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Kingship in Macbeth
Kingship is one of the central themes of the play. In medieval times the king was seen as God’s representative on earth and Shakespeare highlights the potential of kingship for good or evil. The welfare of the state is seen to depend on the legitimacy and character of the king. In the play we see how lawful and good kings rule in the interests of their subjects, bringing order and stability. However, an unlawful or corrupt king inevitably threatens the welfare and health of the state. In simple terms, a virtuous king results in an ordered, healthy state, while a corrupt king results in a corrupt state. Malcolm points out that an evil king has the ability to “uproar to universal peace, confound all unity on earth.” Duncan, the English King Edward and Malcolm are lawful, virtuous kings under whom society can rest and thrive. However, Macbeth is a usurper whose reign brings only disorder, suffering and misery. The play provides is with a definition of the qualities required for kingship. In the course of his conversation with Macduff, Malcolm lists the “king-becoming graces.” The lengthy list includes the following qualities; “justice, verity, temperance, stableness, bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, devotion, patience, courage, fortitude.” While Duncan, Edwards and Malcolm are seen to posses these qualities, Macbeth patently does not. Duncan is the ideal medieval king; he’s a man of virtue and is associated with heaven. Macbeth recognises this when his conscience tells him that Duncan’s “virtues will plead like angels trumpet-tongued” against his murder. The killing of God’s representative will be so morally awful that “heaven’s cherubim, horsed upon the sightless couriers of the air, shall blow the horrid deed in every eye.” Duncan was in Macduff’s words a “most sainted king,” even Macbeth calls him “the gracious Duncan.” His body was sacred; his body was “the Lord’s anointed temple.” The killing of Duncan was more than murder, it was...
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