Power in Macbeth
During Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we witness a heroic “worthy gentlemen” and “valiant cousin” cascade into a violent monomaniac, fixated solely on attaining kingship. This is the case so much so that, he discards his moral intuition and loyalty to attain holistic power and control in the play’s apogee. However, the theme of power can be explored down many different avenues in Shakespeare’s play aside from this overt one.
The first of these is the notion of feminine power sustained by Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth discards the Elizabethan supposition of womanhood “unsex me here” and deplores to be ridden of soft emotions. She also further commands the spirits to fill her breasts with poison “take my milk for gall”, demonstrating her desire for her femininity to be displaced by masculinity (which she redefines as brutal and merciless) “when you durst do it then you are a man.” This kind of behaviour for a women would have been viewed as an abhorrence to the societal norms of the Shakespearian era and so would have dismayed the audience and thus enhanced their engagement with the plot.
Another vector of malevolent power during the play is the witches. They equivocate using the obscure metric line of iambic tetrameter that Macbeth is to obtain the thane of Glamis, Cawdor and “King hereafter.” This contrives “vaulting ambition” to be instilled within his subconscious thoughts to be later manifested by Lady Macbeth. There is great power in confusion and using the equivocal palindrome “fair is foul, and foul is fair” they obfuscate Macbeth’s rationality, causing his morality to be subdued and displaced by “black and deep desires.”
A further illustration of power crafted by Shakespeare is perhaps the power of the mind; the ability to self-control and evaluate. In one of Macbeth’s soliloquies, we see him hallucinating as the fantasies of his mind actuate into a delusion, where he claims to see a dagger in the rhetorical question “Is this a dagger I see before me?” The lack of power asserted by Macbeth is epitomized in the imperative phrase “Come let me clutch thee.” His delusion and lack of mental mastery is demonstrated by the fact that he is talking to an inanimate object. This is an example of apostrophe used by Shakespeare to demonstrate the nonsensical disillusion he is experiencing.
In the play’s tragic, yet ironic denouement, we see Macbeth’s appetite for power, descend into sorrowful starvation in his final soliloquy “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player” where he is seemingly dismissive of life. Shakespeare elicits an almost elegising tone with the polysyndeton of “and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” demonstrating his new perception that life is futile and meaningless with the extended metaphor, comparing life to a poor player…Signifying nothing.” This demonstrates that he is finally jettisoning his lust for power and is yielding to the natural order of things, bringing justice at last to those watching exuberantly in the audience.