While the obvious theme of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is ‘vaulting ambition’ it is also a play about the deceptiveness of appearances, beginning with the witches’ couplet ending Act 1 Sc 1: Fair is foul, foul is fair Hover through the fog and filthy air The fact that they are witches automatically implies evil and wickedness so their plan to meet with Macbeth suggests that they and perhaps Macbeth himself are up to no good.
When they do greet him they greet him by two titles we know he has: Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor. The latter, however, he knows nothing about so when Ross comes to tell him that the King has bestowed this title on him as a reward for his valour on the battlefield, Macbeth is mystified. ‘The thane of Cawdor lives/Why do dress me in borrowed robes?’ (Act 1:Sc 3 L107-8) It is then he learns that the man who had that title had turned traitor and awaits execution. To him it seems the witches speak truly, to an audience, we know it was Duncan’s gift to Macbeth for services rendered.
This is the scene that reveals Macbeth’s ambitious desires. From the moment the witches hail him as ‘King hereafter’ he reveals his ‘black and desires’ (Act 1:Sc 4 L51) In response to his new title he muses to himself whether or not what the witches have foretold is good or bad, coming to the thought
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair, And make my seated heart knock at my ribs Against the use of nature? (Act 1: Sc3 L133-136) Both excited and alarmed by what he is thinking ‘my thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical’ he is nevertheless shaken by the direction his thoughts are taking. Banquo’s notices how ‘rapt’ Macbeth is when first he heard the prophecies and now, on hearing Ross’ news he notes once again the spellbound state Macbeth seems to be in.
These reactions visible to Banquo who heard the witches’ prophecies, are further evidence that not only was Macbeth ambitious, he had already thought of murdering the King and had put it to his wife, before the action of the play begins. He has left the celebrations to consider whether or not he should go ahead with their plan to kill Duncan in his bed and tells his wife, who joins him ‘We will proceed no further in this business’ (Act 1:Sc 7 L31) and declares ‘I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none.’ (Act 1: Sc7 L47). What she says next reveals that they had discussed murdering the king long ago
‘Nor time nor place Did then adhere, and yet you would make both They have made themselves, and that their fitness now Does unmake you’ (Act 1:Sc 7 L51-54)
Up to this moment, Lady Macbeth is presented as the dominant partner in this crime (read about it in Crime in “Macbeth”). Seeing him weaken his resolve she belittles his manhood and comes up with what appears to be a foolproof plan for killing Duncan and blaming it on his two guards sleeping in his chamber. She even goes so far as to say ‘You shall put this night’s great business into my dispatch’ (Act 1: Sc6 L66-67). Lady Macbeth questions Macbeth as to whether he has the balls to kill the king ‘It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness’ (Act1: Sc 5 L16) Lady Macbeth is able to convince Macbeth to commit the deed even tho he has not interest in carrying out the act anymore. ‘We will proceed no further in this business.
He hath honour’d me of late, and I have brought Golden opinions from all sorts of people, Which would be worn now in their newest glow Not cast aside so soon.’ (Act 1:Sc 7 L31-35)
The murder itself is carried out by Macbeth not his wife because she has pulled away at the last moment citing the fact that ‘had he (Duncan) not resembled my father as he slept, I’d have done it.’ (Act 2:Sc 2 L12-13) Lady Macbeth underestimates the deed that they have just committed ‘A little water clears us of this deed’ (Act 2:Sc2 L70).