The role of the king in Medieval society was blessed by God and enjoyed almost divine status. The King embodied the moral and social welfare of his subjects and, with this in mind, the theme of Kingship can easily be understood. In the play kingship is so significant a theme that Shakespeare presents four versions of it. Firstly, there is the begin, almost ideal kingship of Duncan, whose murder constitutes the perversion of this ideal. This is followed by the tyrannical reign of the usurper Macbeth.
King Edward, though an indirect character, he represents the opposite to Macbeth’s reign of terror, Edward’s represents the capacity for absolute goodness. Finally, speculation remains as to Malcolm’s potential as future King of Scotland. Although a work in process he is the ‘sovereign flower’ and Macbeth is seen as the weed. “Gracious Duncan” is the first example of a benign and worthy King. From his introduction in Act 1 Scene 2 to his untimely death in Act 2 Scene 2, Duncan appears to have been the ideal King, who exemplified the “King becoming graces”.
He is admired by his subjects for his justice, gratitude, generosity and compassion. He is generous in his praise of those whom he feels have served him well, in particular Macbeth, “O worthiest cousin/ More is thy due than more all can pay. ” However, he is not entirely without fault, his weakness is displayed in his overly-trusting nature that leads to his death. The trust he places in others is noble in a King. Duncan’s murder, therefore, is unnatural, a crime against the course of nature.
Yet nevertheless does this stop Macbeth, and he commits regicide and succeeds to the throne as a usurper but no sooner has he killed Duncan does he wish him alive again showing his inner turmoil and guilt as a reluctant criminal ‘wake Duncan with thy knocking, i would thou couldst’. Macbeth’s unlawful accession to the thrown upsets the natural order ‘by the clock ‘tis day, and yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp’ .
Macbeth acquires power illegally and abuses it when he has it, to the detriment of his country, killing all those who oppose his rule and speak of fear ‘ send out more horses, skirr the country round, hang those that talk of fear’ . however, he is unhappy in his “great office. ” The achievement of power has not brought him contentment, “To be thus is nothing but to be safely thus. ” His reign, for which he “play’d most foully” is marked by tyranny, corruption and death, as Scotland “sinks”. Lennox speaks of the suffering Scotland under Macbeths ower ‘ that a swift blessing may soon return to this our suffering country, under a hand accursed’ .
Macbeth is only able to maintain his power only by resorting to murder and terror against his subjects, the murder of Macduff’s family in Act 4 Scene 2 is an astonishing crime caused by his own fears over his place as king. Under his reign, Scotland, “sinks beneath the yoke/It weeps, it bleeds and each new day/A new gash is added to her wounds. ” Edward, King of England, provides a welcome alternative to the cruelty of Macbeth. There is a pointed contrast between Edward and Macbeth. Macbeth used his power for destruction and ruination.
However Edward, like Duncan, was chosen by God. He is a true and rightful King and is seen as a saintly force with miraculous cures. ‘speak him full of grace’. He is a fitting opponent to the cruelty of Macbeth. The absolute goodness of King Edward highlights the opposing forces of good and evil in the play. The final image of kingship in the play revolves around Malcolm. His function in the play is highly significant as it is his duty to restore the status quo. As the rightful heir to the throne, the son of a good King and a holy mother, his smooth accession to the throne secures his acceptance by his subjects.
Not only does this entitle him to the kingship, but it also promises a beinign reign. However, Malcolm is young and ineffectual and seems a slight figure to dispel the dark cloud of Macbeth’s reign, His hasty departure following the murder of his father was a healthy decision for the survival of his line. Shakespeare allows for Malcolm’s maturing and he quickly grows into his role realising earlier mistakes he has made ‘Unspeak mine own detraction here abjure the taints and blames i laid upon myself, for strangers to my nature’.
His caution which he has learned from his fathers mistakes are commendable and desirable in a future king and he displays none of the naivete of his father. He subjects Macduff to an elaborate tests to assure his loyalty to Scotland and he recalls the king-becoming graces, “Justice, loyalty, temperance, stableness, bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, devotion, patience, courage, fortitude. ” His succession to the throne is significant in restoring the natural order, and it is evident that he will use his power for purposes of good. The future of Scotland looks bright under the new King, .
The theme of kingship in the play Macbeth is indeed a crucial one. There seems to be more to attaining power than merely sitting on the throne. One must be a King and inherit rightfully by succession, and thereby prosper with the grace of God. Malcolm, like Edward and Duncan, is the rightful heir to the throne. With the death of Macbeth, and Malcom as the rightful heir , the universal order is finally restored and Scotland will thrive again. Under Macbeth, Scotland suffered and it is clear then that a country’s suffering or prosperity is a direct reflection of the moral nature of its King.