Power, Authority And Corruption In Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
Power, Authority and Corruption in Macbeth
“Authority poisons everybody who takes authority on himself ” [Leninthis, 271], this quotation applies to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In the play, Macbeth commits regicide; the most heinous of all crimes in Elizabethan times, in order to become king himself. However, during his rule, Macbeth demonstrates that he is incapable of mastering the power and qualities of being a king. His drive for power and maintaining his power is the source of his downfall. Macbeth’s obsession with power fuels him to his mental deterioration. He is not meant to have authority beyond Thane of Cawdor. When Macbeth is king, he does not use his authority judiciously.
Macbeth’s eventual demise is by virtue of his obsession for power and retaining his power. Before he desired the power of being king, Macbeth was a respected noble called a “valiant cousin!” and a “worthy gentleman”
[Macbeth, I, ii, l: 25, p.13]. He was labeled, “brave Macbeth” [Macbeth, I, ii, l: 18, p.13] for his actions in battle. During a conversation between Duncan and a soldier, the soldier describes how Macbeth brutally slew the rebel Macdonwald:
“Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour’s minion carved out his passage
Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops,
And fixed his head upon our battlements” [Macbeth, I, ii, l: 17-23, p.13].
In his speech, the soldier describes Macbeth’s violence to indicate qualities as a good warrior, thus showing that he has respect for Macbeth. There can be no doubt that Macbeth had entertained the possibility of being King some day, “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical” [Macbeth, I, iii, l: 149, p.29]. His success in battle would serve to intensify his ambitious hunger for power. Once Macbeth became king, he became overpowered with keeping his authority. Macbeth realized that he was being used just so that Banquo’s sons can inherit the throne:
“They hailed him father to a line of kings.
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding” [Macbeth, III, i, l: 64-78, p. 116-117].
Macbeth, consumed by these feelings, convinces a pair of men to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. By having Banquo and Fleance murdered, Macbeth believes that it will prevent Banquo’s sons from becoming king; basically, an attempt to overthrow fate and the prophesies. Macbeth, as well, hires the murderers to kill Macduff’s family. Which demonstrates Macbeth’s obsession, indicating that Macbeth values his power and absolute control over his friends.
Macbeth’s obsession with domination causes him to feel guilty and lose his sanity; as a result he does not show the qualities needed to be a stable King. Macbeth’s guilt is indicated in the hallucinations, his insomnia and mental state. His first hallucination occurs just before killing King Duncan. Macbeth sees “A dagger of the mind, / a false creation” [Macbeth, II, i, l: 45, p.71]. The other hallucination Macbeth has occurs after Banquo is dead. Macbeth imagines that Banquo is taunting him during his banquet. Macbeth suffers insomnia due to haunting nightmares, which leads him to “restless ecstasy” [Macbeth, III, ii, l: 24, p.127]. He killed the sleeping Ducan; therefore, he cannot sleep. Macbeth lives alone in his tormented inner world admitting, “O, full of scorpions is my mind” [Macbeth, III, ii, l: 40, p.129]. “Regicide easily becomes a mysterious sort of suicidal deterioration, both spiritual and physical”[Mack, 89].
As Macbeth’s mental health deteriorates, he develops un-kingly qualities such as overconfidence, paranoia and loss of reasoning, as a mechanism to regain control and power. His overconfidence comes from the witches’ three prophecies, which is their intent, “As by strength of their illusion, / Shall draw him on to his confusion” [Macbeth, III, vi, l: 28-29, p.155-156]. “The temptation was implicit in the prophecy” [Sisson, 14]. Macbeth becomes paranoid, irrational and unwilling to think through his decisions exclaiming, “The very firstlings of my heart shall be / the firstlings of my hand” [Macbeth, IV, i, l: 161-162, p.177]. He suspects that Macduff is against him with knowledge that Macduff went to England. Instead of dealing with Macduff, Macbeth orders the murder of his family; thus, demonstrating his loss of common sense. Killing Macduff’s family does not accomplish anything but add to Macduff’s hatred towards Macbeth. It is also evident that Macbeth has lost reasoning when he states: “Bring me no more reports, let them fly all. / Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane” [Macbeth, V, iii, l: 1-2, p.223]. Throughout this act Macbeth is overconfident; he keeps on repeating the witches’ prophesies. “These apparitions give Macbeth, who regards their words whilst remaining blind to themselves, not despair, but hope” [Wilson Knight, 151]. Macbeth does not become alarmed until he hears that Birnam wood is moving, then he relies on the second prophesy that “none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth” [Macbeth, IV, i, l: 86-87, p.173]. Macbeth, however, though weary of life, intends to go on fighting. He is ready to destroy the entire universe with himself. His egotism is all he has left. Macbeth insists on keeping the power until the end.
As Macbeth falls to his demise clutching to command, it is recognised that Macbeth was not meant to have the power beyond Thane of Cawdor. He did not hold the correct bloodline. In Macbeth’s time the title of king was inherited, not taken by force. People were loyal to the king because he was regarded as closest to god. Thus, Macbeth murdering Duncan and assuming the ‘golden round’ disturbed the chain of being and nature. After Duncan’s death it is said that “the heavens, as troubled with man’s act” [Macbeth, II, iv, l: 6, p.103] and life on earth has opened “ruin’s wasteful entrance” [Macbeth, III, I, l: 47, p. 183]. This is symbolised by such unnatural occurrences as a hawk being killed by an owl, the horses turning wild and breaking out of their stalls. Macbeth became king unnaturally, his power is not authentic. The real king is Malcom. By the end of the play, order is restored when Macbeth loses his power and Malcom becomes king. Nature rising up against Macbeth is symbolized by Birnam rising to Dunsinane, where Macbeth’s castle is.
Being not of natural authority, Macbeth does not use his power as king appropriately. He abuses his power and rules by an iron fist. Malcom comments that Macbeth is a “tyrant, whose sole names blisters our tongues” [Macbeth, IV, iii, l: 14, p.191]. He also comments that Macbeth is treacherous and Scotland “sinks beneath the yoke; / It weeps, it bleeds, and each new a gash/ Is added to her wounds” [Macbeth, IV, iii, l: 45-47, p.192]. Generally, Malcom is saying that his country is suffering under Macbeth’s rule. Duncan “Was a most sainted King” [Macbeth, IV, iii, l: 123, p.197] whom his people loved. This is how a king should be, Macbeth however, can not even compare to the way Duncan was loved. It was not because Duncan was a natural king; it was the way he ruled. Macbeth ruled forcefully and thus, was not as highly regarded as Duncan.
Macbeth is unable to control the power and responsibilities of being king. His drive for power and maintaining his power is the reason for his downfall. Due to his fixation with domination, Macbeth loses his sanity and gains destructive qualities. Macbeth, because he does not hold the correct bloodline, is not meant to be in the natural order of king. Macbeth also abuses his authority, and causes his people to lose respect for him. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” [Acton, 1].
Shakespeare, W. Macbeth. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1988. P.13, 29, 116,117, 71, 127, 129, 89, 155, 156, 177, 223, 173, 103, 183, 191, 192, 197.
Leninthis, V. Dictionary of Quotations. London: Oxford University Press, 1973. P. 271.
Acton, L. Dictionary of Quotations. London: Oxford University Press, 1973. P. 1.
Bloom, H. “The Voice in the Sword by Maynard Mack” Modern Critical Interpretation. US: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. P.89.
Sisson, C. Public Justice: Macbeth. London: Oxford University Press, 1965. P.14.
Wilson Knight. C. The Life and Themes of Macbeth. London: Oxford University Press, 1965. P.151.