Plays/The Character of Macbeth term paper 5900

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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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