn of others.

What you learn is to pay very close attention to the details, because there apparently is no appeal. You need "Birnam Wood" defined, and what it means for that wood to come to Dunsinane. I would say it hardly counts just because some wood came from there. The capital makes all the difference: "Birnam Wood" refers to the forest, while "Birnam wood" would simply refer to some wood that just happened to come from Birnam. But it was an oral contract, which isn't worth the paper it was printed on. And does "of no woman born" really eliminate those born via C-section?

I think that the battle should have stopped right there for an appeal. Set up a little courtroom before things go any further. "Your honor, my client contends that even if this wood did indeed come from Birnam Wood, that fact does not constitute Birnam Wood itself coming to Dunsinane, and in addition, it has not been established that the aforementioned wood in fact had its origin in Dunsinane."

Beware of rhetorical flourishes. There may be loopholes hidden there.

Last edited by QuantumIguana; 01-28-2013 at 11:39 AM.
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Old 01-28-2013, 11:28 AM   #9
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And the play is based on a real leader. Of course Shakespeare had to be careful how he wrote it. The real Macbeth killed Duncan on the battlefield and Duncan was trying to invade Macbeth's territory at the time. But history is written by the victors. In the end Macbeth was killed and it's easier to justify what you do to the loser if he is made out as a villain.
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Old 01-28-2013, 11:49 AM   #10
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I never did understand the point of the witches in Macbeth. They make great characters for spoofs and so on, but their importance/relevance to the play itself? ... It leaves me feeling rather short.
In the early 17th century, when the play was written, belief in witchcraft was almost universal. You really can't judge the play by the standards of today's society.

The question, though, as to whether the witches made Macbeth a murderer, or whether they simply foretold something that he was going to do anyway is one that's been asked many times. There is no clearcut answer - one can find arguments to support both sides.
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Old 01-28-2013, 11:52 AM   #11
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...
The question, though, as to whether the witches made Macbeth a murderer, or whether they simply foretold something that he was going to do anyway is one that's been asked many times. There is no clearcut answer - one can find arguments to support both sides.
AhhhhH! Great fiction!
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Old 01-28-2013, 01:30 PM   #12
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If I tell you that the back door and vault of the bank are unlocked, and that the security system is down, I didn't make you a bank robber. I have simply given you an opportunity to reveal your character. You might call the police and warn them. Or you might take advantage of the opportunity to rob the bank and get away with it. Or at least you would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for that little catch you didn't notice.

The witches give Macbeth the opportunity to reveal his character. He didn't have to kill the king. The witches open a door for him, but he was the one who chose to step through that door. Tragedy would be so much shorter if the protagonist simply said "No, thank you," and walked on. But I don't know if many people would want to watch that play.
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Old 01-28-2013, 01:35 PM   #13
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In the early 17th century, when the play was written, belief in witchcraft was almost universal. You really can't judge the play by the standards of today's society.

The question, though, as to whether the witches made Macbeth a murderer, or whether they simply foretold something that he was going to do anyway is one that's been asked many times. There is no clearcut answer - one can find arguments to support both sides.
And we still ask the same question today about real murderers. Was it nature or nurture that made Bundy, Gacy, Dahmer, etc. do what they did. It's a question that says more about the questioner than anything else I think. I think that that is one reason why the play has held up so well. It presents us with a reflection of ourselves. Would we do as Macbeth did or not if presented with similar temptations? It touches something deep in the human psyche I think. We're forced to look at ourselves when we look at Macbeth. Lady Macbeth isn't an innocent bystander either. She goads him into going ahead with the plan when he has doubts about doing it, and even plants evidence against another. And she tries to cover for him when his conscience makes him see the ghost of one of his victims. She's a willing even eager accomplice to the crime. It might be closer to the truth to suppose that both nature and nurture play a part in his decision to commit Duncan's murder.
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Old 01-28-2013, 01:42 PM   #14
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And yet curiously enough, Mr and Mrs Macbeth are one of the very few truly happy marriages that we find in Shakespeare - a curious anomaly!

But of course, Macbeth wouldn't be the leading character in a tragedy unless he had a flaw in the character (the flaw being ambition in his case, although perhaps Lady Macbeth is the true leader in the plot?).
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Old 01-28-2013, 01:45 PM   #15
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and it's never ever 100% nature or nurture but always a combination of the two.
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