Throughout Macbeth the idea of being and feeling secure is shown clearly by Shakespeare, he often uses it in very explicit and ironic ways though. Macbeth’s judgement is impaired throughout the play as he only accepts ideas that will benefit him in obtaining his wants; this is mainly due to the witches’ influences on him. He is coaxed into the idea that he is in fact the rightful king and this begins the process of self-damnation for Macbeth. Predominantly I will be focusing on Macbeth being and feeling secure.
When the witch’s first prophesise to Macbeth he believes that he is meant to be king and the prophecies mean for him to reign. He immediately seems interested, ‘Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more’. This shows his false sense of security as he seeks to believe and understand what they tell him. The irony, of course, is that he will not be king unless he murders the current king, Duncan, which he later does. Soon after, he in announced as Thane of Cawdor and is sceptical of whether he will become King, he tells his wife, Lady Macbeth, of the witches’ prophecies and she plots to kill Duncan. ‘We will proceed no further in this business’ he says to her, this shows his insecurity. At this moment he is thinking of murder being the universal sin and does not want to commit it, Duncan has been chosen by divine right to rule and Macbeth will not challenge it. Of course, Macbeth does kill Duncan and immediately afterwards he says ‘Macbeth does murder sleep, the innocent sleep’; this not only shows his insecurity about what he has done but his fear of what may come because of it. He has ‘murdered sleep’ not only Duncan, and because of this he will not be able to be at rest at all.
At a number of points in the play other people’s security, aside from Macbeth, seems threatened. Banquo for example says ‘Merciful powers, restrain me the cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose’. This means that he is asking for the ‘Powers’, an order of angels, to drive away the demons that cause him to have evil dreams. This is before Duncan’s death and shows that Banquo can sense that something bad will happen after Macbeth was told by the witches of his right to the Kingship. The irony in this is that soon after Macbeth becomes so paranoid and insecure about what Banquo knows that he decides to have him murdered; Banquo is in essence predicting his death. After Duncan’s death, Donalbain a blood relation to Duncan is seen saying ‘Where we are there’s daggers in men’s smiles. The near in blood, the nearly bloody’, this quote shows us just how sure he is that someone in Duncan’s close circle was the murderer and he feels threatened and so leaves the country. What’s more, after Macbeth has been crowned king Macduff says to Ross ‘Lest our old robes sit easier than our new!’ The "old robes" were the royal garments of King Duncan; the new robes will be Macbeth's. This metaphor implies that Macbeth may not know how to wear his new robes. In addition, they are "our" robes; everyone in Scotland will be affected by the way in which the new king handles his powers. It is a direct insult to Macbeth and shows how suspicion is already growing among his men. Most importantly it threatens Macbeth’s security and leads him to murder Macduff’s family heartlessly. Lady Macbeth is also affected by her crimes; she becomes weaker and weaker throughout the play as her mental state deteriorates. ‘Out damned spot! Out I say! ’ and ‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand’ show that she has got to the stage where there is no going back, a stage that ironically in this part of the play Macbeth has been through but has now been taken over by pure ambition and determination to keep his power.
Macbeth does a number of things throughout the play that he thinks will enable him to feel more secure. One such thing is having Banquo murdered, ‘there is none but he whose being do I fear’. Banquo has gone from a close companion of Macbeths to a mortal enemy. There are certain ironies here that become more evident later in the play when Macbeths only fear is of Macduff and so he kills his family. It seems that the only way Macbeth can feel secure is by the killing of all that threaten him, both killings are heartless and nonsensical. Macbeth wants to feel physically secure and in killing Banquo he is indeed physically secure but still he is hunted by his ghost. This is Shakespeare showing us that no matter what Macbeth does he will never be safe from what he has done. Macbeth is finally slain by Macduff at the end of the play, again Macbeth shows his insecurity by saying ‘of all men else I have avoided thee’, showing that though the witches apparitions have been taken into account Macbeth still fears Macduff. This is another irony used by Shakespeare as it is not only because Macduff knows Macbeth killed the king but also a more personal vendetta as Macbeth was responsible for the death of his whole family. Macbeth believes that if any man not of a ‘woman’s womb’ could kill him then it would be Macduff.
It is interesting that Macbeth takes solace in the witches’ words towards the end of the play. Hectate says ‘and you all know, security is mortals’ chiefest enemy’; this quote in itself helps to answer the questions at hand. It shows the reader that the witches will give Macbeth false hope and security and this will be his downfall. The second apparition is ‘none of a woman born shall harm Macbeth’ this is heavily ironic as it gives Macbeth a false sense of security whereas really they are playing a trick on him as Macduff ‘was from his mother's womb untimely ripped’ and so could kill Macbeth. They also tell Macbeth that ‘Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill’ which is once again used to trick Macbeth into believing he is safe form the army heading his way. Macbeth believes this prophecy is in his favour since it is impossible for a wood to reach him in his lifetime, but unfortunately for him it did when Malcolm’s infantry arrived at his castle using wood as camouflage.
Macbeth is so absorbed in mortal security; all he seeks is to be safe from other men. Because of this he ignores God. He does not think carefully enough about divinity, he assumes that because the witches’ told him he would be king it would be acceptable to kill the king. He clearly does not appreciate the importance of the murders he has committed. The fact he is safe from man actually damns his soul as the more men he murders the worse a king he is. He realised this at the end of the play; ‘tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow’ shows the endless succession of days for him, he is existing for necessity and for nothing else. All emotion is gone, as shown by his reaction to Lady Macbeth’s death, ‘There would have been a time for such a word’, there is no emotion shown here, he thinks she could have died at a better time for his sake. He believes that he now leads a meaningless life, and nothing he has ever done, including the numerous murders committed ‘signify anything’.
To conclude, I believe that once Macbeth had killed Duncan he could not be or fell secure. This is because he committed the universal sin of murder and what’s more murdered the king. The king is divine and so appointed by God and because of this; no one else in Scotland can be secure until Macbeth is dead. I believe that is why the majority of the plotting to kill Macbeth was done across the border in England. Macbeth plagues Scotland whilst he is alive.
[ 1 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, edited by J. H. Walter, published in 1962, page 51 [ 2 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 73
[ 3 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 85
[ 4 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 77
[ 5 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 99
[ 6 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 103
[ 7 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 179
[ 8 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 179
[ 9 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 109
[ 10 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 199
[ 11 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 135
[ 12 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 147
[ 13 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 147
[ 14 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 193
[ 15 ]. Macbeth, Shakespeare, page 193