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Macbeth is first presented as a mature man of definitely established character, successful in certain fields of activity, and enjoying an enviable reputation. One must not conclude that all Macbeth's actions are predictable. Macbeth's character is made out of potentialities and the environment, and no one, not even Macbeth, can know all of his inordinate self-love. Macbeth is determined by a desire for temporal and mutable good.
Macbeth is driven in his conduct by an inordinate desire for worldly honors; his self emulation lies in buying golden opinions from all sorts of people. One must not deny Macbeth a human complexity of motives. For example, his fighting in Duncan's service is magnificent and courageous. Macbeth also rejoices in the success that crown his efforts in battle. Macbeth's services are also for his own glory. Macbeth says, "The service and the loyalty I owe, In doing it, pays itself." While Macbeth destroys Duncan's enemies, such motive work but are obscured in his consciousness by more vigorous urges. Macbeth by nature violently demands rewards. Macbeth fights courageously so he may be reported as a "valor's minion" and "Bellona's bridegroom." Macbeth values success because it brings fame, new titles, and royal favor. As long as these mutable goods fulfill his desires, which is the case until he covets the kingship, Macbeth is an honorable gentleman. Once Macbeth's self-love demands a satisfaction that cannot be honorably obtained, he employs dishonorable tactics to gain his selfish desires.
As Macbeth returns victoriously from battle, his self-love demands recognition of his greatness. The demonic forces of evil that drive Macbeth, symbolized by the witches, suggest to him to obtain the greatest mutable good he has ever desired, the kingdom. The witches observe Macbeth's expressions to understand the passions that are driving his dark desires he is so valiantly attempting to suppress. The witches predict Macbeth will be king. The witches can not compel Macbeth to do evil deeds, but they can use Macbeth's desire to become king to pervert his judgment of reason to corral him to choose temporal good. Macbeth's imagination and passions are so vivid under these evil impulses that "nothing is but what is not." Macbeth's reason becomes so impede that he judges, "These soliciting cannot be evil, cannot be good." Still Macbeth is provided with so much natural good that he is able to control his imagination and decide not to attempt any act that involves criminal actions.
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After murdering Duncan, Macbeth, in committing an unnatural act, has to relinquish his soul to the possession of the demonic forces who are the enemy of mankind. Macbeth recognizes the acts of conscience that torture him are expressions of an outraged natural law. Macbeth is then reduced to the ranks of a human. Knowing he is human again, Macbeth becomes pale and works to impede the penalties of natural law and seeks release from this torture, "Come, sealing night... And with thy bloody and invisible hand, Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond, Which keeps me pale." Macbeth then conceives that a quick escape from the accusations of conscience may be affected by the precepts of natural law. He imagines that the execution of bloodier deeds will serve his purpose. Macbeth instigates the murder of Banquo in the interest of personal safety and to destroy the final piece of humanity in himself. No peace is gained from the murder of Banquo. Macbeth's conscience obliges him to see the negative quality of evil and the barren results of wicked action. The individual who once prized mutable goods in the form of respect and admiration from those about him, now discovers that even such satisfactions are denied to him:
And that which should accompany old age,
As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.
Macbeth is conscious of a profound abstraction of something far more precious than temporal goods. Macbeth has shrunk to such a little measure that he has become numb to all sense of good and evil. The "peace" attained from this numbness is psychologically a callousness to pain and spiritually a partial insensibility to the evidences of diminished being. Macbeth's peace is the doubtful calm of utter negativity, where nothing matters.
After the external and internal forces of evil have done their worst, Macbeth remains human, and he continues to witness the diminution of his self being. Sin does not completely deprive Macbeth of his rational nature. Macbeth sins because whatever he does in pursuance of a temporal good, and nothing more than to escape a present evil.
Macbeth never completely loses his freedom of choice. Since a free act is in accordance with reason, as his reason becomes blinded, his actions become less and less free. This accounts for Macbeth's actions becoming more controlled as the play progresses, and the final feelings that Macbeth has lost all free will. Macbeth violates his natural law, and his acts establish habits of irrational doings, resulting in the loss of freedom of choice.
The substance of Macbeth's personality is that out of which tragic heroes are fashioned. Endowed with potential and under the impact of passions constantly shifting and mounting in intensity, the dramatic individual grows, expands, and develops to a point that at the end of the play he is more understanding of the world and of his own spirituality than at the beginning of the play. Macbeth is bound to his humanity, that reason of order that determines his relationship with natural law, and that compels him toward proper actions and his own end. This natural law provides him with a will capable of free choice, and obliges his discernment of good and evil.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.