The Motivation of Murderers

I remember MacBeth. In fact, I’m still pissed Chicken’s senior teacher sucked balls, because I’d built this play up to be glorious and that twit spent a week on it and made the kids “explore it in groups”. Chicken had to come home and get the mom-notes version.

Dear God. What assholes these mortals be.

Speaking of…

This passage from MacBeth has been on my mind today. After killing Duncan, these are the two guys MacBeth seduces to do his dirty work, and while MacBeth does all the talking–the better to show us what a sociopath he could be–these guys go on to do heinous shit, and are a mastery in thumbnail characterization. I used to tell my kids that these two guys were any hoodlums who’ve knocked over a 7-11, or any asshole on the internet trying to stir shit for spite.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

This first guy–ironically enough the Second Murderer–

Second Murderer:
I am one, my liege,
Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Have so incensed that I am reckless what
I do to spite the world.

This poor man has seen some shit. He’s had some blows and buffets–he’s been knocked around and has no sense of power. He’s insecure and he blames the world for fucking with him. He’s angry–“incensed” and he gives zero fucks and fewer shits –“am reckless” about what happens next. He doesn’t give a fuck what he sets in motion to “spite the world.”

He feels kicked around, he blames his boss, his friends, his family, whoever, and he wants to watch the world burn.

He’s excited about it. He’s “reckless what I do”.

He has, in short, absolved all personal responsibility for his current state and wants to kick puppies and scream obscenities and shoot some poor 7-11 clerk to get some fucking justice. 

He’s not particularly rational. I mean, we get it–he’s been shit on. HIs grievances may even be real. But he doesn’t give a shit who his victims are–and that makes him easily manipulated, which MacBeth does. I mean, if you read the entire play, they don’t just kill Banquo, they kill innocent women and children too. So yeah–he’s gotten some kicks, but boy, does he get some licks in himself.

Nice guy. I’m sure we all know a few like him.

Now let’s take a look at his friend.

First Murderer:

And I another
So weary with disasters, tugg’d with fortune,
That I would set my lie on any chance,
To mend it, or be rid on’t.

This guy isn’t quite as violent. He’s not the hothead, rushing in to libel friends and bankrupt strangers– he’s tired. He too has gotten a raw deal, but unlike his buddy, he knows that makes him susceptible to manipulation.

Still, he feels helpless. He wants to do something about it. He would “set his lie on any chance”– he would listen to anyone who thinks they have an answer, “To mend it, or be rid on’t.” To fix it or fuck it. He’ll take a risk, any risk, just so he doesn’t have to feel helpless anymore. But he’s willing to follow a liar into the breech, so he knows some innocent people may be hurt. He just doesn’t care anymore–not today. He’s done.

Poor little sausage. He really has had a rough time of it. But, again, he’s absolved his own culpability here. I mean, now, at this moment, as MacBeth is leading them down the primrose path into murderdom, we can feel a little bit of sympathy. But don’t forget–never forget–Shakespeare shows us what this sort of depression over the world can lead to.

We see Banquo set upon and killed, screaming at his son to flee to be safe.

We see MacDuff’s charming family–“All my pretty ones, all?” Mother, children–“Wife? Babes? All?” Surprised and “savagely slaughtered.”

We can see these murderers for human beings. We can see them as scared, and insecure and beset by one disaster after another–but we must never forget what they do. Instead of rising to become the best of themselves, they fall to become the worst. They set out to burn the world, to stake their lives on a corrupt leader, to carry through orders that are meant only to hurt and not to help, heal, or mend.

They become the villains, and in doing so, they allow the powers that be to continue to abuse them, and their only agency is in bloodshed and destruction.

I know people like this. We all do.

The true shame is that they do not know themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *