Macbeth: A Mature Man of Established Character
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...
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