Ms Piersma
October 28, 2015
Betrayal in Macbeth
To the majority, betrayal is seen as contrary to our human nature. But, to some individuals betrayal is used as a tool to achieve goals. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth characters display acts of betrayal in order to elevate themselves with no regard for themselves of others. First, the act of betrayal is perpetrated. Following, the individuals experience the consequences of their betrayal. Finally, others begin to feel the consequences of acts of betrayal not committed by them. In pursuit of power, people commit acts of betrayal which prove to have consequences for themselves and others
Firstly, acts of betrayal are motivated by a desire for power. To begin, individuals commit acts of betrayal to ascend in status. For example, Macbeth betrays the king in order to become the new king. Paradoxically, Macbeth wants the throne but is appalled at the thought of killing the king. However, Macbeth is with the witches when the first two prophecies come true, which leads him to trust them and pursue the third prophecy relentlessly. Macbeth thinks immediately of murdering Duncan, which would create opportunity for the third prophecy, but is still horrified by his own idea. He says, “why do I yield to that suggestion/ Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair/ And make my seated heart knock at my ribs/ Against the use of nature?” (1.3.144-147). This clearly demonstrates that he understands that betrayal is evil. Additionally, when Macbeth leaves the banquet he is holding in Duncan’s honor to consider his conflict, he is interrupted by Lady Macbeth who convinces him that killing Duncan is the best course of action. Macbeth says, “I am settled and bend up/ Each corporal agent to this terrible feast” (1.7.89-90). The quotations shown above show significant character development for Macbeth, and demonstrates how a desire for power leads to betrayal. Through the vivid imagery in the first quotation, through “unfix my hair” and “make my seated heart knock at my ribs,” it is clear that the thought of killing Duncan is hugely distressing for Macbeth. By saying “Against the use of nature?” Macbeth is explicitly acknowledging that to kill is completely unnatural. However, in the second quotation, it is obvious that Macbeth has decided to set aside his morality in pursuit of power. Macbeth suggests that he will strain every part of his body to kill the king, shown through “Each corporal agent to this terrible feast”. This resolve and dedication to killing Duncan shows that he is willing to do whatever must be done for him to become king, a stark contrast to the Macbeth whose heart leapt at the thought of killing another. This quotation clearly shows his commitment to the assassination of Duncan because of a desire for power. Secondly, individuals commit acts of betrayal to aid others in their ascent to power. Lady Macbeth betrays her identity as an archetypal woman in order to be able to counsel Macbeth in his pursuit of the throne. For example, in Macbeth’s castle in Inverness, Lady Macbeth is reading a letter that Macbeth has sent to tell her of the prophecies and their partial fulfillment. Lady Macbeth expresses her determination that the third prophecy will also come true. However, she believes that Macbeth is not capable of the action required, murdering Duncan. She calls on the spirits of darkness and evil to replace all of her feminine qualities with remorseless cruelty so that nothing will stand in the way of her evil plan. She says, “Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full/ Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood, / Stop up the access and passage to remorse, / That no compunctious visitings of nature/ Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between/ The effect and it!” (1.5.43-50). The language she uses, specifically “unsex me here,/ And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full/ Of direst cruelty” implies that her womanhood impedes her from performing acts of violence and cruelty, which she associates with manliness. Lady Macbeth is willing to abandon her own sex and the presumptions associated with it in pursuit of power, which is a monumental statement. Furthermore, she makes reference to her own