The Struggle for Power in Macbeth Essay

Date:  2022-01-04 05:03:21
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Macbeth is a play that was first performed in the 16th century by William Shakespeare. Just like many other Shakespeare's plays, it also deals with the problem of regicide, gender stereotypes, conscience and action. Macbeth is a play that focuses on the corrupting influence that extreme ambition and thirst for power exercise upon morality. It means that it illustrates the destructive physical and psychological paraphernalia of political ambition to those who are looking for power. The play allows the modern spectator to build many parallels with the world of today, including Hitlers rise to power and Stalins rule of terror. If one looked at a broader context of the problem of the corrupting effect of absolute power the recent transformation of Russia into a medieval state would also come to mind. These examples show that to achieve efficient functioning of the country, there must be a balanced distribution of power where nobody possesses it in its full entirety.

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Macbeth in the playwright echoes the relationship with his dominion. He murdered King Duncan. Therefore, he was feeling guilty and afraid due to this act. He committed more and more crimes of murder to defend himself from antagonism and any suspicion hence he became a dictatorial leader. The play shows the downfall of a famous and honorable person who at long last became a disastrous hero. This was seen in his wants which drove him into becoming a wicked man (LI and Xu-Liang 971). Hence, power struggle in Macbeth is a conspicuous theme revealed through chosen images such blood, killing of babies, hanging dead Macbeth's head in the air. This was a similar case for dictators such as the Italian Mussolini and German Hitler whose reign ended by their death.

Shakespeare uses an assortment of techniques to add depth to his subtexts. In his imagery, he used things such as clothing. This showed how Macbeth was after trying to hide his outrageous self from the people around as well as himself. Macbeth was trying to hide all the evils he had committed during his reign (Islam 184). For instance, in Act 2 scene 2, he kills King Duncan. Shakespeare had created him as an embodiment of pure evil, he would have been too predictable and boring for the viewer. But there is nothing black and white in this character. Shakespeare displays the real character and what he was trying to portray to the public was some fully human sides. Macbeth's character proves that he is not a living incarnation of evil, but just a struggling human being. Thus, the viewer is led to a conclusion that in similar conditions different people can act in different ways depending on their personal choice.

Another imagery that William Shakespeare used was the darkness. He is in the darkness since most episodes took place during the night or in a dark spot. When Macbeth starts considering murder as early as he hears the witches malign prophecy and learns that the first part of it has come true, many occasions of murder took place during the night. For example, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plan to murder King Duncan (Act 1 scene 7), the death of Duncan and the apparition of the dagger in Act 2 scene 2 as well as the murder of Banquo First Murderer strikes out the light and O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! (3.3.20). Additionally, in the darkness, it is the time when the owl's yelps and wolf's howls and the assassins take their lead (LI and Xu-Liang 975). The owls and the wolf are implications of a bad omen that in most cases happened during the night. They symbolize evil and death in the context they were used in the drama. Moreover, the darkness was used to put a blind eye to the crime that was practiced mainly at night in Act 1 scene 6. They even grew more private and risky if the occurrences took place during the day. On the other hand, darkness symbolized the weakness of one of Macbeth`s wives who had very intense fear of darkness. She saw darkness as something that was nerve-wracking her and seriously disturbing her peace.

There was also the imagery of blood and sleep in the drama. Shakespeare used those images to bring about the impression of horror when Duncan was killed (Malas 4). It is also a significant contributor to the mental and emotional instability that Macbeth was undergoing. In the last incidence of Lady Macbeth, it was used to imply the guilty conscience that fell on her. Sleep also suggested night times, when only the bad people in the society performed their evil acts. He also relates sleep to death as shown Duncan was murdered while he was asleep when Duncan is asleep, Whereto [.] his days hard journey (1.7.61). He also praises sleep since he considers it as a healer of life (Malas 7). This is seen even in real life situations whereby people retire to bed when they are exhausted to rest after a long day of work.

