Power in Macbeth

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Power in Macbeth

The play Macbeth by William Shakespeare is still a well known a widely studied text, despite having been written many centuries ago. Arguably one of the most pivotal themes of the play is that of power, which is looked at in many different ways and lights in the text. Ultimately, Shakespeare does not seem to support the commonly held view that power corrupts. Rather, he suggests that the desire to attain power is a trait of most people, to some degree or another, and that when an individual has that desire particularly strongly, or when their desire is increased by them sensing an opportunity, they will be willing to compromise their morals in order to pursue their goals. He also suggests through his characters’ actions that the desire for power is insatiable, and will continue with the same strength even when greater power is attained, or when one starts from a powerful position. This desire for power drives the actions of the central characters, and by extension it drives the plot forward. It is also the thing that gives the play the main hallmarks of the tragedy; the central, originally noble character’s descent into moral corruption and, ultimately, death.

The central character of the play is, predictably, Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman and general. By looking at Macbeth’s personality as the play progresses it can be seen that Shakespeare did not intend to suggest that power corrupts. Macbeth is in a position of power at the start of the play, and yet we are introduced to him through the speech of other characters saying how respected and morally good he is, such as in Duncan’s exclamation of “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!” His moral failings only begin after he encounters the witches, who prophesize that he’ll be given greater power in the future. This ignites his desire and ambition, which is suggested to have already been present in him, as well as in everyone else. This strong desire for power takes very little time before it...
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