The Corruptness Of Power In Shakespeare’s Macbeth
‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’: the bloody rule among rulers who fought through bloodshed to gain their status, warfare and treachery through iniquitous actions for the sake of power. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the protagonist follows this exact rule on his blood-stained pathway to power, staining his red heart black in exchange for the control over a kingdom. His original good morals and noble nature were erased after stepping on the pathway to power, kickstarting with the sacrifice of King Duncan and Macbeth’s sanity, Macbeth spirals down after this murder, losing more and more of his righteous self. Macbeth’s positive ideals and values were not crushed by individuals of a higher power, but by his desire and ambitions for power. However, Macbeth was also influenced by other forces such as his wife, Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth’s crumbling sanity.
Shakespeare informs the audience even the innocent cannot be protected from evil and are the first to be sacrificed in the pathway to power. Macbeth’s bloody path all starts with Macbeth murdering King Duncan, the innocent lamb to be slaughtered for personal benefits. Duncan represents the fool, the beginning of the hero’s journey, he represents innocence, oblivion and a righteous ruler. In tarot cards, the entire journey begins with the hero meeting the fool. The hero recognises his pathway after seeing the fool waste his life, and thus the hero goes on a journey to transform himself. This is similar to Macbeth as Duncan is the starting point of Macbeth’s no return, he is the oblivious fool who starts the hero’s journey. Duncan, however much of a ‘sainted king’ he was, would not escape the fate of being killed. For Macbeth’s need for the power of the throne, for ‘Macbeth does murder sleep, the innocent sleep’. This can either be interpreted as Macbeth killed an innocent, therefore he’ll no longer be blessed with peaceful sleep for he will suffer from tremendous guilt. Or, it can be interpreted as Macbeth murdered Duncan in his sleep, a time where one can relax. Both interpretations can signify Macbeth’s killing of Duncan, the murder of an innocent, the chess piece to be first sacrificed in Macbeth’s game of power. Macbeth was afraid to kill Duncan due to how much of a good ruler Duncan is, afraid he’ll be punished by the heavens for ‘Duncan [bears] his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued against the deep damnation of his taking-off’. Macbeth struggles to convince himself he needs to kill Duncan because deep down in Macbeth’s subconscious, he knows that Duncan is not supposed to die, for he is a great ruler and a kind father. Macbeth does not have a legitimate reason to kill such a kind-hearted man leads to his later guilty consciousness. Macbeth’s killing of Duncan shows the innocent cannot escape one’s desire for power for the temptation is too strong for one to ignore, thus the innocent is crushed by the powerful.
Shakespeare displays the corruptness and deadly appeal of power through the unfortunate events of Macbeth. Through these events, the audience witnesses Macbeth’s transition from a valiant noble to a bloody tyrant, tainted by the bloodshed created from sins. Macbeth is depicted at the start of the play as a noble who just fought for the sake of King Duncan, described as ‘brave Macbeth’ by the Captain reporting to King Duncan. Macbeth at this point is still loyal to the king, Macbeth still follows his orders and has no sense of betrayal as of yet. The King continues to praise Macbeth as his ‘valiant cousin’ a ‘worthy gentleman’, fit to then be rewarded the title ‘Thane of Cawdor’. This report from the captain describes Macbeth’s good morals and his loyalty before encountering the witches, the audience’s initial impression of Macbeth is Macbeth is a valiant warrior who has then been rewarded a title for his nobility and loyalty. However, this begins to change as the play goes on, in the very last character dialogue Macbeth is called a ‘dead butcher’ by Malcolm. This shows his change through the course of the play, from the young noble warrior to the tyrant hated by all of Scotland. This course of change occurred through Macbeth’s growing need for power and his need for securing his power. ‘Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell’ originally refers to the angel Lucifer and his fall. This is Shakespeare’s biblical reference to the story of Lucifer’s fall in parallel to Macbeth’s character development. Originally started as the favoured subject to ruler, both discover an urge for power and control. Following that path, both pave their way with bloodshed and warfare. Neither Lucifer nor Macbeth had a happy ending. Proven through Macbeth’s self-description of ‘stepped so far’ in blood as at that part of the play Macbeth had already killed his King, Duncan, his friend and partner, Banquo, and will not hesitate to kill more if he needs it for ‘returning were as tedious as go o’er’. Macbeth’s character development showcases the corruptness of power and to what extent will a person act to gain or keep their existing power for Macbeth sacrifices his morals for power.
Shakespeare [shows] that influences are not only from the powerful but can be from unseen sources. For Macbeth’s influences are in the shadows and not in the light, from the witches to his wife, from the prophecy to his illusions, Macbeth’s influences are all hidden among the shadows to not be seen by the rest of the world. One might imagine the more powerful an individual is, the more influence that individual will have over another, however, this is not the case for Macbeth. Lady Macbeth, by Jacobean beliefs, should not have had any control over her husband as she is a woman and women were the property of men. From her very entry the audience understands Lady Macbeth is not a typical damsel in distress kind of noble lady, she is manipulative and cold-hearted. Some can argue Lady Macbeth is behind of all of Macbeth’s evil deeds as she is ready to ‘pour [her] spirits in [Macbeth’s] ear’ to push him further, to prompt him to seize the ‘golden round’. And she does, Lady Macbeth succeeds in manipulating Macbeth to her desires of becoming the Queen of Scotland. She is by all definitions powerful in her ways of manipulating her way to achieve a goal but lacks actual physical and metaphysical power. She is the one who nudges Macbeth on to the bloody path. Another hidden influence in Macbeth is Macbeth’s guilty consciousness and his hallucinations caused by his guilt. Macbeth uses a great amount of blood and sleep motif, one other motif that follows around Macbeth’s sanity is Macbeth’s hallucinations of Banquo. Banquo’s ghost signifies what’s left of Macbeth’s morals, from the numerous times ‘[Enter the Ghost of Banquo]’ had been written into the script. Banquo’s phantom signifies all of Macbeth’s guilt from killing innocents in order to remain sitting on Scotland’s throne. Macbeth’s hallucinations are in theory, powerless, for they are meres images conjured by a mad man unseen by the naked eye. However, they are also extremely powerful as Macbeth’s paranoia and guilt is what drives the second half of the play. Lady Macbeth and the ghost of Banquo are unseen forces in the course of Macbeth. Neither are strong in a traditional sense but are both crucial influencers to the event of the play nonetheless.
Macbeth is a play that explores the corruptness of power and how one’s character can change depending on how much they feed into temptation. With the protagonist going down his path of no return, morals and ideals crushed by his desire for power. His killing of an innocent, his drastic character change from the beginning to the end, and his whisperers of advice from the shadows. Macbeth’s positive ideals and morals were crushed slowly but steadily by the poison known as power.
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