Desire in itself is a powerful force. In fact, almost every action we take, good or evil, is prompted by desire. Success and advancement is also something we all seem to want. It is something people spend hours, days, and years of their life either preparing for, or chasing after. It is a desire that we are often striving for, and the things acquired or accomplished along the way are how we define our lives. Ultimately, at one’s funeral people will remember a person by how their lives summed up in the good or the bad that has been contributed, and the actions took in doing so.
In William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Macbeth, depicts the story of an individual’s desire for success and advancement. In this case, a heroic man’s desire becomes something evil that causes tragic events, including murderous acts committed by Macbeth in a bloody rise to power and eventually leads to his complete and utter destruction. In considering any moral question one must use rational thinking to come to a logical conclusion of what is right verse wrong, or good verse evil.
In Macbeth’s case, his lack of using rationality, common sense and logic caused a normally healthy emotion of desire for success and advancement into a self destructive one because, it continually led him to make terrible decision. American writer and philosopher Aryn Rand asserts, “Man must obtain his knowledge and choose his actions by a process of thinking” otherwise, “Man has the power to act as his own destroyer” (534). Taking into consideration Rand’s moral philosophy of ethical egoism, a person ought to do what is in his or her own best interest further proves that Macbeth desire became evil or was wrong because it led to his death.
While Rand’s quote in itself is rational and quite fitting considering Macbeth’s died due to his actions, on the other hand, moral questions cannot be decided alone by appealing to moral authority. For example, take into consideration, German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche. According to Oscar Levy, desire for success and advancement can relate to how “Nietzsche believes that the fundamental creative force that motivates all creation is the will to power. We all seek to affirm ourselves, to flourish and dominate. ” (122).
Many people in today’s society can also agree with that belief and how it relates to the story of Macbeth. A person in today’s society could measure their success and accomplishments in a job title, valuable contributions on projects and the feelings of joy from recognition or respect from peers thus leading to a promotion to a higher position, monetary raises, and authority over others. In The Tragedy of Macbeth, Macbeth is Thane of Glamis. This social title indicates him as a baron. This is a position in the upper class of aristocracy that includes owning a castle and lands.
In addition, his valuable and heroic contribution as a valiant soldier in a recent battle has given him respect and recognition among his peers. This furthers his advancement and success by King Duncan, thus granting him an additional title, Thane of Cawdor. However, the problem with Nietzsche’s belief, no matter how fitting, is that it is an unsound argument because it is a hasty generalization. Not “all creation” seeks to “affirm ourselves, to flourish and dominate” (122). For example, take a person in today’s society who is offered a promotion.
This promotion comes with a more responsibilities such as, managing a department of people. It is quite possible that this person is currently happy with their position and does not wish to have the extra responsibilities of exercising control over other staff members. Therefore, in Nietzsche terms they do not want to “dominate” other people. It is an illogical statement to include all creation in the premise. Another problem in appealing to Nietzsche’s moral authority is that a person could simple disagree with his reasoning of good and bad.
According to Nietzsche in Goodness and the Will To Power, Good is “all that heightens the feeling of power, the Will To Power, and the power itself in a man,” bad is “ all that proceeds as weakness,” and happiness is “the feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome” (134). In Macbeth’s case, his desire for the crown and to remain in power led to him committing regicide, killing the groomsman, hiring murderers to kill his friend Banquo, and ordering the death of Macduff’s wife and children.
While Nietzsche would agree that all of those actions are good, society would not look too kindly upon the act of murdering innocents. Even if a person has the credentials to be an authority of a subject, there should be ways of testing the truth or reasonableness of moral judgments. As a matter of fact, Macbeth would fail any test of happiness because he consistently had what Nietzsche considered as bad or weak reactions. For example, instead of being happy that his power was growing after killing King Duncan, Macbeth stated he was, “afraid to think what I have done” (2. 2. 64).
His bloody rise to power to gain and secure the crown may of produced a brief flicker of pleasure but resulted in the enormous price of his conscious destroying him. This included insanity in where his guilt and paranoia led to hallucinations in such as severe nature that he couldn’t distinguish reality from fantasy. As I previously stated, people will remember a person at their funeral by how their lives summed up in the good or the bad that they contributed, and the actions took in doing so.
Ultimately, Macbeth will be remembered as a man who committed regicide and a murderer of a woman, children, and his kinsmen. His lack of using rationality, common sense and logic led him to make terrible decision and began a vicious circle causing a chain reaction of horrendous acts and consequences resulting in the suicide of his wife and ultimately his own death. Overall, Macbeth’s desire for success and advancement became truly evil that had severe consequences on not just himself and his wife but of innocents.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Beyond Good and Evil. ” The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature. Ed. Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn. 4th. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 121-134. Print. Rand, Ayn. “In Defense of Ethical Egoism. ” The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature. Ed. Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn. 4th. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. 531-541. Print. Shakespeare, William. “The tragedy of Macbeth. ” Ed. Paul Werstine and Barbara A. Mowat. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1992. Print.
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