The Role of Power in the Corruption of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, characters can be seen being easily corrupted
by power. Throughout the play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both make questionable decisions when the opportunity to seize power presents itself. Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth to murder King Duncan to secure the throne and Macbeth orders his best friend to be murdered in order to remain king. Power has the ability to easily corrupt and take over even the strongest of people.
When Lady Macbeth gets word from Macbeth that his prophecy is to be king, she immediately wants Macbeth to pounce on his first opportunity to become king. Though she worries that he does not have what it takes to seize that opportunity. Lady Macbeth quickly convinces herself that she must, “pour my [Lady Macbeth] spirits in thine ear and chastise with the valor of my tongue all that impedes thee from the golden round, which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have thee crowned withal” (I. v. 28-33). At the first chance of power, Lady Macbeth is already corrupted. She is excited by this new opportunity and already thinking of ways to secure it. Her methods to secure the crown take a dark turn when she tries to convince Macbeth to kill Duncan when he stays at their home for one night. Lady Macbeth shows her manipulative ways as she tries to change Macbeth’s mind on the whole situation. She often mentions his love for her and his masculinity in hopes to shame him into committing the murder. In hopes of forcing him to go on with the plan, Lady Macbeth says, “From this time such I account thy love” (I. vii. 42-43). Lady Macbeth is saying that this is how she will see Macbeth’s love for her. She is telling him that if he does not go through with the killing, she will see him and his love as vapid and spineless. All in all, when Lady Macbeth was told of Macbeth’s prophecy, she quickly jumped to the solution that requires power in the quickest way possible. Additionally, in the 2010 adaptation of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth’s corruption is shown through her willingness to go along with her husband to commit the murders. In multiple scenes, the couple is seen holding hands. This symbolizes both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s corruption. They are committing awful acts for power and they are doing it together. Despite what treasonous things must be done, she manipulates Macbeth to kill his friend and king all because of the opportunity to be in power.
After Macbeth and Lady Macbeth assassinated Duncan, Macbeth orders two men to kill Banquo and his son to ensure that the throne is not taken from him. Macbeth becomes paranoid of Banquo and his family because the three witches prophesied to Banquo that, “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none” (I. iii. 70). Though Banquo is not an immediate threat to his power, Macbeth must get rid of him and his son so future generations cannot take the throne. This excessive reaction to the possibility of being taken out of power shows that Macbeth has been corrupted by the power of being a king. His morals have been ruined by his newfound kingship that he is extremely willing to kill his friend and military partner. Another example of Macbeth’s lack of empathy due to unchecked power is his lack of emotion when Banquo is finally killed by the two men. After getting the news that Banquo is officially dead, the only thing that Macbeth is worried about is if they also killed his son, “Thou art the best o' th' cutthroats: Yet he’s good that did the like for Fleance. If thou didst it, thou art the nonpareil” (III. iv. 20-21). Macbeth is pleased that they killed Banquo and would be even happier if they killed his son too. This shameful thought process is yet another example of how power has changed Macbeth for the worse. To add on, in the film version of Macbeth from 2010, Macbeth is visibly calm and collected when hiring the murderers. At the same time he is convincing the men to kill Banquo, he is also making a sandwich. This symbolizes his lack of emotion when it comes to killing his friend. He assembles the sandwich, cuts it and even gives some to the men as he is telling them to go and murder Banquo. As long as Macbeth stays in power, he does not care who he must kill. Macbeth was good friends with Banquo before the prophecy and the power but afterwards, he had Banquo killed merely in the name of kingship.
In conclusion, it is evident that power can corrupt any person. Throughout the play, the power that comes with being the king and the queen corrupted the two main characters of the story. In the beginning, it corrupted Lady Macbeth enough to convince her husband to murder Duncan. Later in the play, power had changed Macbeth enough to allow him to willingly arrange his friends murder without a second thought. Overall, no matter how strong the morals of a person appear to be, power can and will make its way to their head and change them for the worse.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth: FOLGER Shakespeare Library. Washington Square Press, 1992.