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Essay/Term paper: Macbeth: independence and failure

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Macbeth

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Macbeth: Independence and Failure

Peasants of the early sixteenth century are often pictured carrying a
bundle of limbs tied with vines on their backs. This is a perfect metaphor for
the events in Macbeth. Macbeth is one of many thanes, or limbs, bundled
together. The thanes are united by the king, or the vine. Scotland, or the
peasant, carries the bundle by the sweat of his brow. They carry the bundle
for fires on cold nights, or wars, and to build homes, or castles, to protect
them from the elements, or invaders. If the limbs are tied improperly, one limb
may slip to the side and cause the peasant, or nation, to stumble or fall. If
the limb slides completely out, the rest of the limbs may follow because the
bundle is loose. Marriage is like a triangle. Each spouse makes up one of the
leaning sides, and marriage the lower side. The three together are very strong,
but to stand they all must be united. The longer a marriage is held the longer
the bottom stretches, and the more dependent each person becomes on the other.
If one side tries to stand on its own then the second will fall on the first as
it tries to stand. This metaphor also excellently exemplifies the catastrophe
that occurs in Macbeth as both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth try to separate.
Macbeth is a eighteenth century play written by William Shakespeare. Using
these two metaphors, the breakdown in the relationship between Lady Macbeth and
Macbeth and between the king and the thanes and how they perfectly parallel
each other because each is caused by Macbeth's will to be independent.
According to Webster's dictionary, the archaic definition of
independence is "competence" (1148). To be independent is not to be "subject
to control by others" (Gove 1148). This means that independence is to be in
control of ones decisions and to feel they are good decisions. Macbeth, on the
other hand, feels independence is to not be subordinate to others like the king.

To be independent, one must be strong. Inner strength, not physical
strength, is needed. Inner strength is only accomplished by having a high
self-esteem. Macbeth does not and must use others to reach for independence.
Macbeth needs this strength:
It [Macbeth] hurls a universe against a man, and if the universe that
strikes is more impressive than the man who is stricken, as great as his size
and gaunt as his soul may be he will fall. (Van Doren 217) According to
Macbeth's ideas of independence and of strength, he is neither independent nor
strong. He feels the need for both and thus allows nothing, including murder,
to get into his way.
Shakespeare opens Macbeth with the disorder being stabilized by the king
and thanes. The thanes fought "rebellious arm "gainst arm" to curb "his lavish
spirit" (I, ii, 56-7). Macbeth's stature increased to fill the space in the
bundle of limbs opened by the death of the Thane of Cawdor for "what he hath
lost, noble Macbeth hath won" (I, ii, 67). "When we first see him [Macbeth] he
is already invaded by those fears which are to render him vicious and which are
finally to make him abominable" (Van Doren 216).At the end of Act I, Lady
Macbeth and Macbeth are discussing whether or not to assassinate the king (I,
ii). Macbeth has not committed himself to this sin and to independence, he has
not broken the commitatus bond that exists between the king and thane.
Likewise, Macbeth's marriage is unstable as they argue, but their triangle is
still together as they depend on one another.
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth each experiment with external forces to gain
independence from their spouse. Macbeth uses the witches, on which he becomes
increasingly dependent. Lady Macbeth uses alcohol and Satan to "unsex" her and
make her strong (II, ii, 1; I, v, 42). Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth deny
their dependence on their aid, and still require their spouse. Their self
denial of their dependence makes them weak, and the more self denial the weaker
they get. As a married couple, they are splitting away from each other: they
are trying to turn their triangle of dependence into a open square of
The split between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth becomes apparent with the
assassination of king Duncan. By the end of their arguing in the beginning of
Act II, the two had not come to a final decision as to whether to kill the king
or not (I, v, 72). Without the consent of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth tries to kill
Duncan but fails, because she lacks strength and covers her ineptitude with the
lame excuse that he "resembled my father as he slept" (II, ii, 12-3). Lady
Macbeth lacks strength, because she only has conscience strength formed by
extreme self denial. Unlike Lady Macbeth, Macbeth is almost strong enough to
complete the task without Lady Macbeth. "He is driven to the murder of Duncan
partly by the constant goading of Lady Macbeth and partly by his own will to be
in control of Scotland:" he feels power is strength (Watkins 29). His strength
comes from multiple places. It comes from his strength as a warrior, from the
witches' revelations, and from self denial of his dependence on the first two
(I, iii, 49-50). Macbeth is still not completely independent from his wife in
that he is unable to complete the task and "carry them [the daggers], and smear
the sleepy grooms with blood" (II, ii, 48-56). The scene is painful in the way
it separates husband and wife. Crime had at first brought them closely and
eagerly together, but now they discover how the execution of the crime
separates them…In fact, after the murder they can only speak in short sentences,
not communicating or even answering questions. (Jorgensen 67)
Although he blames his rage on the grooms for killing Duncan, he was
actually mad at himself for committing the murder. Not until he kills the
grooms with his regret does Macbeth become totally independent from the thanes
and slide from the bundle of limbs (II, iii, 108-19). The action of killing
the chamber servants was the first action which Macbeth does totally
independent of Lady Macbeth: he does not even mention killing the chamber
servants to her: A stranger to himself and to others, he is on his way to
isolation…but what he sees cannot really be shared with others for it is the
uniquely appropriate and lonely torment that cannot be felt by others. Even
for his wife there will be a torment of a different kind, one that likewise
separates her from others. (Jorgensen 178) This reaction to his regret is the
strongest divider between him and his wife: it ends their relationship of
dependence for their temporal existence.
Tree's limbs do not tie very well, because they break. Likewise Macbeth
incapable of being king, because he is unfit for the job. He tries to replace
Duncan, because he is so filled with self denial that he can not see the truth:
he will never be a good king. Macbeth wants to be strong and independent at
the same time but is very unsuccessful. Macbeth must use external support to
stand and not to lean on Lady Macbeth so he turns to killing. He has Banquo
killed, because he poses a threat. Macbeth can not do it himself, because they
were once friends which shows his lack of strength to stand erect (II, i, 11).
A soon as the deed is done, Macbeth falls: his control and independence falls.
His plan to use Banquo's death to restore order and give him strength did not
work. Before all the thanes except for Macduff, Macbeth has a brief moment of
insanity, in which he loses all control and reveals his true strength which has
been hidden by self denial. For her own safety, Lady Macbeth tries to calm the
situation and to make it excusable:

