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Essay/Term paper: Yet another macbeth

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Shakespeare

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Macbeth is presented as a mature man of

definitely established character, successful in certain fields of

activity and enjoying an enviable reputation. We must not

conclude, there, that all his volitions and actions are

predictable; Macbeth's character, like any other man's at a

given moment, is what is being made out of potentialities plus

environment, and no one, not even Macbeth himself, can

know all his inordinate self-love whose actions are

discovered to be-and no doubt have been for a long time-

determined mainly by an inordinate desire for some temporal

or mutable good. Macbeth is actuated in his conduct mainly

by an inordinate desire for worldly honors; his delight lies

primarily in buying golden opinions from all sorts of people.

But we must not, therefore, deny him an entirely human

complexity of motives. For example, his fighting in Duncan's

service is magnificent and courageous, and his evident joy in

it is traceable in art to the natural pleasure which

accompanies the explosive expenditure of prodigious

physical energy and the euphoria which follows. He also

rejoices no doubt in the success which crowns his efforts in

battle - and so on. He may even conceived of the proper

motive which should energize back of his great deed: The

service and the loyalty I owe, In doing it, pays itself. But

while he destroys the king's enemies, such motives work but

dimly at best and are obscured in his consciousness by more

vigorous urges. In the main, as we have said, his nature

violently demands rewards: he fights valiantly in order that he

may be reported in such terms a "valour's minion" and

"Bellona's bridegroom"' he values success because it brings

spectacular fame and new titles and royal favor heaped upon

him in public. Now so long as these mutable goods are at all

commensurate with his inordinate desires - and such is the

case, up until he covets the kingship - Macbeth remains an

honorable gentleman. He is not a criminal; he has no criminal

tendencies. But once permit his self-love to demand a

satisfaction which cannot be honorably attained, and he is

likely to grasp any dishonorable means to that end which

may be safely employed. In other words, Macbeth has much

of natural good in him unimpaired; environment has

conspired with his nature to make him upright in all his

dealings with those about him. But moral goodness in him is

undeveloped and indeed still rudimentary, for his voluntary

acts are scarcely brought into harmony with ultimate end. As

he returns from victorious battle, puffed up with self-love

which demands ever-increasing recognition of his greatness,

the demonic forces of evil-symbolized by the Weird

Sisters-suggest to his inordinate imagination the splendid

prospect of attaining now the greatest mutable good he has

ever desired. These demons in the guise of witches cannot

read his inmost thoughts, but from observation of facial

expression and other bodily manifestations they surmise with

comparative accuracy what passions drive him and what

dark desires await their fostering. Realizing that he wishes

the kingdom, they prophesy that he shall be king. They

cannot thus compel his will to evil; but they do arouse his

passions and stir up a vehement and inordinate apprehension

of the imagination, which so perverts the judgment of reason

that it leads his will toward choosing means to the desired

temporal good. Indeed his imagination and passions are so

vivid under this evil impulse from without that "nothing is but

what is not"; and his reason is so impeded that he judges,

"These solicitings cannot be evil, cannot be good." Still, he is

provided with so much natural good that he is able to control

the apprehensions of his inordinate imagination and decides

to take no step involving crime. His autonomous decision not

to commit murder, however, is not in any sense based upon

moral grounds. No doubt he normally shrinks from the

unnaturalness of regicide; but he so far ignores ultimate ends

that, if he could perform the deed and escape its

consequences here upon this bank and shoal of time, he'ld

jump the life to come. Without denying him still a complexity

of motives - as kinsman and subject he may possibly

experience some slight shade of unmixed loyalty to the King

under his roof-we may even say that the consequences

which he fears are not at all inward and spiritual, It is to be

doubted whether he has ever so far considered the possible

effects of crime and evil upon the human soul-his later

discovery of horrible ravages produced by evil in his own

spirit constitutes part of the tragedy. Hi is mainly concerned,

as we might expect, with consequences involving the loss of

mutable goods which he already possesses and values

highly. After the murder of Duncan, the natural good in him

compels the acknowledgment that, in committing the

unnatural act, he has filed his mind and has given his eternal

jewel, the soul, into the possession of those demonic forces

which are the enemy of mankind. He recognizes that the acts

of conscience which torture him are really expressions of

that outraged natural law, which inevitably reduced him as

individual to the essentially human. This is the inescapable

bond that keeps him pale, and this is the law of his own

natural from whose exactions of devastating penalties he

seeks release: Come, seeling night... And with thy bloody

