Macbeth, who shall be king hereafter!
January 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
Shakespeare’s play is an essential and indispensable read in understanding power, its trappings, and the men who lust for it. We are introduced to the valiant and loyal Thane of Glamis: Macbeth, returning from the battlefield having done his king and country a mighty service. Yet upon hearing the witches’ prophecy the seeds of destruction and ruin for Scotland are sown. Though Macbeth broods upon the prophecy and harbours ambitions to be king he wavers in his decision to carry out the deed. Lady Macbeth chides and chastises her husband into finally committing the crime.
Lady Macbeth though is more than willing to excise whatever humanity exists within:
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here;
And fill me, from crown to the toe, top full
Of direst cruelty. (Act I, scene v)
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me-
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this. (Act I, scene vii)
Macbeth blinded by power and ambition transforms into a tyrant. But it takes time, and the efforts of Lady Macbeth, to fan the flames of his greed; to truly wipe out the “good” in him. Even towards the end he is capable of distinguishing right from wrong; of the life that he has chosen and the path that he has forfeit:
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have… (Act V, scene iii)
It is these moments of humanity present in the lives of even the most blood thirsty despots that truly startle us. A few months back I finished a biography of Stalin, and it was the mixed image of Stalin the loving father and Stalin the mass murderer that I found so difficult to digest. Pure evil is easily explained as an exception or an aberration of nature, but once it is mingled with compassion or even aspects of the everyday then it greatly perplexes us; for part of that equation can be understood, whilst the rest is truly abhorrent.
Macbeth is definitely worth reading for the above mentioned reasons, and worth re-reading for the beauty of its prose.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
published by Collins Classics
Image: “Macbeth consulting the Vision of the Armed Head” by Henry Fuseli [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.