Macbeth and Kingship

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Macbeth explores the potential that Kingship holds for good and evil. Shakespeare Macbeth encompasses a complex fabric of elements that articulate the potential that Kingship holds for good and evil. Shakespeare demonstrates that the king can be a source of good leadership inspiration and mortality to the public, however in the wrong hands can lead to a potential suffering on a country. Duncan in Shakespeare’s Macbeth had very few lines, and appeared on only a few occasions. However he remains a vital role and his character is evident through the interpretation of messages hidden within the text. Establishing whether Duncan was or was not an ideal ruler is crucial when examining Macbeth. Not only would a definite negative answer help in our understanding of the background of the play but it would also, in a way, justify Macbeth s decision of killing Duncan. When the play opens Duncan receives a report from the battlefield. The reader finds out that the threat which Scotland faces is of a double nature. A Norwegian invasion is being assisted by two rebellious thanes - Macdonwald and Cawdor. While an external attack is something to be expected of in the times when fame was gained in military conquests, the internal rebellion is something of a different matter. It suggests one important thing - if a rebellion was possible than the king s power couldn t have been very strong. Traitors can be found in every society, but it is the ruler s duty to discover conspiracies and to punish the people involved in them before they have a chance to sanction their schemes. The internal rebellion shows that Duncan lacked the ability to do so - maybe he was naive and did not believe that his thanes could actually turn against him. Duncan s lack of power and control over his country is also proved by his military dependence. It is uncertain whether Duncan himself has been fighting in the war - it is possible that he has not; as in Act one he only receives news from the battlefield. It might, of course, be argued that Shakespeare did not want to include a huge battle scene in his play but, nevertheless, it seems Duncan has not been fighting himself. This was not the custom in the Middle Ages - the ruler s conduct in battle was to serve as an example to all the warriors. Shakespeare does not state how old Duncan is but, judging from the fact that he has two grown sons, he is not in his youth. This may explain why he does not take part in the battle. He is old and depends on the loyalty of his warriors. Duncan s fate depends upon two of his most powerful warriors - Macbeth and Banquo. This dependence emphasises the instability of his position as the ruler. As king he is the most powerful in the country yet, the weakest. The military prowess of his thanes is a danger to him. His authority is entirely reliant upon noble military power and the loyalty of his thanes. As we later see, Macbeth overthrows him. This does not justify Macbeth actions however, Duncan lack of authority powered Macbeths motives. The only power which Duncan still has is the power to reward his thanes for their loyalty. In my opinion it actually seems surprising that a man of Duncan’s character was not overthrown earlier . His naïve characteristics and trustfulness in combination with perhaps his supposed old age made him easy prey for disloyal nobles. Duncan was not an ideal king. He was just and compassionate but lacked a sort of ruthlessness. His weakness was his inability to enforce his power as king. This trait of character is just what his successor possessed. Yet Macbeth did not become an ideal ruler himself. As a matter of fact he was much further from being one than Duncan was. Macbeth became a tyrant. Maybe what Shakespeare was trying to prove was that the ideal ruler does not exist, it cannot be achieved in reality. Scotland in Macbeth is a feudal country and Duncan is a feudal king. His problems show the dominant structural weakness of feudalism. If one is...
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