Macbeth: Corruption of Power

Macbeth: Corruption of Power

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Even after four hundred years, Shakespeare's plays still continue to resonate with modern audiences. This is because Shakespeare's plays explore universal themes which still remain relevant in today's society. In Macbeth, Shakespeare dramatically explores how one man's excessive ambition and greed for power led him to tyranny and absolute destruction. The ideas explored in Macbeth still remain relevant in the contemporary world where individuals can get tempted by wealth and power and forget all sense of moral direction.

In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a courageous and well-respected soldier who is loyal to his King and country. He is described by one of King Duncan's men as “brave Macbeth.” As a result of his bravery on the battlefield, Duncan decides to reward Macbeth with a new title – the Thane of Cawdor – as the last Thane was proven to be disloyal; however, Macbeth is unaware of this, and this creates tension in the audience. The opening scenes show that Macbeth is a powerful and courageous man who is not naturally inclined to do wrong, but is capable of being brutal when he needs to be. The meeting with the witches also reveal that Macbeth is a very ambitious man who craves an even greater power. There is contrast between Macbeth’s and Banquo’s attitudes towards the witches’ prophecies. Whilst Banquo dismissed the witches’ prophecies, Macbeth was “rapt withal.” This shows that Macbeth has thought about being “king hereafter.” Macbeth's first soliloquy reveals his deep desire to be king. His soliloquy also reveals that he would do anything to achieve it.

Macbeth's desire to become king is strongly supported by his wife, Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is a highly ambitious woman who, like her husband, is willing to do anything to obtain power. Shakespeare uses a series of imagery to vividly portray the desire for power in Lady Macbeth's soliloquy: “Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/Of direst cruelty!” To achieve her ambition, Lady Macbeth urges Macbeth “to catch the nearest way.” This means she wants him to kill Duncan so that he can become king. However, she fears that Macbeth is “too full o' th' milk of human kindness” to “catch the nearest way.” When Macbeth is reluctant to kill Duncan, Lady Macbeth starts attacking his masculinity. “Then you were a man,” she said. Lady Macbeth also uses the power of emotional blackmail to manipulate Macbeth into killing Duncan.

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This shows that she holds the higher power in their relationship.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth believed that ultimate power would bring them joy and satisfaction. However, the play dramatically reveals that they were wrong. Once Macbeth reached ultimate power, he became paranoid of others trying to take his crown and it made him a tyrant. He killed people whom he thought were a threat to his power. Macbeth's descent to tyranny was shown by his decision to kill his friend Banquo. There is contrast between Macbeth at the beginning of the play and Macbeth at the end. At the beginning of the play, he is portrayed as a powerful and valiant man who is willing to do anything in the name of his king and country. At the end, Macbeth is portrayed as an immoral and inhumane tyrant. In Macbeth's final soliloquy, it is revealed that power has not given him the satisfaction he expected. The soliloquy opens with a repetition of “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” to emphasise Macbeth's state of futility. He uses a series of dark metaphors to describe his now meaningless life: “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more.”

In conclusion, Shakespeare's Macbeth shows what happens when one’s greed for power corrupts and destroys the possessor. Shakespeare also proves that even a 400 year old play can still have meaning in the modern day world.

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