Kingship in Macbeth
Throughout the play we see many of Shakespeare’s ideas on the topic and theme of kingship but also what he thought the qualities a man should have to rule his country Macbeth is a play about power and about how the characters in the play handle it and use it.These characters are judged as leaders by their personalities, relationships with their subjects and their attitude towards the country.
The characters Duncan, Macbeth, Malcolm and Edward all represent their own brand of kingship and as the play progresses we see the faults in each of these.The first to represent kingship in the play is Duncan.
He is loved by his subjects and this love is well deserved and Duncan may be considered the most generous and loved king but that does not mean he is infallible. He is a good king has two sons and cares for Scotland. He is described as a sainted king by Macduff in Act 4 scene 3.
Duncan places a lot of trust upon his soldiers and they are very loyal as we see in the bleeding captain fighting against mercenaries and Macbeth says himself his loyalty and service to Duncan is sufficient for his reward and also says ”he hath honoured him of late” and the essence of Duncan’s good nature creates doubts in Macbeth with regards to the murder and Lady Macbeth has also experienced this kindness, a large diamond received for been a good hostess. We see Duncan is decisive when it comes to the matter of traitors as the thane of Cawdor is executed swiftly following his deception from Duncan’s ranks.
We also see a definite flaw in his nature as he is nai??ve and overly trusting, this is evident when he says ” there is no art to find the minds construction in the face ” and his ability to sense the deception and treason of the thane of Cawdor and Macbeth shows a lot about his short comings in dealing with certain aspects of his rule which at the time the play was set it was a very important ability to have as a king and his misplaced trust is seen in his haste to reward Macbeth with his new title of Cawdor.
In act 4 scene 3 Malcolm lists of the traits of a good king including justice, verity, temperance, stableness, bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, devotion, patience, courage and fortitude and Macduff in response says a king without any of the following does not deserve to live. Also in this scene we see Malcolm testing MacDuff’s loyalty saying he is worse than Macbeth, even though it’s not very ensuring that his believable lying and a quickness to flee following his father’s murder shows fear but it does show he is learning from the mistakes of his father which is a subtlety in the play as to what kind of king he would be.
On a more evident note we do see he does know the characteristics of a king and already has loyalty from his subjects which shows a much more stable rule but is questionable if his accession to the throne was smooth and he will remain reliant on his nobles as I father once was. The main issue of the play regarding kingship regards the rule of Macbeth which gives a scenario of the latent potential for evil in kingship. It is clear Macbeths only interest is in his own agenda and plans which seriously contrasts with the list read out by Malcolm in the scene previously mentioned.
Macbeth’s unstable rule is only maintained by resorting only to murder and terror against his subject and Macbeths use of these tools is mainly caused by hi deep rooted insecurity. This shows kingship has the potential for good and for evil . In the time of Shakespeare the King was believed to be an agent of God and God himself spoke through the king and as Macbeth is not rightfully king his control disturbs the natural order of nature and the earth becomes ”feverous” showing the connection between kingship, nature, and all things balanced is to Shakespeare and the majority of his people at the time believed was real.
The killing of Duncan to obtain the crown was also described as ”unsanctified” due to Duncan being instilled with ”divine right” which raises the issue that Macbeths crime is not only unjustly but unholy and a crime against God himself. Macbeth being aware of this prior to the murder he said he would ”jump the life to come” meaning he is damned.
These thought of eternal damnation weighs heavily in Macbeth’s corrupted mind and is a catalyst for his declining unpopularity as the king and is described as a tyrant, hell-kite, usurper, butcher and as devilish which also agrees with the religious side of his kingship. Coming up to the end of Macbeths reign we see he has alienated and abandoned his wife, ordered the killing of innocent women and children and his best friend and has lost the loyalty of all his Thanes and now completely relies on occult prophesies which were completely still led to the demise of the once ambitious soldier, Macbeth.
Addressing the character of Edward even though he doesn’t show up on stage at all he is established as Macbeths opposite and contrasting sharply in regards to the religious aspect of the play, the doctor says people are healed by his ”holy touch” , ”solicits heaven” and is ”full of grace”. The lord in act 3 scene 6 says he is both ”pious” and ”holy” his ”white magic” runs in opposition to the witches black magic. Edward believes the heart of Scotland can be cured by pray but sends 10’000 men to assist Malcolm and MacDuff showing diplomacy and strategy.
Shakespeare contrasts the various modes of kingship in the play, a combination of political manoeuvring, religious and spiritual believe and the kingly graces as defined and appreciated by loyal subjects and the optimistic conclusion that those not in possession of their worth will not be accepted as kings and throughout the play we see the that the countries suffering or prosperity is a direct reflection of the moral of its king.