Corruption in Macbeth Essay Example

“When virtue is banished, ambition invades the minds of those who are disposed to receive it and avarice possesses the whole community” - Baron De Montesquieu

The acclaimed French philosopher, Montesquieu, linked greed with the lack of virtue. The tragic play Macbeth showcases this through the protagonist, Macbeth, as he shows his progression of corruption throughout the play. In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, Shakespeare characterizes Macbeth as one who is relentless in his pursuit of power, ultimately conveying that ambition without moral limitations causes corruption.

During the protasis of Macbeth, the witches’ prophecies fabricated the primary ambiance of ambition in the play, which immediately planted the seeds of vaulting desire in Macbeth. The Witches foresee Macbeth’s fate and announce his prophecy, prompting Macbeth to react with impatience. This impatience in gaining power stirred in Macbeth as murderous thoughts evoke in his mind. Moments before the murder of King Duncan, Macbeth had “no spur to prick the sides only vaulting ambition, which oerleaps itself and falls on the other.” (1.7, 27-31).

Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as an individual by his sole will to gain power. Shakespeare includes the metaphor of “ambition... which overleaps itself and falls on the other” explaining how people rush into action with no second thought much like Macbeth. His only catalyst into executing a sinful act was ambition itself as Macbeth, who was once a war hero loses his morality and corrupts himself as a feat to satisfy his ambition. In addition, when reviewing the prophecy given by the witches, Macbeth states “This supernatural soliciting Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill, Why hath it given me earnest of success” (1.3, 133-136). The paradox between something “ill” giving success implies how he is aspiring to link positive outcomes to a negative action, which additionally exemplifies the disintegration of Macbeth’s ethics. His relentless following of the prophecy for the sake of power further characterizes him to be an individual seeking for absolute power and one who compromises his morals to this. 

How the murder of Banquo contributes

The murder of Banquo integrated into the epistasis of the play by Shakespeare contributes to the characterization of Macbeth as well as conclusively showing the corruption brought upon by the deprivation of morals when fulfilling a passion. Throughout Macbeth, Banquo is portrayed by Shakespeare as Macbeth’s companion. This quickly changes through one prophecy in which Macbeth appoints murderers to murder Banquo because “every minute of his being thrusts Against [Macbeth’s] near’st of life” (3.1, 120-122).

Macbeth’s abrupt reversal of emotion toward Banquo exposes not only his hunger for power but also exposes how hungry Macbeth really is to get what he wants. Macbeth ethically stoops to a new low and compromises his morals to kill his very own best friend, all to just get rid of the competition to his throne. His relentless desire for absolute power climatically kills his very own friend, evidently displaying the corruption inside Macbeth. Furthermore, in the soliloquy regarding Banquo’s murder, Macbeth states that he “put rancors in the vessel of [his] peace” (3.1, 68-69) and how he gave his “eternal jewel…to the common enemy of man” (3.1, 70-2). The metaphor of “eternal jewel to the common enemy of man” signifies that Macbeth gave his soul to the devil through the sinful actions he committs because of his hunt for power. The devil is associated with avarice and this metaphor hints at Macbeth sharing these qualities as his greed for power provoked Macbeth into executing his immoral actions.

In the catastrophe of Macbeth, the war coupled with Lady Macbeth’s suicide leads to Macbeth’s further corruption of personality. After the death of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth admits that “Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts Cannot once start [him]” (5.5, 11-15). Macbeth realizes himself that his ambition without moral limitations leads him to a point where even a horrible event such as the death of his wife is so familiar to him that he is unstartled by it.

The lack of concern with his wife’s death leads a reader to believe that Macbeth’s quest for power combined with his nefarious acts influences him to a point in which emotion is absent. Emotion is identified to be one of the most prominent human traits so when Macbeth doesn’t display concern for his own mate, it implies that he abandoned his morals. In addition to this, towards the end of the war, after being informed of an attack, Macbeth declares “I pull in resolution and begin To doubt th' equivocation of the fiend That lies like truth” (5.5, 41-44). Later, when Macbeth is tied to a stake, his name is described by the Young Siward as something “The devil himself could not pronounce a title… more fearful” (5.7, 10-13). The allusions to the devil in the catastrophe of Macbeth associates Macbeth to the devil. By doing this, Shakespeare correlates Macbeth to the characteristics of the devil, ultimately characterizing him as someone that is so dispossessed of morality, they seem like the devil.

The characterization of Macbeth as a relentless character who seeks ultimate power by Shakespeare was accomplished through numerous events throughout Macbeth, helping to develop the idea of how without the limitations of morality found in human traits, leads to the corruption of personality. Much like any modern-day movie or piece of literature that follows the path of corruption caused by lack of morals in the path of ambition, Macbeth is characterized in the same way.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul

Werstine, New York, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992.



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