Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Shakespeare creates parallels between the protagonist, Macbeth, and Satan. Many critics believe Macbeth and Satan share a common thread in their high peaks and low drops. Throughout the play, Macbeth is very much the shadow of Satan in his eminence, ambitions, and consequences.
Macbeth mirrors Satan in being the right hand man for his king and second in power. In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a “…valiant Cousin! Worthy gentlemen!”(1.2.24) Many of his fellow peers feel Macbeth is honest and true: “For brave Macbeth — well he deserves that name” (1.2.16). However, as the play commences, critic Robert Pack believes “…Macbeth exhibits a balance of hard and soft virtues: courage, bravery, strength, defiance, pride, and ambition” (Pack 276). This flower of greatness and light slowly starts to feed off his ambitions which leads to Macbeth’s greed for power. Much like Satan, Macbeth’s ambition seizes control of him until he can think only to further his powers.
Macbeth and Satan both take matters into their own hands as they strive for complete power. Robert Pack surmises “…Macbeth sins like Satan — without any provocation except his own inexplicable pride and ambition” (Pack 276). Like Satan, Macbeth contemplates the chance to become king and feeds his need for greed knowing that:
“The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires,
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see” (1.4.48-53).
As the play continues, the once proud and loyal Macbeth starts to “Look like the innocent flower/ But be the serpent under’t” (1.5.60-61). Macbeth also realizes his consequences for betraying the king and he will be judged harshly for killing an innocent man. However, even with all these oppositions in front of him, Macbeth deliberately continues his actions knowing he can no longer turn back. This ambition, as with Satan, leads to his downfall when Malcolm points out that “Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell” (4.3.22). The once great flower slowly starts to wither as the ambitions of Macbeth drive him mad for power.
The shadow of Satan being representative of Macbeth is best illustrated by the critic A.C. Bradley who implies that “…no amount of calamity which merely befell a man, descending from the clouds like lighting, or stealing from the darkness like pestilence” (Bradley 3154). Bradley infers that, like Satan who fell from his power, Macbeth has also lost his golden years and pure soul to his ambitions and must now endure his punishments for his sins in both the present and afterlife. Macbeth also knows that his actions have condemned him to eternal damnation as it did with Satan. Macbeth realizes his deeds and admits his defeat in reality and knows he has:
“Lived long enough. My way of life
Is fall’n into the sear, the yellow leaf,
And that which should accompany old age,
As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have” (5.4.22-26).
This final realization of consequence and defeat is connected to the idea presented by Pack that “The most important analogy between Satan and Macbeth is that they are both fully aware they are opposing an ultimately indestructible moral order, so that they enter into crime aware of the inevitability of their punishment” (Pack 276). Both Macbeth and Satan share the same fate of damnation for their ambitions and both have only themselves to blame. Like a withering flower which becomes old, dead, and useless, Macbeth also becomes old in body, dead in soul, and useless in life.
The characters Macbeth and Satan both share the same ambitions and the same downfalls. Each character knows that the greatest evil one can embellish is knowing that something is wrong yet still committing the sinful act. The comparisons between Macbeth and Satan can best be drawn as two great heroes becoming villainous due to their ambitions and own greed for power.
Bradley, A.C. “Shakespearean Tragedy.” World Literature Criticism – 1500 to the Present. Ed. James P. Draper. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992. 3154-3158.
Pack, Robert. “Shakespeare and the Tragedy of Our Time.” Shakespearean Criticism Vol.3. Eds. Langen Harris and Mark W. Scott. Detroit: Gale, 1986. 275-278.