Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play that explores the tragic consequences of greed and the lust for power. The Scottish general Macbeth is told by a trio of witches that he will become the Thane of Cawdor and then the King of Scotland. In an effort to expedite and fulfill this prophecy, Macbeth embarks on a murderous tirade with the encouragement of his wife, Lady Macbeth, and the two attempt to kill anyone who sits between Macbeth and the crown. However, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s insatiable ambition leads to their own demise, as Lady Macbeth kills herself and Macbeth is killed by Macduff. Thus, the theme of power is integral to the plot and characterizations of this play.
A quote that captures Macbeth’s hunger for power arrives in Act One, Scene Seven when Macbeth delivers a monologue that contemplates the murder of King Duncan. He states the following lines:
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on th' other. (I. vii. 25-28)
In the above quote, Macbeth reveals that he is motivated by “vaulting ambition,” which is the metaphoric spur that pricks his side and urges him to act. The diction of “vaulting” further establishes this desire as disastrous because it will lead to a chain reaction of murderous events. Also, “vaulting,” seems to suggest that Macbeth’s ambition will never be satisfied, which conveys his lust for power as urgent and ravenous.
A quote that epitomizes this “vaulting ambition” and lust for power is in Act Four, Scene One when Macbeth plans to kill Macduff’s wife and children to ensure his ascent of power. He gives the following lines:
Time, thou anticipat’st my dread exploits.
The flighty purpose never is o'ertook
Unless the deed go with it. From this moment
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand. And even now,
To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done:
That trace him in his line. (V. i. 150-156)
The above quote opens with an apostrophe because Macbeth addresses the inanimate Time, begging it to anticipate his ill-conceived acts, for only Time knows the bad things that he will eventually perform. By stating, “The very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of my hand,” Macbeth reveals that the desires of his heart will be the actions of his hands. This quote is only an example of parallelism because the sentence uses successive verbal constructions. Finally, Macbeth concludes with the metaphor of “To crown my thoughts with acts,” which figuratively says he will act out all of his thoughts, but the word “crown” can also act as a double entendre because Macbeth is not just talking about following his thoughts with actions, but revealing how these actions will help him assume and maintain the royal crown. Therefore, Macbeth is a tragic play that explores the connections of power and corruption.
While Schindler’s List is a 1993 film that chronicles the atrocities of the Holocaust, it comments on the consequences of unchecked power. The film follows Oskar Schindler, a German entrepreneur who works to save imprisoned Jews during World War II. In the beginning of the film, a Jewish woman speaks with the Judenrat, which was the Jewish council, and states, “They come into our house and tell us we don't live there anymore. It now belongs to a certain SS officer … aren't you supposed to be able to help?” In this quote, the Jewish woman explains how the Jews are being run out of their homes and defenseless against the more powerful SS officers. This quote is significant because it shows how the Jews are legally relocated to vulnerable positions—they have no voice against the German authorities.
In perhaps the most explicit discussion of power in the film, Schindler and Goeth, the Commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp who would heartlessly murder Jews and shoot prisoners from his balcony, talk about the fear, control and power—three themes that echo the tenets of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The dialogue is as follows:
Goeth: Control is power. That's power.
Schindler: Is that why they fear us?
Goeth: We have the power to kill, that's why they fear us.
Schindler: They fear us because we have the power to kill arbitrarily. A man commits a crime, he should know better. We have him killed and we feel pretty good about it. Or we kill him ourselves and we feel even better. That's not power, though, that's justice. That's different than power. Power is when we have every justification to kill... and we don't.
Goeth: You think that's power.
Schindler: That's what the emperors had. A man stole something, he's brought in before the emperor, he throws himself down on the ground, he begs for mercy, he knows he's going to die. And the emperor pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.
In the above exchange, Schindler and Goeth discuss the meaning of power. While Goeth asserts that control is power, Schindler claims power is self-control and discipline. This is significant to the film because Schindler suggests the German imprisonment and murder of Jews is actually an act of weakness. Further, it challenges the grounds of the Nazi Party because it ties in the concept of justice and justification. In comparison to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Schindler’s List explores the nature and actions of humans with unchecked and insatiable power, but it is here in this quote that power is