A Theme Of Betrayal In Macbeth By William Shakespeare
Betrayal: the disloyal action that results in the ultimate feeling of hurt. For there to be betrayal, there must be trust; the breaking of trust is the ultimate way of betrayal. It spurs upon the influence of others and is provoked by the ambitious mind. To fulfill one’s desires, betrayal is an action that is easy to perform. This concept is exhibited in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, as the implications of betrayal lead the main character, Macbeth, to his downfall. With the influence of the three evil witches, Macbeth is easily convinced about his auspicious future, causing him to overconfident himself and commit a betrayal that eventually results in one that he experiences. The ripple effect of the occurrence of betrayal demonstrated in Macbeth is developed from the breaking of trust and the pursuit of ambition. This is shown when King Duncan experiences betrayal from the former Thane of Cawdor, when the prophecies influence Macbeth to betray his fellow acquaintance, and last but not least, the development of betrayal leads Macbeth to his ultimate downfall when Macduff, representing the country of Scotland, betrays Macbeth.
First of all, Shakespeare’s play begins with the very apparent betrayal that ultimately leads Macbeth to his downfall. It is King Duncan’s experience of betrayal from the old Thane of Cawdor that causes a series of disloyal events which bring Macbeth to his tragic outcome. After the battle between Scotland and Norway, King Duncan was told that the old Thane of Cawdor was a traitor to the Scottish throne; this scene is the first of many treachories to come. King Duncan recognizes the disloyal nature of the former thane when he states, “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face: He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust. ” In this metaphoric quote, Duncan speaks on building trust, but in reality he is speaking of the man who betrayed him. He implies that it is impossible to know the mind of a man by just knowing his face. In like manner, the old Thane of Cawdor was a noble who committed treason against the Scottish throne by helping the Norwegian soldiers. His infidelity breaks the trust between him and Duncan because of his immense betrayal to not only the King, but to the country of Scotland. He quickly becomes a man whom Duncan could no longer rely upon, for this reason, Duncan awards the title to a noble and courageous soldier, Macbeth. Dramatic irony is presented in this line because as Duncan is addressing the unfaithfulness of the old thane, it is followed by the entry of Macbeth to the scene, a man who later misuses his power to betray the King. To Duncan, Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis, is appeared to be virtuous and courageous because of his heroic performance in the battle for defeating the opponent, Macdonwald. The King demonstrates his satisfaction towards Macbeth through a conversation with Banquo. He describes Macbeth as “full so valiant, And in his commendations King Duncan is fed; It is a banquet to him… It is a peerless kinsman. ” In this speech, King Duncan truly admires Macbeth’s valiancy and describes him as a man without equal. He congratulates Macbeth for his courage on the battlefield and as followed by the witches’ prophecies of Macbeth, “. . . All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor…”, he replaces and becomes the new Thane of Cawdor. This speech reveals the gullible nature of Duncan who once trusted the old thane and anew, believes the new thane will be loyal to the country. By all means, Duncan is clueless of what Macbeth’s legacy will bring him. The old Thane of Cawdor’s betrayal is the beginning of a turning point for his royalty and for Scotland.
The next betrayal that leads Macbeth to his devastating outcome is his committed treason of murder towards King Duncan. The prophecy, “Macbeth shalt be king hereafter”, captivated Macbeth’s intense passion with the belief of one day becoming the king and aroused the idea of betraying his ruler, King Duncan. It is shown when his ambitious nature reveals his unease when Duncan’s son, Malcolm, was given the name of Prince of Cumberland: “The prince of Cumberland! That is a step / On which I Macbeth 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. ” Macbeth realizes Duncan’s son is the heir to the crown of Scotland. In effect, Macbeth is envious towards Malcolm and decides that he must take action or ‘o’erleap’ the obstacles that are in the way of obtaining the throne; by murder. Macbeth is so determined with this idea that he speaks directly to the stars to hide their ‘fires’ or light, so that his ‘black’ or evil desires of becoming the king by murder, is hidden from anyone. His ambition develops greater from the prophecies of the witches, to an extent where it blinds the consciousness of his own actions. Macbeth’s desire to reign Scotland quickly becomes a reality when he murders Duncan. Shakespeare does not reveal the scene of Duncan’s murder to the audience because it is too horrid and mournful for one’s eyes to watch someone who was noble and valuable to his country. The scene also unveils the extreme measures of Macbeth’s malignant character and his cold-blooded betrayal towards Duncan, particularly being “his kinsman and his subject… then, as his host…”. In other words, Macbeth disregards the laws of hospitality as he betrays Duncan by killing someone who has granted him nothing but kindness, and someone who was nothing but a worthy king. Under those circumstances, Shakespeare portrays Duncan as a foil character to Macbeth and someone who should be well respected and honoured by others. While Duncan is the noblest aspect of what Macbeth is not, he also represents the country in a nurturing, compassionate way. On the other hand, Macbeth is consumed by his powers and acts immorally. His mentality eventually influenced him to perform a murder that altered the natural order of Scotland and changed his life forever. From the vigorous warrior Macbeth once was to a treacherous king he is now, Macbeth is just another traitor deceiving Scotland. This betrayal belittles the trust Duncan had towards Macbeth and disrupts the natural order Scotland once kept. By turning the idea of becoming the King into action, it allowed Macbeth to attain the power he has always craved for and altered his life to a ruthless King with a desperation to maintain his power.
