English IV B2
30 March 2011
Living in the 21st Century, success and authority dominate the lives of many. People measure their lives by the amount of power and money they have. Without these factors, things become very difficult. In today’s time, passion no longer sets the precedent for ones life and career. Morals are disregarded in order to make room for the material. Without doubt, conflict between the two is inevitable. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, passion and power dominate the characters, therefore developing the recurring theme that power leaves no space for moral duty. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth exemplifies the theme of passion and power versus morality. The play begins when three witches promise Macbeth, thane of Glamis, that he will inherit Cawdor and later become King. “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!” “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” (Shakespeare 14) Once he is named thane of Cawdor, he becomes compelled by the thought of being crowned King. As the current King is still living, Macbeth finds himself thinking of the impossible, murder. As he contemplates whether he should kill the king or not, the desire for power slowly permeates his moral duties, making him more and more ruthless. He is no longer what he seems, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” (2)
Macbeth, clearly mourning about his contemptuous thoughts, begins to suffer psychologically. He does not want to accept that he is capable of having such horrible thoughts, “Let not light see my black and deep desires.” (Shakespeare 28) His deep desire for power and providing his children the guarantee to the throne affects him immensely. As Macbeth is a kind and good man, he does not have the ability to commit murder, however, his wife, Lady Macbeth, has a greater desire for power than he. She knows very well Macbeth would not play false, therefore she decides, “That I may pour my spirits in thine ear and chastise with the valor of my tongue all that impedes thee from the golden round,” (30) she will influence him and talk him out of whatever is keeping him from righteousness. It is evident through Lady Macbeth’s words, that in order for him to be king, he must disregard all of his morals, for he cannot obtain what he wants as a good man. “Make thick my blood. Stop up the access and passage to remorse, that no compunctious visitings of nature shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between the effect and it!” (32)
As stated earlier, power and moral duty cannot be collected. Throughout Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth constantly vows to be a good and honorable man, “I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is non.” (Shakespeare 42) As the play progresses, however, he falls into the trap of harmful ambition, leading him to become a dishonorable and evil man. “I am settled, and bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat.” (46) Once he commits the murder, he quickly forgets everything he stood for and commits more unthinkable acts. To stop and think of what he is doing would take too much. The reality of his doings is not realized until after they’ve been done, causing psychological issues that lead to his death. The recurring theme of his moral dilemma is significant to Macbeth, for it exemplifies the reality, power is all consuming.
Similar to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons also illustrates the toil of maintaining morals and gaining power. Set in 16th century England, King Henry VIII decides to break with the Church after being denied a divorce. Sir Thomas More, a cleric admired by many, is forced to question his morals when asked to go against God’s wishes and agree to the divorce and break of the Church. More does not keep anything from anyone, as the common man says, “My master Thomas More would give anything to anyone. Some say that’s good and some say that’s bad, but I say he can’t help it—and that’s bad…because some day someone’s going to ask him for something that he wants to keep; and he’ll be out of practice.” (Bolt 17) There is no way for him to keep his faith if he conforms to the king’s ways and agrees. He must choose between his life and his loyalty to God.
As the inner conflict becomes more and more unbearable More, his daughter Margaret pleads him to do the impossible, accept the king’s changes, “Then say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise.” (Bolt 140) He answers her request by revealing that there is no compromise, “What is an oath then but words we say to God?” (140) It is here that Sir Thomas More expresses the significance of the recurring theme of moral duty versus power in A Man For All Seasons. He expresses that in order to be true to oneself, oneself must be true in all aspects of life, even if it means losing power, family and life.
Although both Sir Thomas More of A Man For All Seasons and Macbeth of Macbeth face the same reality of death, each dealt with their moral dilemmas in a completely different manner. Both had to face that power is all consuming and cannot be in conjunction with moral duty. Sir Thomas More has a constant battle within himself on whether to stay true to his morals, or go along with the rest and keep his position. Macbeth on the other hand, strives for power and turns himself into a ruthless killer. Both characters suffered horrible deaths due to their want for power; the difference lies in the manner. Sir Thomas More died true to himself, full of integrity. Macbeth faced an empty and dishonorable death. Both characters exemplify what it is to face moral dilemmas, and dealing with them honorably is always superior.
Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1990. Print. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth . New York: Washington Press, 1992. Print.