Kingship in Macbeth
The theme of kingship is one which can be see constantly throughout the play. This makes sense as the play is ultimately a tribute to King James I, who was king when Macbeth was written in 1606. King James strongly believed that becoming king was a divine right and that they themselves, as kings, were God’s representatives on earth. All these aspects can be seen from beginning to end of Macbeth and we see how when this order of kings is changed by unnatural means, everyone suffers.
During the course of the play we see the traits of four kings: Duncan, Macbeth, Edward and Malcolm.
Through the reign of each of these kings, we are shown clearly how a country is only stable if the king is good and virtuous. In Shakespearean times, a king had absolute power and the welfare of the state depended strongly on him. All people were similar to King James in the belief that kings were appointed by divine right, and had to possess the king becoming graces of, ‘’justice, verity, temperance, bounty, perseverance, stableness, lowliness and devotion.
’’ When the play opens, we see Duncan as king.
He himself admit that there ‘’is not art to finding the mind’s construction in the face. ’’ This inability to judge people well, ultimately leads to his downfall. The original Thane of Cowdor, ‘’a man in whom I [Duncan] placed upmost trust’’ rebelled against Scotland when under the reign of Duncan, something which Duncan could not foresee. Similar happened with Macbeth. Duncan trusted Macbeth and saw him as a ‘’brave and valiant cousin. ’’ Duncan’s trusting of Macbeth lead to his own untimely death. We can see clearly Duncan’s weakness as king; he trusts too easily.
We can also see the traits of a good king in his character as his punishes those who commit treason (Thane of Cowdor), and rewards those who are brave and loyal (Banquo and Macbeth), ‘’go announce his present death and with his former title greet Macbeth. ’’ It is clear that people respected Duncan as king and his godliness can be seen in the words expressed by Macduff when he is murdered, ‘’ most sac religious murder hath broke ope’ the lord’s anointed temple and stolen the life hense. ’’
Ironically Macbeth himself praises and acknowledges Duncan’s qualities, ‘’ Duncan hath borne his faculties so meek. ’ When Macbeth becomes king, we see the opposite to Duncan. Macbeth reigns with terror and has constant feelings of paranoia, trusting no one, ‘’to be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus,’’ ‘’we have scorched the snake, not killed it,’’ ‘’our fears in Banquo stick deep. ’’ Macbeth’s reign cannot be succeeded by his children as he became king through a sinful and unnatural act of regicide, ‘’upon my head they placed a fruitless crown. ,’’ During this time, regiside was considered to be one of the most unforgivable crimes possible- the killing of God’s chosen representative on Earth.
This act alone show that Macbeth will rule as a king of terror. His reign is characterised by instability, he has upset natural order and this can be seen reflected in the natural world around him, ’’thou seest the heavens as troubled with man’s act .. by the clock tis day and yet dark light stangles the travelling lamp. ’’ The chaos and disorder seen in Scotland under Macbeth’’s rule is reflected in the natural world. As king, Macbeth focuses on the wrong things, he tries to achieve strength and power and puts this ‘’vaulting ambition’’ before his duty to lead Scotland.
Macbeth could in no way be considered divine, a clear contrast to ‘’meek’’ Duncan. The character of Macbeth is associated with evil and witch-craft and his is known to others as a ‘’tyrant whose sole name blisters our tongues,’’ synonymous with power, although he has no legal or God-chosen right to have it. In Macbeth we see a king who deviates completely from all the ‘’king becoming graces’’ and qualities of a good king, and as a result, his country suffers greatly, ‘’every morn new widows howl, new orphans cry. ’ In the play, we never actually meet Edward the Confessor, King of England, but through descriptions from Malcolm we can see clearly that he embodies all that a true, virtuous king should. He is associated with ‘’heaven’’ and ‘’grace’’ and all things ‘’saintly. ’’ Edward is said to possess the ability to foresee the future and to heal the sick, he does not abuse these powers like Macbeth, but instead puts them to good use, ‘’ he hath a heavenly gift of prophecy, and sundry blessings hang about his throne. ’’ We see in Edward a king who is a good judge of character, unlike Duncan.
Edward welcomes Malcolm into his court and agrees to help him despite many thoughts that Malcolm is the one who murdered Duncan. Edward can see Malcolm innocence and kindly offers him a safe haven where he can regroup. The qualities of kingship seen in Edward are that of honesty, kindness and holiness, all adhering to the fore-mentioned ‘’king becoming graces. ’’ This example of a most excellent king would have impressed King James of England at the time as it was widely known that King James was a descendent of King Edward’s.
Malcolm, Duncan’s son and rightful heir to the throne, does not become king until the final scene of the play but still we are left feeling Scotland is in safe hands. Malcolm shows his qualities earlier in the play and from this we can see just what kind of king he is going to be. The anointing of Malcolm as king of Scotland restores natural order after the hellish reign of Macbeth. We feel as if Malcolm will be fair and honest as king and we know he understands what is expected of him, as he was in fact the character who listed the ‘’king becoming graces such as justice, verity, temperance … ’ We see he is a better judge of character than that of his late father as before trusting Macduff, he tests his loyalty to Scotland. He also understands how the power associated with being in king can easily go to one’s head, no matter how honest they may seem previous, ‘’ a good virtuous nature may recoil in an imperial charge. ’’ Before we learn of any of this, we know Malcolm resides in the palace of King Edward, this association alone causes us to automatically characterise Malcolm with goodness and honesty.
Malcolm is respected and liked by the people, this is show by the fact that he was able to bring together an army of ‘’ten thousand’’ to fight against the ‘’tyrant’’ Macbeth. With Malcolm as king, we see peace and unity once again being restored to Scotland, ‘’Hail king of Scotland. ’’ The only criticism I would have of Malcolm is the fact that he rewards directly, all those who have been loyal to him,’’ my thanes and kinsmen, hensforth be Earls. ’ This action reminds us of Duncan’s hasty reaction of appointing Macbeth as Thane of Cowdor. He rewarded immediately Macbeth’s seemed bravery but paid most dearly for it. I could not help but wonder if Malcolm may perhaps suffer a similar fate. We see in all the kings mentioned in Macbeth, many differences. These differences allow us to contrast the characters and explore deeply the theme of kingship in the play. In Macbeth, we see an unnatural king which causes chaos in his country.
He rules with terror and evil. Duncan was a king who rules with peace and honesty, but his trusting nature unfortunately lead to his untimely death. In both Malcolm and Edward, we see good kings who appear to possess and understand the qualities needed to be king. Although it can be said that a fault may be seen in Malcolm’s character, this is no more than a suggestion, and I feel that his positive traits as King overwrite this. At the end of the play we are left feeling satisfied that has been left in safe hands.
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