Power, Pulling Apart an Identity
“Nearly all men can handle adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power -Abraham Lincoln.” This quote is reflective of the tragic hero, Macbeth, in the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Macbeth’s greed for more and more power leads to his downfall. Power becomes a disease that pollutes his mind as shown through the insanity that ensues, the destruction of beliefs and values, and the great losses that followed.
Macbeth starts off as a wealthy nobleman who is living the lavish life, until his greed for more causes him to lose everything he gains and all of what he had before. Macbeth loses everything; whether it be his best friend, his wealth, his wife, and eventually even his own life. Before Macbeth came into great power, he shared an admirable relationship with his best friend, Banquo, as they fought together in many battles. As Macbeth becomes the King of Scotland; he lets the fear of losing his power overshadow their friendship.
There’s comfort yet; they are assailable;
Then be thou jocund: ere the bat hath flown
His cloister’d flight; ere to black Hecate’s summons /
A deed of dreadful note (3.2.43-48)
In this passage, it is evident that Macbeth is planning to kill Banquo. This shows how dangerous power can be; it makes Macbeth a completely different person as he has lost all consideration for friendship at this point and is even willing to kill Banquo’s son, Fleance. Macbeth finds comfort in killing Banquo and even wishes him ill in his afterlife (shown in line 3). Ironically, killing Banquo has the opposite effect that Macbeth wanted; it leads him closer to losing his power.
Additionally, the power that Macbeth attains changes his values and personality. Macbeth is a well-respected and brave noble, until he obtains power and becomes selfish and self-centered. Before attaining the kingship, many appreciate and aspire to be like him as shown, “For brave Macbeth–well he deserves that name” (1.2.18). Later on, the same men that honoured him think he is a monster as demonstrated, “The son of Duncan, / From whom this tyrant holds the due of birth, / Lives in the English court, and is received” (3.6.25-27). There is a drastic difference between the two quotes as Macbeth has developed significantly throughout the play. Before Macbeth striked gold, he was a great man who fought for his king with loyalty and honour. As he began committing murders, he changed into a ruthless killing machine who would do anything to secure his power. The noblemen in the kingdom realise Macbeth does not care for Scotland and its people, instead he is only interested in the wealth and control that comes along with it.
Lastly, the power retained by Macbeth does not give him entire happiness; instead it has the opposite effect by causing him to go insane. Macbeth’s guilt over the various murders he commits is shown in the following quote: “Ere we eat our meal in fear, and sleep / In the affliction of these terrible dreams / That shake us nightly: better be with the dead” (3.2.19-21). Macbeth’s subconscious prevents him from enjoying the power, thus destroying his happiness. Macbeth’s dilemma shows that materialistic objects cannot bring permanent happiness because despite being king and having wealth, Macbeth is in a bad state of mind.
The statement, “Power corrupts the mind and absolute power corrupts the mind absolutely,” is entirely true as it is in human nature to take advantage of their power if they are not given any limits as shown in Macbeth. Macbeth’s power is “a nightmare dressed as a daydream” as it only gives him pain and suffering. This is shown as Macbeth goes insane, becomes a completely different person, and loses everything he once possessed. Therefore, Macbeth lets his greed for power, his hamartia, ruin his entire life.
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