What kingship and authority was illustrated in Macbeth with Malcolm compared to Edward the Confessor?Focus mainly on the lengthy discussion of the virtues of kings in Act IV, scene iii.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Malcolm flees to England to escape Macbeth's villainy. At the conclusion of Malcolm's "test" of Macduff's loyalty (as Malcolm is concerned that Macduff may still support Macbeth), a doctor comes in and reports about the healing power Edward the Confessor, King of England, delivers to his subjects by praying over them and laying hands on them. (Edward was considered a saint by many during and after his life, and this piece is a nod to King James I, England's new King during Shakespeare's time, that he has finally agreed to keep with this practice, though at first he hesitated.*)

In the play, Edward is said to have been a man of healing, prayer, and grace, with a gift of prophecy. Historically speaking...

[Edward] is regarded as the patron saint of kings, difficult marriages, and separated spouses. [Until] 1348, he was considered the patron saint of England. During the reign of Edward III of England he was replaced in this role by Saint George, though Edward has remained the patron saint of the British Royal Family...

...though the "piety" Edward was said to have developed during his exile in Normandy is doubted by some. Edward was considered a noble warrior, though some scholars speculate as to how effective he really was, due to his age during battle (thirteen).

There is some question as to what kind of person Edward was. After his death, he was the object of a religious cult and was canonized in 1161, but that could be viewed as a strictly political move. Some say, probably correctly, that he was a weak, but violent man and that his reputation for saintliness was overstated, possibly a sham perpetrated by the monks of Westminster in the twelfth century. Others seem to think that he was deeply religious man and a patient and peaceable ruler.

There is speculation, therefore, as to the kind of leader Edward truly was. Some believe his "godliness" was not genuine. (He did build Westminister Abbey.) Others perceive him as "weak and violent," and yet there is another contingent that believe him to have been a man of peace.

According to Shakespeare's play, Malcolm believes the following are attributes to be expected from a monarch: honesty, truthfulness, humility, bravery, generosity, stability, mercy, patience, and abstinence from sexual misconduct ("I am yet Unknown to woman," IV, iii, 126—he had originally tested Macduff by saying he was lecherous), etc., even while during his "test," he tries to convince Macduff he lacks these qualities. He later admits that he is not lacking of these, and is a dedicated servant to his subjects.

The two rulers exhibit common traits, according to Shakespeare's text: Edward is portrayed as a caring, decent, man. He, like Malcolm, is a servant to his people, and Malcolm is a man of conscience. With these traits we see kingship in both men. In terms of authority, we can assume that Edward was able to lead England for the short time he ruled, though his authority was challenged by several other nobleman of the time, especially Godwin of Wessex (whose daughter Edward eventually married). Malcolm seems to wield his authority over his subject because of the decent man he is. He is a leader of conscience. He knows what is expected of him as king. He expects the same honorable conduct in his subjects, and we clearly see his authority.


*Source: Adventures in English Literature, copyright 1985; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, publishers; Orlando, Florida.

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