While the feast is prepared Macbeth wanders anxiously throughout the castle, contemplating the thought of killing the king. He admits it would be easier were he certain that regicide would have no harmful consequences; while he is willing to risk damnation in the afterlife he is aware that on earth bloody actions ‘return/ To plague th’inventor’. After considering why he should not kill the king (he is Duncan’s host, subject and kinsman, and Duncan is unanimously assumed as a fair and great ruler) Macbeth realizes the only reason for killing Duncan is his own ambition, which as mentioned leaves open the possibility of harmful and unwanted consequences. This is not reason enough to justify the act, leaving Macbeth to lament that he has ‘vaulting ambition’ without the necessary ruthlessness and conviction to complete his goals. Lady Macbeth then enters, announcing Duncan has finished the feast and wishes to see Macbeth, who tells his wife that he no longer plans regicide. She is angered and mocks him, calling into question his masculinity, remarking ‘When you durst do it.. then you were a man’ and imploring him to ‘screw courage to the sticking place’. Macbeth asks what would come about if the plan fails but his wife assures him they will be successful if they are committed and bold in their actions, revealing her plan to inebriate the chamberlains, kill the king and smear his blood on the sleeping chamberlains so as to frame them. Macbeth is astonished and admiring of her cunning plan and after agreeing to it tells Lady Macbeth that he hopes she will only give birth to male children, due to the ‘undaunted mettle’ of her plan.
The final scene of the first act reveals much about Macbeth. Firstly, it shows he realizes that what he is doing is wrong, as he considers Duncan’s suitability as a ruler and that he cannot justify the act of regicide. However despite this he still considers the act, wanting the murderous deed to be done, but done quickly: ‘If it were done when ‘tis done, there ‘twere well/ If it were done quickly’ (it could be argued that this links him to the witches once more; he wishes the act to be over before the audience can even register it, in a manner that transcends time, which would be akin to the supernatural actions of the witches). He is willing to risk eternal damnation but fears the consequences on earth, displaying his disregard that the king is God’s representative on earth as the act of regicide will only be truly punished in the afterlife. The scene presents him as tortured between ambition and the consequences of his desire; he realizes the wrongness of his ambition but Lady Macbeth’s ambition drives him on and refuses to allow him to forget this. It seems so far that Macbeth is not an evil man but rather weak; if he had decisiveness this would not necessarily mean he would carry out his plan, but might allow him to challenge his wife. This weakness stretches to the idea of imagination; it can be seen that Lady Macbeth and the witches are strengthening his imagination, forcing him to consider the idea of being king more and more, which Macbeth is becoming unable to ignore.
Points of note
It may be argued that Lady Macbeth is the corrupt centre of the world; while the witches make Macbeth aware of his desirehe is indecisive and it appears possible that he would ignore this had it not been for his wife (that is if we do not consider it fate that Macbeth will become king). Lady Macbeth however will not allow him to forget this desire, instructing him ‘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… screw your courage to the sticking place.’ Elsewhere she even says she would have killed her child if she had sworn to do so in order to make Macbeth honor his earlier agreement to kill the king: ‘how tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me, I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,/ And dash’d the brains out, so I had sworn as you/, have don to this’. In sharp contrast to Macbeth she has no qualms or misgivings about the impending evil deed or that she plans to frame this on another. She openly considers killing the king and going against the natural order, and has no problems having her husband committing such an act despite the possible repercussions in the afterlife (which we can presume she is aware of).
Macbeth’s fall from grace continues; he now openly admits he is deceptive to Duncan who ‘hath honoured me of late, and I have bought/ Golden opinions from all sorts of people… not cast aside so soon.’ This contrasts from earlier when he was restrained in this viewpoint.
The idea of gender arises again in this scene. Lady Macbeth attempts to goad Macbeth into committing the act of regicide by suggesting that to not do so would lead to self-emasculation; she asks ‘Art tho afeard/ To be the same in thine own act and valour/ As thou art in desire… live a coward in thine own esteem… you were a man’ as she believes that masculinity involves being decisive and not cowardly. This leads Macbeth to believe he must commit regicide to retain his masculine state and he thus declares ‘I dare do all that may become a man;/ Who dares do more is none.’
Children are mentioned in this scene, as Macbeth hopes his wife will bear ‘men-children only’ so they will be courageous and decisive like her; this suggests that Lady Macbeth holds masculine traits.