Back to: Macbeth by William Shakespeare
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Rage for Power
Macbeth is a character raging for power for its own sake. In the play, at the very beginning, one gets to know of the glory of his bravery and immense capacity to bring victory as a general in the army of King Duncan. But his very first meeting with the three witches reveals to us his all-pervading ambition for power.
Macbeth’s very first dialogue in the play, “so foul and fair a day I have not seen” repeats what the three witches say earlier and it reveals to us the contradictory state of his mind.
The same prophecy makes Banquo clarify his conscience while Macbeth unties the knot to his ambition. Harold Bloom said that Macbeth is a tragedy of imagination. It may mean that Macbeth suffers his tragic fall because of the unchecked imagining of power.
Macbeth suffers from the horror found in his own thoughts. Unlike other villains, he never delights in the evil in him. Intensely aware of his wickedness, he goes on doing things much worse than his previous acts.
After listening to the prophecy of the three witches, he has already imagined himself in the position which he must have been lusting after unknowingly since ever. When Duncan declares Malcolm as the heir to his kingdom, it automatically springs him to actions.
He becomes a killing machine. Lady Macbeth has to just mock his manhood, it clears his confusion and he follows the misdeed to the end.
In the play, his character begins at the highest point where features like strength, ambition, power work in a positive mode but with each Act everything good in him subverts further until a declaration of madness is made.
Shakespeare has great faith in order. Through Macbeth, he seems to be warning us of unchecked ambition. Macbeth with all his determination starts acting in a way which is unnatural for the established order.
The play declares its sympathy for primogeniture, the right of inheritance belonging to the eldest son. When the three witches confront him with the prophecy, he presses on them to “tell me more.”
He commits regicide without many second thoughts apart from his instinctive questioning of conscience. While Banquo doesn’t want to believe in the three witches, wondering “can the Devil speak true?”, it is Macbeth who goes on imagining the path to make it come true like the prophecy just confirmed what he had been aspiring for.
Banquo warns him that such “instruments of darkness tell us truths…to betray us in deepest consequence” but to no avail, he is further conveniently manipulated by Lady Macbeth.
By Act III, Macbeth has full command over his misdeeds. It says, “Blood will have blood.” He kills Banquo without even noticing any of his goodness. His ambition has no principle to it. His imagination can accommodate the whole ocean of Neptune when he reveals his guilt after his first murder in the play.
His thoughts are vivid and full of such visual images. His imagination aids to his “vaulting ambition” which “overleaps itself.” Macbeth has a great capacity for love. With Lady Macbeth, he makes a great practical couple. His passion for Lady Macbeth, his “partner in greatness” is one great unselfish passion.
Her death shocks him to compare life to the idiot’s tale, a poor player. It is hard for us to decide whether he is a man of action or he is a thinker or a dreamer thrown out of his context.
He never contemplates defeat, rather in the end he says “I will not yield to kiss the ground…yet I will try the last..” Towards the end, his pride and the faith in his invincibility dominantly marks his character.