Shakespeare’s Macbeth Overview
William Shakespeare, who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and died in 1616 was and still is the most prominent dramatist and poet of all time. He wrote Macbeth in 1606 to prove the importance of the Stuart family in the achievement of political stability as well as to reinforce the idea that the power of king is granted by God. The aim of this paper is to prove the relevance of the motif of kingship all throughout the play by means of an analysis of the role of the King in the play focusing mainly on three characters: Duncan, Macbeth and Malcolm in order to contrast Macbeth’s evil nature and his way to take over the throne and the other kingly figures such as Duncan and Malcolm.
To do so, the three characters’s psychology, attitudes and deeds will be analysed and compared amongst themselves to differentiate their wield of power underlying the limits of kingship: Duncan’s role as a fair, lawful and divinely approved king of Scotland, Macbeth as an atrocious one and Malcolm as a king who is in charge of the restoration, stabilisation and healing of the country.
Besides, it is remarkable that Macbeth was written to pay homage to King James I as Shakespeare was part of The King’s Men theatre company under the king’s patronage. To prove the relevance of this motif the context will be taken into account. Elizabeth I had died childless and there was a sustained concern about the issue of succession, inheriting the throne and stability, so these topics became central in several Shakespeare’s plays such as Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet amongst others.
Thus, England was proud of her monarch James I, who accessed the throne in 1603 and brought stability to the country whilst unifying the English and Scottish crowns. Regarding methodology, the three characters will be analysed from an historical perspective to show their relevance as kings both in the development of the play and in the union of England and Scotland. To begin with, although Duncan’s kingship epitomizes benevolence, kindness and gentleness, there seems to be some sort of criticism of his model of political virtue, perhaps for being excessively innocent and naГЇve. He is praised and respected by his nation since he is presented as a gracious and rewarding king, a true example of Christian morals and values. In fact, he rewards Macbeth in financial and monetary terms and he makes him Thane of Cawdor. It is this excessive trust and confidence which leads Macbeth to take the bull by the horns: ‘Macbeth begins its exploration of tragic politics in Duncan’s chaotic realm, presenting a brief but succinct portrait of the consequences of political innocence. Measured by traditional Christian values, Duncan’s behavior is impeccable.’ (Riebling 1991, 274).
Duncan was the one who offered Macbeth a higher position in society, which raised Macbeth’s appetite for power and made him defy God’s laws to impose his own political system: It was believed during the Renaissance that the higher the station of man the greater his vicissitudes are likely to be. The caprices of fortune cannot then harm poverty; poverty provides nothing to be taken away. But the gods hoist us up to hurl us down. The man who attains high office is likely to be undermined by his enemies or to become the victim of his own thirst for power. (Anderson 1944, 150) Nonetheless, Duncan’s murder is the beginning of Macbeth’s reign of terror as it triggers a chain of dreadful events which will make him and Lady Macbeth ‘eat (their) meals in fear, and sleep in the affliction of tese terrible dreams’ (3.2.19-20). This sacrilege has indeed unleashed a series of natural rebellions which represent it was a crime both against religion and political stability: an owl screams, a cricket cries (2.2 16) eventually. They have ‘scorched the snake, not killed it’ (3.2.14), so even though Duncan is assassinated, what he stood for will survive, which will cause both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to live in angst, sleeping badly and having bad dreams as a consequence of their appalling deeds. Duncan’s prototypical role as a king is representative considering that he is the one who brought about order in Scotland. However, although Duncan’s murder induces the disruption of politcial order, it appears as a lesson to his son Malcolm, who will learn to strike a balance between his father’s soft kingship and Macbeth’s cruel nature: ‘Duncan’s faith and trust cost him his life. But it is through his death that his son Malcolm learns the art of survival’ (Riebling 1991, 277). A ruler’s kingship was defined by his virtuosness: in this case his moral and intellectual superiority, his good will and his ability to rule properly, some of the abilities Malcolm inherited. Duncan is referred to as a ‘most sainted king’ and even Macbeth, his killer, praises him after having commited the murder: So clear in his great office, that his virtues Will plead like angels trumpet-tongu’d against The deep damnation of his taking-off. .. (I. vii. 18-20).
Duncan is a good, respected and noble king whose death is ‘nothing’ (3.2.28), which represents both the fact that his murder indicates the onset of a chaotic kingship and that he will rest in peace and eternal sleep as he was God’s representative on Earth. Lately Malcolm will inherit not only the divine title of king but also Duncan’s abilities, which will have been improved since he will learn from his father’s mistakes, as it will be furtherly explained. Thus, Duncan’s reign is presented as a model of moral order as well as incompetence since he had not been able to prevent Macbeth from his treachery: “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face” (I: 4, 11). It is for this reason that Malcolm will have to restore the order in Scotland after Macbeth’s calamitous leadership by means of setting a departure point from Duncan’s ineffectual kingship, as he was incapable of holding his kingdom together, but at the same time considering the set of values embodied by him. Macbeth’s relevance in the play as a king is a great instance of a king without moral constraints and it is not only an embodiment of ruthlessness and tyranny but also an example of what a ruler must not do, as opposed to Duncan and Malcolm. He embodies the destruction of political and social order in Scotland. In fact, Macbeth’s first instance of his appalling kingship appears even before he manages to reach the throne. His quest for power is determined by means of corruption and an excessive ambition enhanced? By Lady Macbeth’s manipulation (Adam and Eve) and the three Wyrd Sisters’s prophecies, which eventually leads him to an alteration of the natural order of things through regicide and usurpation, being a sacrilege against God’s will according to Elizabethan society.
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