Macbeth - an analysis
“I dare do all that becomes a man; Who dares do more is none.” - Macbeth
William Shakespeare's Macbeth is the story of a man who, from the high rank of thane, ascends to being a king and then, after his fall, becomes a decadent tyrant to be righteously dethroned by noblemen.
The values of manhood portrayed in the play are clearly politically motivated, as states Alan Sinfield in 'Macbeth': History, Ideology and Intellectuals. According to the author, “It is often said that Macbeth is about 'evil', but we might draw a more careful distinction: between the violence which the State considers legitimate and that which it does not. […] Violence is good, in this view, when it is in the service if the prevailing dispositions of power; when it disrupts them it is evil.” (SINFIELD, Alan).
Following such line of reflection, thus taking in Marilyn French's view that “Macbeth's crime is not that he is a murderer […]. His crime is a failure to make the distinction his culture expects among the objects of his slaughter” (FRENCH, Marilyn), it is viable to define what manhood really means in that context.
Being a man is all about being loyal to the higher power which people are bound by - here, that's King Duncan. When Macbeth fights violently in a battle against Duncan's enemies and thrives, he's regarded as a hero by the whole society. That is shown in the following excerpt: “For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name), Disdaining Fortune, […] carv'd out his passage, Till he fac'd the slave; […] he unseam'd him from the nave to th' chops”. In that case, being the referred slave an enemy of the Kingdom, Macbeth is praised for his aggressive deeds. He fails, however, to remain so, as he, out of greed, kills Duncan and whomever might be an obstacle for him becoming king.
By slaying Duncan, Macbeth turns into a traitor, for he is not originally meant to claim the crown – that goes against nature. Upon that major political crime, he is no longer a valuable, honourable man; he is a treasonous villain, a shameful coward.
The protagonist's transgressions revolve around that forced change in the political scenery of Scotland. First, he relies on the prophecy of the Three Witches, who predict he is to be king. Bearing that in mind, he craves the title, and that ambition leads him on as a ruthless killer; he will do anything to accomplish that, whatever lives it may cost. It's that turn from a trustworthy thane to someone willing to murder in order to get the throne that makes him evil.
A worthy man may be violent, but the violent acts he commits are done so in loyalty to his ruler. Those who battle in the name of the king are brave and dignified, real men, so to speak. Those who rebel against the king, in contrast, are vile and must be punished with death.
Women, on the other side, are supposed to be gentle, submissive to their husbands and kind, devoted mothers and wives. Nevertheless, Lady Macbeth is anything but.
Macbeth's spouse is actually the one who leads him to slaughter Duncan, so she can be queen. She plots the murder and insists that her shaky husband goes on with it, despite his internal conflicts about committing such atrocious actions. Unlike the traditional prototype of the medieval woman, thus, she becomes the dominant part and goes as far as to manipulate the men around her by dissimulating her cruel intent and pretending to be a fragile dame.
That role reversion, given by Lady Macbeth as the calculating temptress and Macbeth as the tempted one to fulfil a desire he's reluctant to act on, is a major statement regarding femininity in English Literature. The solidified image of women as merely submissive to men is completely deconstructed.
A thorough analysis of this part of Lady Macbeth's speech regarding her behaviour speaks to how strong that inversion is: “Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me up from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty!”. It is clear that cruelty and lethality are manly characteristics, as she asks for the spirits to unsex her so that she can play that role.
Macbeth, on the other hand, takes the place of the submissive part, for he yields to his wife's persistence in order to make himself capable of becoming a merciless murderer. Before succumbing, he allows doubt and guilt to surround his ambition and prevent him for acting on it. That shows how iconic the values of manhood are in that era: men must be loyal to their kings. If not, they are unworthy.
Macbeth's greatest transgression is not to be ambitious nor to believe the fate the Witches forecast for him; it is to turn against the king and thereafter become his enemy. That makes him treasonous, and treason it an unforgivable fault, as suggested in Malcolm's speech about the former Thane of Cawdor, who betrayed Duncan: “Nothing in his life Became him like the leaving of it”. Once one has made himself a traitor, the only path to repentance is death. As Marilyn French put it, Macbeth fails to make the distinction his culture expects among the objects of his slaughter; he shifts to the wrong side.
