Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment explore the psychological depths of man. These two works examine tragedy as represented through the existential beliefs of many philosophers. Existentialist theory expresses the idea that man can satisfy his own needs, regardless of social codes, if he has the energy and ambition to act. Both Macbeth and Raskolnikov have the ambition to act, but each struggles internally with their actions, frightened of the consequences. Although these works examine the tragedy and remorse of Macbeth and Raskolnikov, the idea of a driving force within each character remains evident. Ultimately, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment present similar aspects of the existential philosophy that examine the thoughts and actions of the two protagonists.
The existential principle remains apparent within these works. The themes of existentialism vary, but one main focus is that man appeases himself by acting on his desires. Ignorance and hollowness penetrate human existence, creating anxiety, reverence, and dejection (Moore & Bruder 503). And man faces, as the most prominent fact of human existence, the need to decide how he is to live within this “absurd and irrational world” (Moore & Bruder 504). “Macbeth” employs many existentialist concepts. Macbeth’s murdering of Duncan to obtain his kingship displays a basic existentialist philosophy in that he eliminated his obstacles in order to fulfill his ambition (Gellrich 17). The witches who constantly taunt Macbeth drive him to his ultimate goal (Craig 255). Dostoevsky also employs an existentialist philosophy in his novel. The “set of unconscious drives” (Cox 42) that propel Raskolnikov to commit his cr...
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...d Macbeth. Both Shakespeare and Dostoevsky create characters who decide their own existence. The tragedy of these protagonists comes as a direct result of their actions. After each commits his murder, an uneasy feeling enters the bodies of Macbeth and Raskolnikov, ultimately leading to their downfalls. U.S. News & World Reports’ Brian Duffy compared the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, to “a character worthy of Dostoevsky,” (30) commenting on Dostoevsky’s criminal ingenious. Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” idealizes the tragic hero whose absurd actions cause destruction. These two masterpieces examine “redemption through suffering” (Wasiolek 2) that dramatizes the philosophic principles of existentialism.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999.
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