Today, I stand before a nation in mourning, grieving the passing of its King, Macbeth. He shall surely be remembered in history as a noble and courageous soldier and leader who fought with a fierce loyalty and belief in Scotland. Although his reign was not trouble-free or lengthy, Macbeth inspired a unique and individual pride in his country and made every decision with careful thought, holding firmly to his ideals and principles to the very end. Scotland has lost a distinctive and unrivalled leader and those of us who knew him personally are now without a friend whose character shall always be remembered.
If there is one word worthy of Macbeth, it is ‘courage’. He was a shining light on the battlefield, seizing opportunities in the bleakest of times and setting an admirable example to his troops. The monarch before him, Duncan, recognised Macbeth’s skills and honoured him as a “valiant cousin” (Macbeth, Act 1, scene 2) and “worthy gentleman,” deserving respect and reward.
Macbeth regularly led his nation into battle in Duncan’s stead, and it would be hard for any present to forget his daring and fearless attitude, particularly not on the day he defeated Sweno’s Norwegian invasion and Macdonald, the rebellious Thane of Cawdor. I termed him Bellona’s bridegroom for his ferocious and splendid skill, and when Duncan was informed of Cawdor’s treachery, he saw Macbeth as deserving a higher status, proclaiming that what “[the former Thane of Cawdor] hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.” All will acknowledge he deserved such a status, for he fought with a stubborn determination that would never surrender, and no matter how many invaders flooded our shores, he never ceased to meet them with unforgiving steel. He was a hero to the Scottish nation and his example shall be followed by thousands of soldiers to come.
Macbeth carried over his admirable battle qualities to his personal life, but brought none of the violence. Indeed, Duncan observed that his castle “hath a pleasant seat,” and Lady Macbeth remarked to me on several occasions that although her husband was seen by some as a warrior, he was nonetheless “full o’ the milk of human kindness.” I can attest to the truth in this statement as could many others seated here today, though it is with profound regret that we can all see evidence of how this kind nature was abused. Few are aware of the significant influence his now deceased wife had upon him, and in his devotion, he would seek her confidence and advice when contemplating options and making decisions. Though this may have led to fault, it also meant the Macbeths shared a strong bond based upon communication, a quality both of them treasured.
Together, they were gracious hosts, renowned amongst other noble families for their much-anticipated banquets. If ever there was an enjoyable social event, Macbeth was sure to be the unparalleled host. His personality was much deeper than dinner parties, however. Macbeth was a man who thought about decisions seriously and deeply, rarely acting upon a thought he had not fully considered. On numerous occasions as a guest of Macbeth, I would encounter him pacing through his castle, lost in solemn contemplation, attempting to comprehend life and philosophical concepts. This led him to recognise that life is fragile and fleeting, labelling it “a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” Despite this bleak outlook, he would always consider the consequences that lay before him, giving due respect to the Lord who had blessed him with his position.
Although this virtue did not always lead him to the happiness he desired, Macbeth would always contemplate his actions, even in the most dire of circumstances. In his life, he faced many such situations, and once he made a decision, he stubbornly held to it. Despite criticism or hardship, he believed in himself and his information, and he sought to keep his dignity and strength regardless of what calamity he faced. At his death, he stood alone against an army of English who had moved Birnam Wood, choosing not to meekly surrender but instead to bravely fight to the end. With a call of “blow, wind! come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back,” he took up arms and fought as boldly as he ever had. He proclaimed that “bear-like … [he would] fight the course,” and as was his manner, he made his word true, dying as a soldier and gallant fighter.
One thing is certain, and it is that Macbeth will never be forgotten by any assembled here or by the Scottish nation as a whole. His courageous deeds as a hero of the nation’s military shone with brilliance and glory, never to dull with the passage of time, and none could honestly say that his time as national monarch was a bland or typical reign. Although famed for his skills as both a warrior and a host, his personality ran much deeper; his deep thought and loyal devotion to his wife did not always result in prosperity or universal delight, but he nevertheless made much philosophical contemplation and was capable of recognising his own failings. God gave Scotland a king unlike any other, of a standard never to be seen again, and may he rest eternally in a peace he forsook in his earthly life. While we mourn Macbeth’s passing, we should take due time to consider his life and the actions and characteristics that typified it. Everyone, from fellow nobles to peasants eking a living from distant land, could surely learn valuable lessons.
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