Macbeth Kingship Essay
With detailed reference to the characters of Macbeth, Duncan, Malcolm and Edward in the play ‘Macbeth’, analyse William Shakespeare’s ideas and attributes towards kingship and assess what you think the audiences reaction to the play would be at the time.
Shakespeare’s ideas towards kingship can be seen throughout the play. He shows that a king should be chosen by divine right and shows the attributes of what a good king should be.
The play ‘Macbeth’ is set in medieval Scotland at the fictional time of King Duncan. Scotland is currently at war with the Norwegians when news of their victory comes through, with thanks to the two leaders of the army Macbeth and Banquo. On their travel home Macbeth and Banquo stumble upon some old hags, and they predict Macbeth’s future to him. This startles Macbeth and his hunger for power grows so much that he and his wife plot to murder the well-respected King Duncan. Under Macbeth’s reign, Scotland becomes a country of turmoil because of the wicked leadership. Macbeth murders his best friend and another friend’s family and because of this Tyranny, paranoia sets in on Macbeth who sees many ghostly visions of people he sent out to be murdered. Scotland greatly suffers under his reign, this turns Lady Macbeth mad, and she eventually commits suicide. Macduff, eventually goes to England to ask for the help of the noble king Edward, who is highly respected for help to overthrow the leadership of Macbeth, and so the Anglo-Scottish revolt sees Macbeth to his death and Malcolm the son of Duncan is proclaimed king of Scotland.
Macbeth is the main character in the play and starts the play as a very hard fighting, loyal soldier whose bravery had just led the way to a victory over the Norwegians. It could be an essay in its own right to talk about how the character of Macbeth develops and changes, at the beginning he is a god-like hero –a firm, strong, loyal character. But through allowing his ambition to suppress his good qualities, he becomes ‘this tyrant’ (act4 sc3 L12 –Malcolm), this ‘dwarfish thief’ (act5 sc3 L12 –Angus) and this ‘hellhound’ (act5 sc6 L42 –Macduff). The character of Macbeth is a study of how one person can degenerate from ‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ (act1 sc2 L55) to ‘this dead butcher’ (act5 sc6 L108). Ambition is his fatal weakness. He allows, first the witches’ prophecy act1 sc3 L46-50 and then his wife’s ambition for him, to undermine his integrity act1 sc5 L58-68. He is not easily won over by evil, his love and respect for Duncan is evident throughout the play. Because Banquo knew the prophecy of the witches, he ordered his death in case he thought that he might have killed Duncan, act3 sc1 Line start – 10 Banquo says he has all three as the witches predicted. Under his reign of tyranny, he kills and slaughters. A dominant feature about the play is that when there is a bad king, the country as well suffers, and many characters talk of how Scotland is suffering act4 sc3 L168-169 ‘Where sighs, and...
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Macbeth – Kingship 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 royal power, whether with potential for good or evil, is so significant a theme that Shakespeare prevents four versions of it. Firstly, there is the kind, almost ideal kingship of Duncan, whose murder creates the perversion of this ideal. This is followed by the cruel reign of the usurper Macbeth. King Edward, though an indirect character, has supreme royal power and his reign represents the opposite to Macbeth’s reign of terror. While Macbeth’s reign highlights the capacity for evil hidden in kingship, Edward’s represents the capacity for absolute goodness.
Finally, speculation remains as to Malcolm’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 to his untimely death, Duncan appears to have been the ideal King, who exemplified the “King becoming graces” sought by Malcolm. Duncan is the essence 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 naivete the Thane of Cawdor took full advantage.
Duncan himself declares “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. ” 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 naivete 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.
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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.
Author: Cari Minns
Kingship in Macbeth
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