and invisible hand Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond

Which keeps me pale. He conceives that quick escape from

the accusations of conscience may possibly be effected by

utter extirpation of the precepts of natural law deposited in

his nature. And he imagines that the execution of more

bloody deeds will serve his purpose. Accordingly, then, in

the interest of personal safety and in order to destroy the

essential humanity in himself, he instigates the murder of

Banquo. But he gains no satisfying peace because hes

conscience still obliges him to recognize the negative quality

of evil and the barren results of wicked action. The individual

who once prized mutable goods in the form of respect and

admiration from those about him, now discovers that even

such evanescent satisfactions are denied him: And that which

should accompany old age, As honor, love, obedience,

troops of friends, I must not look to have; but, in their stead,

Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath, Which the

poor heart would fain deny, and dare not. But the man is

conscious of a profound abstraction of something far more

precious that temporal goods. His being has shrunk to such

little measure that he has lost his former sensitiveness to

good and evil; he has supped so full with horrors and the

disposition of evil is so fixed in him that nothing can start him.

His conscience is numbed so that he escapes the domination

of fears, and such a consummation may indeed be called a

sort of peace. But it is not entirely what expected or desires.

Back of his tragic volitions is the ineradicable urge toward

that supreme contentment which accompanies and rewards

fully actuated being; the peace which he attains is

psychologically a callousness to pain and spiritually a partial

insensibility to the evidences of diminished being. His peace

is the doubtful calm of utter negativity, where nothing

matters. This spectacle of spiritual deterioration carried to

the point of imminent dissolution arouses in us, however, a

curious feeling of exaltation. For even after the external and

internal forces of evil have done their worst, Macbeth

remains essentially human and his conscience continues to

witness the diminution of his being. That is to say, there is

still left necessarily some natural good in him; sin cannot

completely deprive him of his rational nature, which is the

root of his inescapable inclination to virtue. We do not need

Hecate to tell us that he is but a wayward son, spiteful and

wrathful, who, as other do, loves for his own ends. This is

apparent throughout the drama; he never sins because, like

the Weird Sisters, he loves evil for its own sake; and

whatever he does is inevitably in pursuance of some

apparent good, even though that apparent good is only

temporal of nothing more that escape from a present evil. At

the end, in spite of shattered nerves and extreme distraction

of mind, the individual passes out still adhering admirably to

his code of personal courage, and the man's conscience still

clearly admonishes that he has done evil. Moreover, he

never quite loses completely the liberty of free choice, which

is the supreme bonum naturae of mankind. But since a

wholly free act is one in accordance with reason, in

proportion as his reason is more and more blinded by

inordinate apprehension of the imagination and passions of

the sensitive appetite, his volitions become less and less free.

And this accounts for our feeling, toward the end of the

drama, that his actions are almost entirely determined and

that some fatality is compelling him to his doom. This

compulsion is in no sense from without-though theologians

may at will interpret it so-as if some god, like Zeus in Greek

tragedy, were dealing out punishment for the breaking of

divine law. It is generated rather from within, and it is not

merely a psychological phenomenon. Precepts of the natural

law-imprints of the eternal law- deposited in his nature have

been violated, irrational acts have established habits tending

to further irrationality, and one of the penalties exacted is

dire impairment of the liberty of free choice. Thus the Fate

which broods over Macbeth may be identified with that

disposition inherent in created things, in this case the

fundamental motive principle of human action, by which

providence knits all things in their proper order. Macbeth

cannot escape entirely from his proper order; he must

inevitably remain essentially human. The substance of

Macbeth's personality is that out of which tragic heroes are

fashioned; it is endowed by the dramatist with an astonishing

abundance and variety of potentialities. And it is upon the

development of these potentialities that the artist lavishes the

full energies of his creative powers. Under the influence of

swiftly altering environment which continually furnishes or

elicts new experiences and under the impact of passions

constantly shifting and mounting in intensity, the dramatic

individual grows, expands, developes to the point where, at

the end of the drama, he looms upon the mind as a titanic

personality infinitely richer that at the beginning. This

dramatic personality in its manifold stages of actuation in as

artistic creation. In essence Macbeth, like all other men, is

inevitably bound to his humanity; the reason of order, as we

have seen, determines his inescapable relationship to the

natural and eternal law, compels inclination toward his

proper act and end but provides him with a will capable of

free choice, and obliges his discernment of good and evil. 

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