Macbeth and Kingship
- Pages: 10
- Word count: 2325
- Category: Macbeth
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Macbeth explores the potential that Kingship holds for good and evil. Shakespeare Macbeth encompasses a complex fabric of elements that articulate the potential that Kingship holds for good and evil. Shakespeare demonstrates that the king can be a source of good leadership inspiration and mortality to the public, however in the wrong hands can lead to a potential suffering on a country. Duncan in Shakespeare’s Macbeth had very few lines, and appeared on only a few occasions. However he remains a vital role and his character is evident through the interpretation of messages hidden within the text. Establishing whether Duncan was or was not an ideal ruler is crucial when examining Macbeth. Not only would a definite negative answer help in our understanding of the background of the play but it would also, in a way, justify Macbeth s decision of killing Duncan. When the play opens Duncan receives a report from the battlefield. The reader finds out that the threat which Scotland faces is of a double nature.
A Norwegian invasion is being assisted by two rebellious thanes – Macdonwald and Cawdor. While an external attack is something to be expected of in the times when fame was gained in military conquests, the internal rebellion is something of a different matter. It suggests one important thing – if a rebellion was possible than the king s power couldn t have been very strong. Traitors can be found in every society, but it is the ruler s duty to discover conspiracies and to punish the people involved in them before they have a chance to sanction their schemes. The internal rebellion shows that Duncan lacked the ability to do so – maybe he was naive and did not believe that his thanes could actually turn against him. Duncan s lack of power and control over his country is also proved by his military dependence. It is uncertain whether Duncan himself has been fighting in the war – it is possible that he has not; as in Act one he only receives news from the battlefield. It might, of course, be argued that Shakespeare did not want to include a huge battle scene in his play but, nevertheless, it seems Duncan has not been fighting himself.
This was not the custom in the Middle Ages – the ruler s conduct in battle was to serve as an example to all the warriors. Shakespeare does not state how old Duncan is but, judging from the fact that he has two grown sons, he is not in his youth. This may explain why he does not take part in the battle. He is old and depends on the loyalty of his warriors. Duncan s fate depends upon two of his most powerful warriors – Macbeth and Banquo. This dependence emphasises the instability of his position as the ruler. As king he is the most powerful in the country yet, the weakest. The military prowess of his thanes is a danger to him. His authority is entirely reliant upon noble military power and the loyalty of his thanes. As we later see, Macbeth overthrows him. This does not justify Macbeth actions however, Duncan lack of authority powered Macbeths motives. The only power which Duncan still has is the power to reward his thanes for their loyalty. In my opinion it actually seems surprising that a man of Duncan’s character was not overthrown earlier . His naïve characteristics and trustfulness in combination with perhaps his supposed old age made him easy prey for disloyal nobles.
Duncan was not an ideal king. He was just and compassionate but lacked a sort of ruthlessness. His weakness was his inability to enforce his power as king. This trait of character is just what his successor possessed. Yet Macbeth did not become an ideal ruler himself. As a matter of fact he was much further from being one than Duncan was. Macbeth became a tyrant. Maybe what Shakespeare was trying to prove was that the ideal ruler does not exist, it cannot be achieved in reality. Scotland in Macbeth is a feudal country and Duncan is a feudal king. His problems show the dominant structural weakness of feudalism. If one is ruthless enough to suppress all signs of discontent, than one is not just and compassionate. The ideal is unachievable but Duncan was not very far from it. Kingship, with its potential for good or evil, is a major theme in Macbeth. Discuss. In the monarchical society depicted in this play. the King was regarded as God’s direct representative on Earth. The universe was viewed as an ordered structure in which every creature had its place.
An offence against the King, the head of this ordered structure, was considered an offence against God, and an offence on the ordered scheme on which human welfare depended. The King embodied the moral and social welfare of his subjects and, with this in mind, the theme of Kingship can easily be understood. In the play, the exercise of regal power, whether with potential for good or evil, is so significant a theme that Shakespeare prevents four versions of it. Firstly, there is the begin, almost ideal kingship of Duncan, whose murder constitutes the perversion of this ideal. This is followed by the tyrannical reign of the usurper Macbeth. King Edward, though an indirect character, has supreme regal power and his reign represents the opposite to Macbeth’s reign of terror. While Macbeth’s reign highlights the capacity for evil latent in kingship, Edward’s represents the capacity for absolute goodness.
Finally, speculation remains as to Malcom’s potential as future King of Scotland. Such was the Godlike power that the King exerted over his subjects, the path was left open for the triumph of good or evil. “Gracious Duncan” is the first example of a benign and worthy King. From his introduction in Act 1 Scene 2 to his untimely death in Act 2 Scene 2, Duncan appears to have been the ideal King, who exemplified the “King becoming graces” sought by Malcolm in Act 4 Scene 3. Duncan is the epitome of graciousness, humility and temperance. He is admired by his subjects for his justice, gratitude, generosity and humility. He is generous in his praise of those whom he feels have served him well, in particular Macbeth, “O worthiest cousin/ More is thy due than more all can pay.” Duncan’s benign guidance is rewarded by the loyal support of his people. However, Duncan is not entirely without fault. While his strengths as a King lie in his mild-tempered nature and generous character, his weakness is displayed in his overly-trusting nature.
