The Lust for Power in the Play Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Throughout the evolution of mankind, it is evident that power throughout history has greatly affected people and their actions. Accordingly, In the play Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, one can see that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Macbeth, the main character, is an excellent example of how power builds its way to people’s minds. Firstly, when he is the General of the army and the Thane of Cawdor, he does not abuse his power. Secondly, with the power of being king, Macbeth starts murdering people. Lastly, Macbeth becomes out of control because power gets to his head. He starts to murder innocent people and curse the witches. These are examples of how absolute power can change a character from good to bad. To begin with, when Macbeth is the General, he is humble and unpretentious. He has power but does not exploit it. At the start of the play, he is already at a noble rank. King Duncan says “ No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive our bosom interest. Go pronounce his present death and with his former title greet Macbeth” (Shakespeare 1.2.63-65). In this quote, King Duncan is stating that he is presenting the title “Thane of Cawdor” to Macbeth for his bravery in the war. Macbeth’s Character at this time showed leadership, bravery, and humility. Whilst being Thane of Glamis, he is promoted to Thane of Cawdor. Power does not get to Macbeth’s head. This is evident when King Duncan says “ What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won”. This quote describes how King Duncan orders that the Thane of Cawdor be executed and that his title is given to Macbeth for his valor and victory in the war. Macbeth is humble and cordial with his peers because he still has someone to answer too; King Duncan. King Duncan is of greater rank and Macbeth cares and respects him. For example, in the quote, “ Which do but what they should, by doing everything. Safe toward your love and honour” and “ The rest is labour which is not used for you: I’ll be myself the harbinger and make joyful the hearing of my wife with your approach”. ( 1.7.48-51).
In these quotes, Macbeth expresses the devotion he has towards King Duncan and how he will protect him at all costs. Duncan, in return, trusts him and appreciates Macbeth. With Macbeth’s noble ranks, he never misused his power, until Lady Macbeth persuaded him to murder King Duncan, which leads Macbeth to feel remorse towards his actions. Macbeth questions himself and feels guilty about what he committed. Macbeth felt guilty because he kills the King out of greed and ambition to claim a throne that was not rightfully his but was actually meant for King Duncan’s firstborn son, Malcolm. Lady Macbeth says, “What beast was’t then, that made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it, then you were a man; and to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man” (3.1.107-110). Lady Macbeth forces Macbeth to kill King Duncan so he can be the new King of Scotland. Lady Macbeth’s strongest trait is ambition because she makes sure Macbeth follows through with the prophecy of becoming king of Scotland. After King Duncan gets murdered by Macbeth, one can see how Macbeth’s personality changes drastically. From being humble and loyal his personality changes to being deceitful and malicious. Above all, Macbeth starts off as a loyal and humble warrior but then spirals to his downfall throughout the play.
Furthermore, Macbeth becomes the new King of Scotland and consequently, power gets to his head. To make sure he does not stop reigning over Scotland, he hires murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. This is clear when he says “Whose execution takes your enemy off, grapples you to the heart and love of us, who wear our health but sickly in his life, which in his death were perfect” (3.1.107-110). In this quote, Macbeth’s dark side comes out. He will do anything to stay in power. When Macbeth murdered King Duncan, he violated the great chain of being and caused a disorder in the universe which led to chaos. Macbeth is satisfied that he answers to no one, this compares to the starting of the play when he answered to King Duncan and had higher ranks above him. In the beginning, Macbeth and Banquo are close friends, but since power gets to his head, he is out of control and is hurting his own friends so he can succeed. Another example of Macbeth being out of control because of power is hiring murders to murder Lady Macduff and her family. This is evident in the quote “ He has killed me mother, run away, I pray you!” (4.3.80-83) says Lady Macduff’s son. Macbeth thinks Macduff poses a threat to his throne so he goes after Macduff’s family, thinking that this will cause Macduff to submit out of fear and grief. Macbeth, at the start of the play stays loyal and devoted to his friends but soon his character develops into a selfish and greedy person. Power greatly affects Macbeth which leads him to commit and plot a lot of murders to get his way.
As a result of great power, Macbeth spirals out of control. Being the new king of Scotland changes Macbeth’s character completely. With nobody to answer to, Macbeth does whatever he wants to get his way and nothing can stop him. This is clear in the quote by Macbeth “ From this moment, the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand”(4.2.145-147). Macbeth feels extremely powerful with being king and he is not humble anymore. Macbeth hires murderers to kill the innocent to get his way. He does not feel any remorse towards them at all. This is clear in the quote “The castle of Macduff I will surprise, seize upon Fife; give to th’edge o’th’sword his wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls that trace him in his line.” (4.2.149-151). Macbeth is becoming evil, this furthers the plot even more because the audience does not know what his next move is going to be and innocent lives are being lost. The readers might ponder on who Macbeth might murder next to keep his throne safe, because, at this point of the play, Macbeth will murder just about anyone to be safe. This affects Macbeth’s character development because he is looking like the bad guy as he murders more and more people. Many of his acquaintances are starting to dislike him because of his evil actions. People are forced to work with him rather than working for him out of free-will.
In addition to murdering innocent people, he also curses the witches that are trying to warn him about his future. This is clear in the quote spoken by Macbeth “ I will be satisfied. Deny me this, and an eternal curse fall on you. Let me know.” ( 4.1.103-104). Macbeth thinks he can control and cheat fate because he is overcome with power; he does not like what the witches told him about his fate. As a consequence for trying to cheat fate so he can be King, Hecate puts together a spell to confuse and trick Macbeth that will eventually destroy him. Macbeth wants to curse the witches because he does not like what he is hearing and he wants to rule over Scotland forever. Macbeth’s character shows determination by doing anything to be superior to his peers, Macbeth’s character also shows arrogance and hubris. Macbeth’s boldness and impression of personal invincibility set him up for a tragic fall. Consequently, with nobody to answer to, Macbeth loses control with power and ends up being defeated by Macduff. Above all, absolute power can change a character from good to bad. From being the general and being humble to being king of Scotland and murdering innocent people to losing control of power and cursing the witches, it is clear that absolute power has a direct effect on the characters development in the story.
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