Kingship in Macbeth
The play Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare in the early 1600’s, follows the story of one of Shakespeare’s most darkest and powerful tragedies. Based in, about, the 11th century, Macbeth shadows the journey of Macbeth into his ambition for the kingship of Scotland. In Shakespeare’s time, a King was considered to be God’s representative on Earth and hence was looked upon as equal to God. Shakespeare’s ideas towards kingship can be seen throughout the play as he he shows that a king should be chosen by divine right and shows the character and attributes of what it takes to be a good king.
Throughout Macbeth, three characters show their interpretations of what it takes to be a good King. These include; Macbeth, the main character whose ambition is to become the King of Scotland, King Duncan, whom is presented as a noble king at the beginning of the play and finally Malcolm, who is the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland. The play’s main character, Macbeth, is a Scottish nobleman who becomes a murderer in order to retain his place as King of Scotland after he had killed the previous king, King Duncan.
Macbeth starts the play as a very brave, fierce and loyal warrior. However, he allows the witches’ prophecy to determine his steps, which lead him to become a “tyrant”, a “dwarfish thief” and a “hellhound”. Macbeth says, “That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur/ To prick the sides of my intent, but only/ Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself/ And falls on th’ other. ” This shows that although Macbeth realises that the people of Scotland will be devastated of the unnatural death of King Duncan he lets his ambition motivate him to murder the King.
In addition Macbeth also says, “Seize upon Fife, give to th’ edge o’ th’ sword/ His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls/ That trace him in his line. No boasting like a fool/ This deed I’ll do before this purpose cool. ” This shows Macbeths greed as he portrays his selfishness and protection of his Kingship by ordering assassins to murder anyone who gets in his way. Macbeth could have become a worthy king if he did not let his ambition and greed take control.
Therefore, through his greed and ambition, Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as the opposite of a good king, which is emphasised by Macbeth’s death at the end of the play and how the public react in celebration rather than sadness, which portrays the consequences of his actions. From the beginning of the play, up until his brutal murder, King Duncan is presented as a Nobel King of Scotland. He is pictured as the perfect, impartial king in the play and Shakespeare shows Duncan to be an example to others.
These qualities are firstly shown when King Duncan performs two of the basic duties of a king: punishing the bad and rewarding the good. Upon learning of the treachery of Cawdor and the heroism of Macbeth, at the beginning of the play, he says, “No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive / Our bosom interest: go pronounce his present death, / And with his former title greet Macbeth” The phrase “bosom interest” means “vital interests,” but “bosom” suggests that a relationship of love should exist between a king and his subject.
His good qualities are also shown when The King greets Macbeth as “worthiest cousin! ” and says in several different ways that he can’t thank him enough. Macbeth answers with heroic modesty that “The service and the loyalty I owe, / In doing it, pays itself” That is, it’s payment enough to know that he did the right thing as a loyal servant of the King. These two quotes show that through reward and punishment, King Duncan is the “ideal” type of King in Macbeth and this is greatly emphasized the reaction to his death.
Malcolm, who is the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland, appears to be a worthy king. We learn mostly of his character in his conversation with Macduff. Malcolm foresees the future of Scotland and unlike Macbeth, we see Malcolm acting after giving serious thoughts to his actions. He humbles himself before Macduff by calling himself unworthy to be king and that Macbeth might be a better fit for the title. “black Macbeth will seem as pure as snow”.
As a reader, it is obvious to see that Malcolm will be a good king as he does not force his right to be king, but patiently waits for God to set things right and to make everything for his good. Also in the end of the play, Malcolm’s last words of the play is similar to Duncan’s speech when he was king, following Duncan’s footsteps and in the path of restoring Scotland to its former glory. Through the analysis of the three kings throughout Macbeth it becomes to distinguish a good king from a bad king.
It is obvious that in the play, Macbeth represents a “bad king” through his protection of his kingship and the lengths he goes to in order to secure his position. On the other hand, Malcolm and King Duncan both represent “good kings” through simple tasks such as punishing the bad, rewarding the good and foreseeing a good future for Scotland. Hence, Shakespeare successfully portrays his ideas towards kingship in which a king should be chosen by divine right.