Macbeth had resisted temptation, befriended Duncan, and (for good measure) divorced his wife. Wouldn't he be the King of Scotland, in due course? Why didn't the Bard create a model of patient merit, instead of a form of vaulting ambition? Why not make Macbeth a hero, instead of a loathsome villain?
In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, the playwright tells of a man whose ambition, not to mention the prodding of his even more ambitious wife, leads him to commit multiple murders in order to obtain the crown of Scotland. Macbeth had been a loyal subject of King Duncan until he makes the acquaintance of three witches who predict that he will be Thane and then, ultimately, King. However, in order to achieve this goal he must not only commit regicide against the current king, but must also get rid of anyone who might subvert his attempts to gain the throne. By the play's end, Duncan is murdered and his sons forced into exile, Macbeth's friend Banquo is murdered, another soldier named MacDuff's whole family is slaughtered, Lady Macbeth commits suicide, and then finally the villainous title character is himself killed. The responsibility for the tragedy is laid squarely on the shoulders of Lord Macbeth and his wife. They used violence in order to obtain positions of power and, in doing so, destroyed their very souls.
In an alternate universe where Shakespeare wrote a whole different story, the outcome may have been very different. Macbeth and his wife are a toxic couple. They feed off one another and encourage their baser instincts. Lady Macbeth is perhaps more ambitious than her husband, an argument which is given evidence in the fact that Macbeth was reluctant to kill the king. It is Lady Macbeth who insists on the murder and is even willing to kill the king her own self if her husband was unable to complete the task. If Lady Macbeth had not been able to influence her husband, then it would be unlikely for the murder to have taken place. Because of the personality that Shakespeare exhibits in the character of Lord Macbeth, it is clear that his actions are all based on the orders of those in authority. He fights the enemy because of the orders of Duncan. He kills Duncan because of his wife's orders. When he is forced to make choices without being able to consult others, he is less successful. A divorced Macbeth would not have killed his king. Having said this, it must be noted that in medieval Scotland, a divorce between the couple would be very unlikely to occur. Rather, an unhappy union would have ended with a separation or perhaps an execution of the wife based on trumped up charges. They would not have been divorced so the only way to remove Macbeth from his wife's influence would have been in one of these ways. Given that Macbeth is so weak-willed, it is doubtful that he would have been able to keep his wife away or to prevent her desires from influencing his behavior.
Had he resisted the temptation to murder in order to achieve power, it is possible that he might have become King of Scotland anyway. However, this is very unlikely given the nature of their relationship and the rules regarding ascension. When Duncan was murdered, his sons Malcolm or Donalbain would have taken over the throne. The only reason they did not take the throne was because Macbeth set it up so that suspicion for the crime would have been centered on the two princes; that and they feared for their own lives were the reasons that the two boys fled Scotland. No matter how close the two men might have become, there is no way that Duncan would have overlooked the rights of his own children in order to elevate his friend. In this case, it was only through ruthlessness and bloodlust that Macbeth could have become the king.
Part of the reason that Shakespeare wrote the story in the way he did is based upon the facts regarding the real life Macbeth, Mac Bathad mac Findlaich who ruled Scotland from 1040 to 1057. Historians now state however that the real Macbeth was hardly as wicked as he appears in the play and, in fact, that Duncan was a terrible king in comparison. Although it is unknown whether or not that Macbeth killed King Duncan, what is known is that the two princes fled Scotland out of fear for their lives and that Mac Bathad took the crown in their absence, going to war with a rival, and eventually dying within two decades of ascending.
The people around Macbeth helped to determine his actions and the narrative of the play. Macbeth's wife insisted he kill Duncan and frame his sons so that he would be king, but only after the witches predict that he will be the king. The promise of the crown is too much of a temptation for Macbeth and his wife to deny and they do whatever is necessary to become the King and Queen of Scotland. At the start of the play, Macbeth is an honest soldier who is loyal to his king. When the temptation of authority is placed before him, it is more than he can overcome. He did not take up the throne because he earned it, but instead because he killed the proper king, terrorized the rightful heirs to the throne, and did away with anyone who stood in his way, even his best friend or a mother and her young children. Macbeth could only remain a heroic idol if his actions were honorable. The moment he took up his knives with the intention of murdering the king, Macbeth stopped becoming a hero. He could not be seen as an individual who merited the crown, but as an assassin.
The only way Shakespeare could have changed the negative perception of Macbeth so that the audience viewed him as anything but a villain would be to change the whole story. He is a villain because of his choices and this is the point that Shakespeare was trying to make. People have a level of ambition within them; it is natural. It is something which must be overcome so that we do what we know to be right, even if it is not what we want. Macbeth knew that he should not kill the king but does so anyway because he wants to be the one in charge. As long as Duncan lives, he will only be a thane. Ambition can be destructive if it is allowed to dictate the actions of a human being. When that person decides that no one matters but themselves, that murder is acceptable, that theft is acceptable, that debauchery is acceptable, then there is no way to save the self or the soul.
3) "No more masks! No more mythologies!" 'The Poem as Mask' [from "The Speed of Darkness" (1968)], Collected Poems of Muriel Rukseyer, ed. Kaufman & Herzog (U. Pittsburgh Press, 2006), p. 413, a) What does MR (the poet) demand? b) Why is it all so urgent? c) Is it possible for anyone to do this, even once? Is it necessary, even if it is impossible? Is it easier or harder for a poet to handle? Why is it imperative for everyone, not just for artists and authors? d) What do we do once the masks peel away? What if they don't?
a) In the work "The Poem as Mask," poet Muriel Rukseyer declares that there are to be "No more masks! No more mythologies!" (413). In this she means that no one will be allowed to hide him or herself anymore. Everyone wears a metaphorical mask in order to hide themselves from the realities of the world, realities which will judge them and force them to feel somehow wrong. By taking off the masks, by giving up the mythologies that we have built for our own lives, then we can finally be honest people and everyone can know their friends and neighbors honestly.
b) The removing of the masks is urgent because people are frittering away their lives, afraid of who they are and refusing to exhibit their true selves to the rest of the world. As long as this continues, people are living in a false way, which in turn adds dishonesty throughout the world, negatively impacting every single person. Only through honesty can human interactions have merit or value. Given that the history of human beings is full of cases of these masks and mythologies, it can be argued that the whole history of humanity is made up of lies. These bits of dishonesty, these lies, need to stop now before the issue becomes exacerbated any further.
c) In reality, it is unlikely that people will give up their masks. Some people will not only refuse to be honest or real while communicating with others; they will continue this dishonesty…