He is too trusting to notice the corruption in a treacherous subordinate, “He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust,” and of this naiveté the Thane of Cawdor took full advantage. Duncan himself declares “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. He ” However having scarcely been saved from rebellion by the “bloody execution” of his great warriors (on whom he is heavily reliant,) Duncan once again displays a foolish lack of judgement in his haste to pronounce Macbeth “worthy Cawdor.” In doing so, he once again affirms an “absolute trust” in a disloyal subordinate. Although Duncan is invested with certain flaws, he is primarily a force of goodness in the play. The trust he places in others is noble in a King, as it is the insecure mind which harbours suspicion. Duncan’s murder, therefore, is unnatural, against the moral order, a heinous crime against the course of nature. The regicide is so unjust that even Macbeth himself realises its callous, horrific nature, “This Duncan hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead like angels trumpet tongu’d against the deep damnation of their taking off.”
Macbeth’s obvious distress and guilt in the face of his crime is indicative of Duncan’s benigh reign, yet nevertheless he commits regicide and succeeds to the throne as a usurper. Macbeth’s unlawful accession to the thrown perverts the ideal and upsets the natural order. Life giving imagery associated with Duncan reflected the harmony in nature, the peaceful concord that existed during his reign, “I have begun to plant thee and will labour to make thee full of growing,” while under Macbeth, “Scotland bleeds.” Macbeth’s reign exemplifies the latent potential for evil in kingship. He acquires regal power illegally and abuses it when he has it, to the detriment of his country, killing all those who oppose his rule. Macbeth, however, is unhappy in his “great office.” The achievement of power has not brought him contentment, “To be thus is nothing but to be safely thus.” He fears that his “borrowed power” will be taken from him in the same way he achieved it and therefore he seeks immediately to establish a dictatorship, in order to fortify his position on the throne. His reign, for which he “play’d most foully” is marked by tyranny, corruption and death, as Scotland “sinks” under the rule of the “dwarfish thief” who cannot measure up to the fruitful and just reign of his predecessor.
The potential for evil in kingship is explored through the many murders committed by Macbeth. He is able to maintain his regal power only by resorting to murder and terror against his subjects, culminating in the callous murder of Macduff’s family in Act 4 Scene 2. This heinous crime, fuelled only by a deep-rooted insecurity, is indicative of the potential for evil in kingship. As the “untitled tyrant,” Macbeth unleased the full reign of evil present in his nature and thus let loose into Scotland a disruptive evil force. Under Macbeth, Scotland, “sinks beneath the yoke/It weeps, it bleeds and each new day/A new gash is added to her wounds.” The heinous nature of Macbeth’s “blood-soak’d”Reign supports the notion that kingship bears potential for both good and evil. Edward, King of England, provides a welcome alternative to the diabolical cruelty of Macbeth. There is a pointed contrast between Edward and Macbeth. Having disregarded the natural order, Macbeth used his regal power for purposes of destruction and ruination. However Edward, like Duncan, was chosen by God as one of his direct representative’s on Earth.
He is a true and rightful King as is seen as a saintly force, endowed with virtue and holiness, whose powers of miraculous healing represent the divinity of kingship. The court of Edward, where Malcolm sought refuge from Macbeth’s murderous designs, is presented as a holy place, presided over by a King who enjoys divine sanction and special gifts from God that “speak him full of grace.” Edward is portrayed as a “holy King,” a fitting opponent to the diabolical cruelty of Macbeth. As the opposing forces of goodness assemble, liturgical language and imagery become more fluid and frequent. Words such as “prayer” and “blessing” are frequently employed to illustrate the beatific reign of Edward and to convey his healing power and graciousness. The absolute goodness of King Edward highlights the opposing forces of good and evil in the play and represents the potential of kingship not only to generate goodness but to transform evil into goodness. The final image of kingship in the play revolves around Malcolm.
His function in the play is highly significant as it is his duty to restore the status quo. As the rightful heir to the throne, the son of a good King and a holy mother, his smooth accession to the throne secures his acceptance by his subjects. Not only does this entitle him to the kingship, but it also promises a beinign reign. However, Malcolm appears young and ineffectual and seems a slight figure to dispel the dark cloud of Macbeth’s reign, certainly when compared to the strength of character of Macduff. His hasty departure following the murder of his father is the frenzied action of a fearful, doubtful character. However, Shakespeare allows for Malcolm’s maturing and he quickly grows into his role. He does not squander his time in England, rather he actively seeks King Edward’s aid. Malcolm is cautious and careful, wary of becoming “a weak poor innocent lamb to appease an angry god.” His caution is commendable and desirable in a future king and he displays none of the naiveté of his father, “To show unfelt sorrow is an office which the false man does easy.”
He subjects Macduff to an elaborate tests to assure his loyalty to Scotland and he recalls the king-becoming graces, “Justice, loyalty, temperance, stableness, bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, devotion, patience, courage, fortitude.” Malcolm’s vision of kingship is admirable and marks a hopeful outlook for the future of Scotland. Malcolm acquires authority and is obeyed. His succession to the throne is significant in restoring the natural order, and it is evident that Malcolm will use his regal power for purposes of good. The future of Scotland looks bright under the new King, although it is hard to imagine his asserting his authority without men of Macduff’s calibre on his side. The theme of kingship in the play Macbeth is indeed a crucial one.
There seems to be more to attaining regal power than merely sitting on the throne. One must be a King and inherit rightfully by succession, and thereby prosper with the grace of God. Malcolm, like Edward and Duncan, is the rightful heir to the throne and this status promises a benign reign. It is evident from the above examples that the position of King is such a potent one that there is immense potential for absolute good or absolute evil. With the death of Macbeth, and the subsequent accession of Malcolm, the universal order is finally restored and Scotland will subsequently thrive. Under Macbeth, Scotland suffered and it is clear then that a country’s suffering or prosperity is a direct reflection of the moral nature of its King.