Sit, worthy friends. My lord is often thus,
And hath been from his youth. Pray you, keep seat.
The fit is momentary; upon a thought
he will again be well. If you much note him,
You shall offend him and extend his passion.
Feed, and regard him not. . . (III, iv, 54-9)
With little effect, she struggles to keep order but
gives up and has the thanes "stand not
upon the order of your going" (III, iv, 120-1).

Macbeth's strength from self denial fails, because he is losing his
sanity. To make up for the loss of support, he returns to the witches. "He may
concievably be under the spell of the witches, may even be possessed"
(Jorgenson 64). He is very uncertain of himself and asks many questions of the
witches in search of answers on which he can be strengthened: "Then live
Macduff: what need I fear of thee?", "Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
unfix his earth bound root?" (IV, i, 82; IV, I, 95-6). His answers do not
give him sufficient strength for he vows to make "assurance double sure and take
a bond of fate" (IV, i, 83-4).
Again his will is greater than his ability, and Macbeth must have
someone else kill Macduff and his family. As if trying to keep all the marbles
together, each time one slips Macbeth has them killed. Unfortunately for
Macbeth, he is not too successful for Fleance and Macduff get away.
Quickly Macbeth is overwhelmed with his independence. Lady Macbeth is "
troubled with thick-coming fancies that keep her from rest" (V, iii, 38-9). She
is no longer "unsexed" and strong so she can not sleep. She remains sane and
strong longer than Macbeth, because her strength came from one source, Satan,
that would never leave, but ultimately fell, because her sub-conscience fought
against evil and kept her without rest. She also began to realize the
wickedness of her sin for she said, "all the perfumes of Arabia will not [could
not] sweeten this hand" (V, I, 53-5). The fight in her mind is too hard so she
kills herself.
She leaves Macbeth with the rest of his subjects. Many of Macbeth's
soldiers are deserting him, and he gets his wish: to be independent of others
(V, iii, 1). He thinks he is independent, but, in reality, he supports himself
on the revelations of the apparitions for he frequently repeats "until Birnam
Wood come to Dunsinane" and "was he not born of woman?" (V, iv, 60; V, iii, 3).
In the end, Macbeth dies because everything he used for strength was gone.
As soon as Macbeth dies and reunites with Lady Macbeth, the thanes are
reunited by Malcolm who has the qualities to make a good leader and to keep the
thanes together. The suffering that Scotland had endured ended because "All
Hail, king of Scotland" (V, viii, 59).
"The passions are directed in their true end. Lady Macbeth is merely
detested; and though the courage of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every
reader rejoices at his fall" (Johnson 484). In the end, Macbeth is independent,
because he does not rely on his wife and he dies.


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