What Was Macbeth’s Plan?

A simple question.  There might be a simple answer:

Macbeth kills Duncan.  Malcolm is the presumed next king, but Malcolm flees.  Macbeth is proclaimed king.   But!  Macbeth had no way of knowing that Malcolm would split the scene, so what exactly did Macbeth think was going to happen when he killed Duncan?  It’s not like he was next in line.  Was he figuring on killing Malcolm as well?

7 thoughts on “What Was Macbeth’s Plan?

  1. Succession didn't work like that in Scotland. The new king would be chosen by the thanes from among the old king's relatives. Duncan broke with tradition by creating Malcolm Prince of Cumberland, sort of like Prince of Wales. But Macbeth and Lady M were probably banking on Macbeth being chosen anyway (given his far more impressive military career) and/or on Malcolm being easy to incriminate given his obvious motive.

  2. But hadn't Duncan named Malcolm, it was a done deal? Whether he broke tradition or not, what if he'd named Malcolm then that must have thrown a wrench into M's plans.

  3. But hadn't Duncan named Malcolm, it was a done deal? Whether he broke tradition or not, what if he'd named Malcolm then that must have thrown a wrench into M's plans.

  4. Well, yeah, hence "The Prince of Cumberland? This is a step on which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, for in my way it lies."

    The thing about being heir apparent, though, is it's precisely that: appearance. Macbeth knows Malcolm doesn't deserve this, and he seems to be relying on the other thanes to think as he does — which turns out to be precisely how things play out, with the added bonus of Malcolm's hasty flight leaving him the prime suspect.

  5. Thanks Alexi, that was what I was looking for – some line that shows that Macbeth at least recognizes how things are and isn't somehow magically thinking "1) Kill Duncan….2) ??? …. 3) Become King!"

  6. Also, they based their actions on the prophecy that Macbeth would become king, so it was more a question of "when" than "if" for them. The idea was just to "catch the nearest way." Fate would handle any details lacking in the plan.

  7. That's an interesting question. The way I see it, Macbeth was so convinced he was going to be king he was willing to do whatever it takes to get there. So after killing Duncan, he would probably go after Malcolm if it were necessary.

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