Macbeth’s Confidence in Succession

“We will establish our estate upon our eldest, Malcolm; whom we name hereafter the Prince of Cumberland: which honor must not unaccompanied invest him only but signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine on all deservers.” These words are spoken by King Duncan as he heaps the title of successor on his son. From Macbeth’s perspective this speech can be divided into the good and the bad news. The bad news is that someone else has been named successor, but the good news is that this honor “shall shine on all deservers.” Macbeth vents his frustration at the bad news when he says to himself “the Prince of Cumberland, that is a step on which I must fall down or else o’erleap for in my way it lies”. But because of the optimistic part of King Duncan’s statement[as previously quoted](“King Duncan promulgates that “this honor shall shine on ALL DESERVERS”), it leaves Macbeth hope for the Weird Sister’s prophecy of becoming King. Succession is now a function of desert in addition to being awarded solely based on lineage. Macbeth has just come from a triumphant victory in the wars and a recent promotion which adds to his sense of self-importance and confidence that his coronation will eventually take place upon the King’s death. The only time he doubts his succession is when he ponders “IF the assassination could trammel up the consequence and catch with his surcease…” When ‘if’ is spoken here we can start to feel the fear and hesitancy of Macbeth coalesce into palpable distraction and discomfiture. He never mentions any doubt to Lady Macbeth regarding his succession to the throne. Any residual doubt he may have is extinguished by his complete faith in the Witches which already proved true in predicting his title as the Thane of Cawdor. If King Duncan had only said the part regarding Malcolm being successor and left the other part out, would that have made Macbeth plot to kill Malcolm as well? Or maybe leaving that part out would be enough to discourage Macbeth’s resolve altogether and not move forward with the assassination. Although Macbeth never specifically reflects on this latter half of Duncan’s speech, it’s only logical to assume that it crosses his conscience and that it has an impact somewhere within his psyche.

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