In Macbeth we learn about the difference between a true and gracious king and an ambitious usurper.’ Discuss
Shakespeare’s Macbeth was set in the time of Edward the Confessor, shortly before the Battle of Hastings. It was wrote, however, when King James I was ruling, and was said that it was even written for him, as he had a fascination with witchcraft. What we now call as the ‘Great Chain of Being’ was a common belief back then, where God was the supreme ruler, aided by his angels, and that he chose who were to be his representatives on earth, starting with the kings and queens. The order then descended to thanes and nobles, barons and all the way down to peasants, and then on to animals.
This was considered almost law, that everyone, no matter how rich or poor, had their place in the order and to try and move up or down would cause chaos, which was exactly what Macbeth tried to do.
When Macbeth killed Duncan, he committed regicide and in doing so broke the chain, disrupting the ‘Great Chain of Being’.
In the play, Duncan is portrayed as the just and noble king, where as when Macbeth becomes king, he is portrayed as the exact opposite of Duncan, a tyrant who drags Scotland into chaos.
When Duncan in murdered in Macbeth’s own castle, Macduff says:
‘Confusion now has made his masterpiece!
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord’s anointed temple’
Here Macduff is referring to Duncan as a “temple of God”, and indeed in the ‘Great Chain of Being’ this is the case because God is meant to be the ruler-in-chief and kings and queens are meant to be his delegates on earth, so by calling Duncan ‘the Lord’s anointed temple’ is confirming that Duncan is God’s chosen person and therefore he is the worthy king. Macduff is also suggesting that by murdering the king of Scotland, someone has committed the greatest off all crimes.
Towards the start of the play, Duncan is presented as the ideal king as he is just and caring towards all his subjects and not just a select few.
‘I have begun to plant you
and will make thee full of growing’
He is saying that he has started them off and is going to ensure that they reach their full potential.
Even after Duncan has been killed, he is still portrayed as “heavenly” as when Macbeth has murdered Duncan, he says ‘…wherefore could I not pronounce “Amen”‘. I believe that this is a message that the murder was a crime against God himself as by not being able to pronounce “Amen” would show that God was angry with him.
After the death of Duncan, Macbeth is the main focus of the play. Whereas Duncan is portrayed as the ideal, almost “angelic” king, Macbeth is described as the complete reverse. However he is starts off good towards at the beginning of the play where he has just fort hard to quell a rebellion against Duncan from the Thane of Cawdor. It is Lady Macbeth who is the one who corrupts Macbeth:
‘That I may…/chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round.’
This is an ironical statement as she is using righteous language to describe the crude and blunt ambition she is asking of Macbeth.
It is after Macbeth has killed Duncan that he begins to become psychotic and unstable, developing a paranoia that now he has the throne someone is going to take it from him. The “Mirror of Princes” tradition celebrates the ideal king as someone fit to rule as he is virtuous. Duncan is portrayed as the ideal king and Macbeth is the opposite who corrupts the country as it is said that a corrupt king leads to a corrupt country.
‘Our suffering country
Under a hand accurs’d!’
This is Lennox describing Scotland at the hands of Macbeth and what it has come too. He is saying that the whole country is suffering as a result of Macbeth’s crooked rule. This is further telling us that Macbeth was the complete opposite to Duncan.
As the plays goes on and Macbeth becomes more and more and corrupt, he eventually sees what a terrible thing he has done by taking the crown dishonestly.
‘Upon they plac’d a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench’d with an unlineal hand’
In this soliloquy Macbeth is saying how empty his rule is through an undeserved crown. He is telling us how he ‘wrench’d’ it from Duncan.
Macduff shows us just how corrupt and evil Scotland has become from Macbeth’s ruling:
‘Each new morn
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face…’
These points give us an effective view of what Scotland has become. ‘New widows howl’ and ‘new orphans cry’ tells us that people, both men and women have died as a result of Macbeth. ‘new sorrows strike heaven on the face’ means that no good has come from Macbeth replacing Duncan in power, only bad has come from it.
Finally, when Malcolm, the rightful heir to the crown of Scotland is preparing to take back the crown with the help of Macduff, Malcolm says:
‘Macbeth is ripe for shaking,
And the powers above,
Put on their instruments’
This metaphor conveys that both people on earth and in the heavens want revenge as it says ‘powers above’ meaning that they are out for revenge.
Even when Macbeth is on the brink of defeat, his army outnumbered and even the “trees” seem to be moving against him, Macbeth remains positive and continues fighting to the end. Even though Macbeth is described as a ‘tyrant’ throughout most of the play, this makes him a kind of “bad hero” as although he himself knows his cause is hopeless, he continues fighting until all is lost.