The imagery of mayhem and rebellion is revealed in Act 2 scene 4 by an owl killing a falcon and horses belonging to Duncan eating each other. These situations reveal nature out of control as we naturally expect owls to feed on smaller creatures such as the mice and not larger birds such as Falcons (Nafchi, Moulavi, Sobhani, and Mitra 8117). Moreover, the horses that Duncan had been taming broke the stable and started eating each (2.4.1). Horses are trained to be obedient to their master, and when they display acts of rebelliousness, it confirms nature is out of order. All these occurred after Macbeth had killed the king and nature was revealing its anger and disapproval of the act.

Additionally, the imagery of eight kings has been used in Act 4 scene 8 when Macbeth visits the weird sisters demanding to know whether the heirs of Banquo will become kings. The witches reveal a vision of eight kings, and one of them held a mirror which reflected numerous similar kings. The kings in the vision were Banquo's heirs, and this outcome disheartened Macbeth (4.8.1). Furthermore, the same vision revealed that one of them was holding two orbs, which were a representation of King James 1 of England who was also the crown of Scotland. Thus, each nation stood for an orb he was holding in his hands in the 1603 coronation ceremony (Nafchi et al. 820). This image shows how Macbeth was yearning to maintain leadership and power within his family through unfair means. Unfortunately, in this incident, the best he could do was to be annoyed since he did not have the power to change the future occurrences where the heirs of Banquo became kings.

The imagery of death of children has been used by Shakespeare in Macbeth as shown by scenes of dead babies and slaying children. In Act 4 scene 4 the witches throw a figure of the birth-strangled baby into their cauldron, which enables them to conjure an apparition that reveals a blood child stating that Macbeth will not be harmed by a human being born as other people (through normal delivery not caesarian as Macduff) (Cusimano 4). However, to retain his powers, Macbeth goes ahead to kill the children of those he perceived as competitors to his throne. Macbeth killed Fleance's father and almost killed him; he also killed Macduff's son and young Siward to ensure all bloodlines that could have taken power from him were extinguished or did not have heirs and minimize the power struggle (4.1.2). All these actions can be traced back to the idea that Banquo's children could become kings in future in Act 1 scene 3. In Act 3 scene 8 Macbeth is shown lamenting over the predictions of the witches, that he would be king but his crown would be less fruitful by saying that a barren scepter and a fruitless crown had been placed in his arms and head respectively.

Also at the end of the play in Act 5 scene 8, Macbeth is killed by Macduff who holds his head in the air. This image of holding his head high was to reveal the end of Macbeth's tyrannical reign. Also, it was a fulfillment of the predicted death of Macbeth not in the hands of a person born in a human manner (normal delivery). MacDuff was born through cesarean which in those days was considered abnormal. Hence, the fate of Macbeth was fulfilled as he died in the hands of those he used to oppress and since he had no heir his power struggle was in vain.


In conclusion, William Shakespeare uses a wide range of imagery and symbolism all through the drama to portray the theme of power struggle. Macbeth and his lady were ready to do everything at their disposal to acquire and retain power. The use of imagery as shown above reveals the power struggle such as, in act 1 scene 2 where the witches said that there will struggle between evil and good and blood shall be spilled in the process among other examples.

Works cited

Braunmuller, A.R. Macbeth: The New Cambridge Shakespeare (1997

LI, Bao-feng, and Xu-liang ZHAO. ""An Analysis of Gothic Features in Macbeth."" Sino-US English Teaching 13.12 (2016): 971-976.

Malas, A. ""The Darkness in William Shakespeare's Play Macbeth: A Study."" The Criterion: An International Journal in English 3.3 (2012): 2-10.

Islam, Md Saiful. ""Nature of Evil in Macbeth."" Arts Faculty Journal 4 (2012): 185-194.

Cusimano, Maria. ""Temptation, Sin, and the Human Condition in Shakespeare's Macbeth."" (2015). Retrived from httpsredir=1&amparticle=3091&ampcontext=td on March, 28, 2018

Nafchi, Asghar Moulavi, Morteza Sobhani Zadeh, and Mitra Mirzayee. ""Macbeth Couple: A Declining Family Tree and Tradition."" International Journal of Humanities and Cultural Studies (IJHCS) ISSN 2356-5926 2.4 (2016): 816-824. Retrieved from on March, 28, 2018

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