Words are the basic elements of the English written language. With words, one can say precisely what one wants to say, a skill that Shakespeare has mastered. In Macbeth, he carefully chooses each word so as to say exactly what he wants to say, and often leaves these words open to the reader’s interpretation. One such carefully chosen word is the word “slave,” a simple word meaning “someone entirely under the dominion of a person or an influence” (Random House, 674). Although this word appears only four times within the play, it’s importance should not be underestimated. Every time that Shakespeare chooses to use the word “slave” he is using it to show a “slave of ambition,” an important symbol within the play.
The first use of slave in the play comes when a war-wounded soldier comes to deliver the message to the king of Macbeth’s defeat over Macdonwald. He refers to Macdonwald as “the slave,” which is the perfect name for him (Shakespeare, Macbeth I.ii.20). One would have to be a “slave of ambition” if he thinks that it is acceptable for him to try to overthrow his very own king and center. Furthermore, it is extremely ironic how Macbeth is the one who defeats this slave in act one, but then becomes one himself in act two. After performing a heroic deed and making what was “foul” (Macdonwald’s rebellion), “fair,” Macbeth goes and makes what is “fair” (Duncan’s Kingship), “foul;” thus making him a slave like Macdonwald(I.i.11). Also, in using this word, the reader comes to learn much about Macdonwald. We first of all learn that he cares mainly about his own personal gain, for he desires kingly power. We also learn that if he had actually succeeded in stealing the throne, he would not have made a good king, for a good king can never be selfish or stray from the center the way that he does. In using the word slave Shakespeare actually puts into the reader’s mind a concept that runs throughout the entire play; you cannot be selfish or stray from the center if you are king and still expect to be a king in the truest sense of the word.
The second time Shakespeare uses the word “slave” in Macbeth is when Banquo yells to his some Fleance, “Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! Thou mayst revenge.