One cannot state that Lady Macbeth is the bad seed who is responsible for her spouse's vileness. After all, it is Macbeth alone who listens to the Witches' prophecies, demands the assassination of Banquo and Macduff's family and grows the arrogance to believe he is indestructible once he takes the throne and exterminates everyone who stands in his way to achieve the ultimate power. She surely can be reckoned, though, as the final piece of coal necessary to ignite a raging fire.
Macbeth is dictated by a culture that praises violence, as long it is performed in the name of the higher power. The error of his ways begins when he fancies dethroning that higher power to take that place himself. Lady Macbeth overthrows her role as a passive, gentle woman and incorporates the voice of encouragement to persuade him to follow his desire of greatness (hence her quotation “I have given suck, and know How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums, and dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn to you Have done to this.). He, then, becomes the submissive spouse and does as he is told, which culminates in the blossoming of his dark nature and triggers his malicious intents. It is, indeed, a matter of misjudgement towards what can and what cannot be done, as reason is blinded by luxuriousness: a noble thane rises as king by wicked means, then falls as a traitorous tyrant in punishment for his mischievousness.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Vertigo - a poem
I, queen of winter, who carries the pain,
Whistle dead songs for awakening souls,
Turn them into dust. While eastern wind blows,
Hunt for ghosts' pasts to feed my blazing flame.
You, ferocious demon, lit up my fire
As made me a fragile, hopeless pearl.
For I fell inside you, hypnotic whirl,
Wrapped around your cruel, smashing desire.
Have my body buried beneath your smoke.
Expose, then, the wounds that ache: let them bleed!
Be the monster, the carnage to my greed!
Make love to your heavy dreams. Let them choke!
I, miss of winter, who shivers alone,
Dream of a heart where the dread has once been,
Sense you. Release the lust which burns my skin,
Possess me. Let us drown in the unknown.
A comparison between two love poems
My sin, my soul
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.
[…] She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.1
The poems I carry your heart with me – e.e. cummings – and Edgar Allan Poe's Annabel Lee both speak of love as an overwhelming emotion which consumes us wholly and takes over our very lives2. Having that in mind, it shall be noted that, whereas they approach the theme in far distinct ways - while I carry your heart with me conveys an image of fulfillment created by love, the second one covers both sheer happiness and deep gloom brought on by the same feeling.
I carry your heart with me talks about love as the highest of blessings, an unbreakable bond that builds vitality rather than crushing it - I fear no fate/ (for you are my fate, my sweet)/ […] and whatever a sun will always sing is you. The narrator feels the presence of the one he loves throughout all the course of his routine - I am never without it/ (anywhere I go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling) and puts the words together in a joyful, unshakeable tone - and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart -. The atmosphere is bright and positive, though rich and overdramatic.
The ballad Annabel Lee conceals the extremes joy and sorrow risen from an intense love in its development - But we loved with a love that was more than love -/ I and my Annabel Lee -/ […] A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling/ My beautiful Annabel Lee;/ So that her highborn kinsmen came/ And bore her away from me. Like the previous poem, the story hovers around that overpowering feeling and conveys the message in strong stanzas filled with drama. However, it portrays it as neither everlasting happiness nor sadness, but as a precursor to both emotions.
The passion felt by the narrator and Annabel Lee towards each other makes them gleeful and comes in such strength that it makes the seraphs in Heaven jealous of the lovers - The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,/ Went envying her and me -, thus causing them to kill the girl - Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,/ In this kingdom by the sea/ That the wind came out of the cloud by night,/ Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee. -. From that point on, he grieves over Annabel and laments her death. The character created by Poe reckons that his feelings will last forever, much like the tree that grows on and on in I carry your heart with me - For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams/ Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;/ And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes/ Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
As previously shown, the poems I carry your heart with me and Annabel Lee share points in common (the theme of love and its view as a higher power), yet differ regarding the way they're written and their approach of the subjects. The first one speaks of joy and brilliance and the second one of those opposite outlooks as results of loving someone too deeply. Those two pieces of work are hence comparable and contrastable, and reinforce the image presented by author Vladimir Nabokov in his quotation Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.
e.e. cunnings – I carry your heart with me
NABOKOV, Vladimir – Lolita (eBook edition, published in 2012)
POE, Edgar Allan – Annabelle Lee (available on http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174151)
1NABOKOV, Vladimir - Lolita
2As seen in the following verses: He was my North, my South, my East and West (Funeral Blues), (for beautiful you are my world, my true) (I carry your heart with me) and But our love it was stronger by far than the love/ Of those who were older than we —/ Of many far wiser than we – (Annabel Lee)