Last but not least, the treachery that brought peace to Scotland and destroyed Macbeth’s oppressive power was the murder of Macbeth by Macduff, a soldier of Macbeth’s country. As followed by the prophecies, the death of Duncan granted Macbeth the crown to Scotland. As soon as Macbeth became the king, Ross, a nobleman, informed Macduff and Malcolm that “O nation miserable” and that “It cannot / Be call’d our mother, but our grave”. Ross explains the situation in Scotland as a dangerous place for its citizens. With Macbeth as the monarch, there is no protection or safety for the country since violence and death are everywhere. Additionally, Scotland is no longer a place where it is nurturing and be called a mother country; it is a place where its people will die. This reveals more of Macbeth’s betrayal towards the people of Scotland. As the ruler of this country, Macbeth should be responsible for his people’s security and well-being; though, he is the antithesis of what is expected from a king. Moreover, everybody who is living under Macbeth’s rule is affected by his corruption. This is demonstrated when Macduff’s son declares that “there are / liars and swears enough to beat the honest men and / hang them up. ” This statement reveals an innocent perspective on the tyranny and destruction Macbeth has created: corrupting nature and innocence. Correspondingly, the conversation foreshadows the battle between Macduff and Macbeth, respectively symbolizing honest men and liars. Having a lying king stimulated fear and the feeling of betrayal for the minds of Scotland. Due to the suspicion of Macbeth’s deceit, Macduff fled to England with the help of Malcolm to destroy Macbeth. This begins the betrayal that Macbeth experiences from his country because of his unfaithful actions to the citizens. In the meantime, Macbeth visits the three witches and Hecate one last time to ask for more prophecies. It is evident that the prophecies had consumed Macbeth’s consciousness, causing him to be paranoid of what the future holds. Shakespeare unveils to the audience that Hecate has planned to make a series of apparitions appear that will overconfident Macbeth. When Macbeth is confronted by three apparitions, he interprets them in an overly-optimistic way. The apparitions told Macbeth, ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth. ‘ and he should ‘be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care who chafes, who frets… until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him Macbeth. ‘ Because of these fictitious messages, Macbeth is taken into belief that he cannot be overthrown by his enemies. Additionally, he swears that he will act on the ‘firstlings of his heart’, meaning that he will do whatever comes to mind without thinking about it. Little does Macbeth know, the witches had betrayed him by assuring him with false apparitions. Shakespeare later reveals that Macduff was born by c-section, not a normal birth, and the troops attacking Dunsinane cut branches from the trees in Birnam Wood as they proceed to the castle. As a result, Macbeth is met with Malcolm and Macduff, along with thousands of English troops. He is defeated by Macduff, who announces, “The time is free. / I see thee compassed with thy kingdom’s pearl, / That speak my salutation in their minds, / Whose voices I desire aloud with mine. / Hail, King of Scotland!”. Although Macduff served the country by killing the dishonest king, he still betrayed Macbeth by breaking the trust between a king and a nobleman. In all, Macduff represents the heart of Scotland and replenished the moral and natural order of Scotland. The once noble, valiant soldier, Macbeth, created his path to his own destruction and the death of his finally brought joy and peace to Scotland after a sequence of betrayals.
To conclude, William Shakespeare uses dramatic irony and foreshadowing to emphasize the theme of betrayal demonstrated throughout Macbeth. Betrayal is revealed through the breaking of trust in order to follow the fatal motivation to achieve success. Moreover, with the prophecies and the death of both kings, the fate of Scotland changed for the better and for the worse. The witches’ purposeless prophecies turn a brave warrior into a depraved man with blind ambition, who caused his own outcome of downfall. The betrayal of the old Thane of Cawdor is an evident way of revealing a new order of structure to Scotland and its people. Dedicating the title to Macbeth, he is another example of misusing his power to betray someone who once valued him. Consequently, the country of Scotland betrays Macbeth for his unloyal actions to its people. As can be seen, even so the pursuit of success and power requires ambition and determination, though it is easy to abuse that power by betraying others to achieve one’s desires. In essence, disparaging the trust between two companions can lead to imminent betrayal; a betrayal that leads to one’s happiness or one’s destruction.
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