Depiction Of The Impact Of Greed For Power On One's Character In Macbeth

The play Macbeth portrays the physical and psychological consequences of unchecked political ambition on those who desire power solely for themselves. Macbeth was written when Kings were chosen through divine rights and when a patriarchal society was a norm. In contrast, Shakespeare wrote his play around characters that defy these norms, depicting the female character as the more dominant figure in the relationship, while basing the play around Macbeth, a character who commits treason in order to achieve power. Shakespeare develops the character of Macbeth throughout the play from being a noble, brave hero at the start, to, after becoming overwhelmed by the guilt of his own actions and giving in to the temptations of power and manipulation by others, inevitably descending into paranoia, madness and finally death.

At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare presents the notion that individuals such as Macbeth are willing to go to any extent and face consequences in order to gain power. He shows how a weak willed, manipulative and greedy person who lusts for power can turn from a good and honorable person into someone ‘evil’. After finding out that two prophecies were true, Macbeth says, (Act 1 Scene 3) “two truths are told as happy prologues to the swelling act of th’imperial theme.” Here, with the dramatic use of an aside, the audience can see the ambition behind his words. Through this line, the audience can also identify the slight internal conflict in Macbeth as he considers the idea of having to carry out a horrible act. Later, he then says, “Let not light see my dark and deep desires.” He has started to notice his unnatural desire for the throne, highlighting the ever growing presence of his ambition. Here, the use of alliteration in ‘let’ and ‘light’ as well as ‘deep’ and ‘dark’ accentuates his intense desire to kill king Duncan. Simultaneously, the juxtaposition and contrast of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ portrays Macbeth’s indecision on whether he should commit the act or not. Not long after, Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth by challenging his masculinity. She pressures him into killing King Duncan as can be seen through the quote, (Act 1 scene 7) “When you durst do it, then you were a man.” She belittles Macbeth into thinking that he is inferior to her even as a woman if he does not commit this treasonous act. Considering the patriarchal society they live in at the time, this is a very serious taunt, emphasising her extreme ambition. This capitalises on human nature’s volatility to the provocation of power. Through Macbeth, Shakespere highlights how given the right situation and the right amount of manipulation from others, even the best of people will give into the pressure and into their dark desires.

In act three and four, Shakespere portrays the idea that people who are under the influence of power, will do anything and everything to ensure that it stays within their hands. He uses Macbeth to represent these individuals and to show the changes in behavior of a person once they are put in a place of authority. Upon being proclaimed king, Macbeth’s personality seems to have changed. He started to become very controlling, greedy and paranoid, causing him to take drastic actions in order to maintain his power. Macbeth portrays the impact of having too much power, and shows the consequences that follow when it is placed in the wrong hands. He also presents the fact that after obtaining power, most people are still greedy for more. After killing the king, Macbeth speaks the lines, “to be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus.” Through this, Macbeth is revealing his fears of not remaining king, stating that without a stable succession, the power he has means nothing. This gives the audience a little insight into the idea that although he is now king, he is still not satisfied and keeps desiring for more, which leads on to what he does next. “Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife! Thou know'st that Banquo, and his Fleance, lives.” Here Macbeth describes his mind as ‘full of scorpions’. Shakespere uses the metaphor of scorpions to portray the feelings of discomfort, and to emphasise the point that simply the thought of Banquo and his son being alive and posing as a threat to his hold on the throne practically causes him to feel immense displeasure and pain.  “From this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand.” This line is spoken right before Macbeth sends order for the murder of Macduff’s family. By seeing how Macbeth is willing to kill women and children, shows how desperate he is to maintain power. Through Macbeth, Shakspere portrays the physiological control greed for power has over a human being. He also highlights the idea that people who desire power will do anything due to their need to be in control.

In the resolution of the play, Macbeth slowly descends into madness due to the overwhelming guilt he experiences. Shakspere uses his character to represent the good conscience every human being has despite any horrible crimes they have committed. After killing King Duncan, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that he “could not say ‘amen’ when they did say ‘god bless us’”. This is the earliest instance in which the audience can start to see his budding guilt. By his inability to say ‘Amen’ and later on his hearing of voices and lack of sleep, it shows that Macbeth unknowingly started to realise the consequences that will come with the deed he has done. At the same time, by showing his disconnection from God, Shakespere foreshadows the idea that his decline is destined. The motif of sleep is usually used to symbolise purity and innocence, therefore, in this play, Macbeth’s lack of sleep represents the idea that him killing someone, has also murdered his sleep as well, meaning that he will never be able to have peace of mind due to his guilty conscience. His hearing of voices indicates to the audience that Macbeth is spiraling into a worse state, emphasising the feelings of guilt he feels. After killing Banquo, Macbeth starts to hallucinate and sees his ghost, he says, “it will have blood they say. Blood will have blood.” At this point, Macbeth has finally comprehended the appalling acts he has committed to obtain his power and achieve his ambition, and it is now clear to him that he will have to face the ramifications of what he has done sooner or later. The motif of blood is used throughout the majority of the play, mainly there to symbolise and represent Macbeth’s guilt. The use of this dramatic device reiterates to the audience, the severity of his situation and consequences. At the same time, Macbeth’s inability to escape this blood shows how his guilt is so severe that it is all consuming and ineludible. After hearing of his wife’s death, Macbeth voices “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” Within this speech, the audience can see Macbeth’s overwhelming guilt and his awareness that one of the many repercussions that he has received is the death of his wife. Shakespere uses a candle flame to symbolise the briefness of life. In this moment, Macbeth is wracked with guilt and grief, coming to the conclusion that life is pointless and meaningless. The “Out, out, brief candle!” implies that Macbeth believes all that is good and all the ‘light’ in his life should be extinguished by the bad deeds and decisions he has made, emphasising him finally realising his remorse. As he comes to terms with what he has done, he highlights the idea that he is simply an insignificant piece in the great scheme of things and will not matter when gone. Shakespeare emphasises the physical and emotional toll guilt can have on a person and how although one may not realise till too late, everyone has a good conscience and will eventually understand that consequences that come with every action.

The previously confident, loyal, ambition filled man, through giving in to his greed for power, breaks down as Shakespeare develops his character into one severely affected by his own guilt and descending into madness. Through this progression of character, Shakespeare portrays the external influences and manipulations an individual faces, and he highlights the consequences of untamed ambition and the impact it can have on one's character and actions. 

16 December 2021
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