Macbeth: A King in Name Only
Macbeth: A King in Name Only
“I am, indeed, a king, because I know how to rule myself” (Pietro Aretino). Effective kings know how to rule themselves and their people. Throughout William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the protagonist shows that he lacks verity, or the ability to be truthful. Similarly, Macbeth is in need of stability. Finally, Macbeth shows that he lacks patience. The characteristics that Macbeth demonstrates in the play suggest that he is an ineffective ruler due to his lack of verity, stability, and patience, several qualities which Malcolm describes as required of an effective ruler.
Being truthful is a necessary and important characteristic for a ruler to be effective. A ruler who lacks verity will be challenged and others will not trust him. A ruler needs the support of his people and can gain their respect by being truthful. Throughout the play, Macbeth shows a lack of truthfulness to many people, including himself. When Macbeth finishes discussing the details of how he and Lady Macbeth will murder King Duncan, he leaves her by saying, “[Go], and mock the time with the fairest show: / False face must hide what the false heart doth know” (Mac. 1.7.82-83). Macbeth is telling Lady Macbeth to act like a welcoming and friendly hostess for their special guest, Duncan, while hiding her dark desires to kill him and take his rule over Scotland.
Early in the play, this shows that Macbeth is very untruthful and wants other people to think the opposite of what he is thinking. This parallels the theme of appearance versus reality because Macbeth wants his wife to look like she is friendly and warm, but in her heart know her intentions of killing the king. After killing Duncan, Macbeth regrets his bad choice, but then lies when he is talking to Banquo about the witches’ prophecies by saying, “I think not of them” (2.1.22). This demonstrates Macbeth’s lack of verity because he tells Banquo that he is not thinking about the witches’ prophecies, but he certainly is. Macbeth’s over-ambitious nature causes him to be untruthful in his thoughts and his actions.
His thoughts are now starting to take control of his actions. Not only does Macbeth lack the truthfulness required of an effective ruler, but his stability is also questionable. To be effective, a ruler must exhibit stability. He must be calm and be able to control his emotions. He cannot make careless or irrational decisions and must act in the best interest of others, rather than focusing on himself. Demonstration of this quality through these actions is important in winning trust and respect from those under his rule. Macbeth’s mental stability starts to deteriorate and this leads to impure and insane behaviour. Macbeth is still contemplating killing Duncan, when he has a hallucination and says: Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling, as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? (2.1.33-39)
Macbeth sees a dagger with drops of blood all over it, the blade pointing to Duncan and the handle to him. This suggests that fate is telling Macbeth to kill Duncan. This shows Macbeth’s mental instability because he is imagining the image of a bloody dagger, which indeed suggests that he is unstable and not fit to be an effective king. Macbeth’s mental deterioration starts to show even more when he sees Banquo’s ghost at a banquet he holds for his lords. Macbeth appears to get angry at the ghost of Banquo when he slams his cup down saying, “Avaunt! and quit my sight! let the earth hide thee! / Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold; / Thou hast no speculation in those eyes / Which thou dost glare with” (3.4.93-96). At this point, even Macbeth’s guests start to question him and Lady Macbeth tries to calm him down. This suggests he is feeling guilty from all of the evil deeds he has committed, especially the murder of his dear friend, Banquo. Throughout the play, Macbeth’s instability causes him to commit selfish and illogical deeds, which leads to great chaos in Scotland.
An unstable ruler will cause chaos in his land and will therefore be an ineffective ruler. Since Macbeth’s mental state is quickly deteriorating, he is being forced to make quick decisions which he does not think through. Finally, in order to deal with people effectively, a strong ruler needs patience. People have different opinions and needs and a ruler must react to challenges calmly, taking time to consider all facts to make decisions in the best interest of the country. A ruler who shows patience becomes more approachable to his subjects who trust the ruler to make good decisions. Macbeth does not demonstrate this quality and his lack of patience leads him to make irrational decisions and to overthink things, thus contributing to his downfall. Macbeth’s great ambition controls his actions and makes him more impatient.
Macbeth shows his ambition early in the play, after he and Banquo receive their prophecies from the “weird” sisters. At first, they question the prophecies they receive, but then Macbeth becomes impatient and wants to be king as quickly as possible and against all odds. At the king’s palace, he proves his impatience by saying, “The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step,/ On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap” (1.4.48-49). Macbeth means that he must either stay where he is right now, or he must commit evil deeds to get what he wants, which is to become king. This shows he is impatient because the prophecies could have meant that Macbeth was going to become king by fate, but instead he took it into his own hands to become king. He did not want to wait for fate to take its course. It is Lady Macbeth who persuades Macbeth to kill the king and she fuels Macbeth’s ambition by calling him a coward and unmanly.
He feels that he has to prove himself to Lady Macbeth, so he follows through and kills the king rather than taking time to think through the consequences. Macbeth again proves his blind ambition and shows his impatient nature when he prepares to kill the king. Macbeth recognizes his blind ambition because “[he has] no spur/ To prick the sides of [his] intent, but only/ Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself,/ And falls on the other” (1.7.25-28). Macbeth admits his ambition and says that this is the only reason he can give for wanting to kill the king so quickly. Macbeth’s impatience and ambition later lead him to kill Banquo and Macduff’s family in order to quickly remove obstacles he perceives are in the way of him becoming king.
Macbeth’s impatience to become king continues as he becomes an ineffective ruler and disrupts the order of the once happy Scotland. The protagonist, Macbeth, brings chaos to Scotland because of his lack of verity, stability, and patience, all qualities which Malcolm states are necessary for a good king. Macbeth shows he lacks truth through his many lies. That he also lacks stability is proven in his many hallucinations. Finally, Macbeth’s impatience is proven through his blindly ambitious murders. Macbeth is clearly an in effective ruler, but if you were king, would you know how to rule yourself?
Shakespeare, W. Macbeth. Toronto: Canadian School Book Exchange, 1996. Print.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 13 October 2016
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