One of the important themes in Macbeth is the idea of political legitimacy, of the moral authority that some kings possess and others lack. With particular attention to Malcolm’s questioning of Macduff in Act 4, scene 3, try to define some of the characteristics that grant or invalidate the moral legitimacy of absolute power. What makes Duncan a good king? What makes Macbeth a tyrant?
After Duncan’s death, the nobles of Scotland begin to grumble among themselves about what they perceive as Macbeth’s tyrannical behavior. When Macduff meets Malcolm in England, Malcolm pretends that he would make an even worse king than Macbeth in order to test Macduff’s loyalty to Scotland. The bad qualities he claims to possess include lust, greed, and a chaotic and violent temperament. These qualities all seem characteristic of Macbeth, whereas Duncan’s universally lauded reign was marked by the king’s kindness, generosity, and stabilizing presence. The king must be able to keep order and should reward his subjects according to their merits. For example, Duncan makes Macbeth thane of Cawdor after Macbeth’s victory over the invaders. Perhaps the most important quality of a true king to emerge in Malcolm’s conversation with Macduff is loyalty to Scotland and its people above oneself. Macbeth wishes to be king to gratify his own desires, while Duncan and Malcolm wear the crown out of love for their nation.
An important theme in Macbeth is the relationship between gender and power, particularly Shakespeare’s exploration of the values that make up the idea of masculinity. What are these values, and how do various characters embody them? How does Shakespeare subvert his characters’ perception of gender roles?
Manhood, for most of the characters in Macbeth, is tied to ideals of strength, power, physical courage, and force of will; it is rarely tied to ideals of intelligence or moral fortitude. At several points in the play, the characters goad one another into action by...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document