Does Macbeth relate to political life only, or personal life too?

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robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

Shakespeare plays tend to be about everything at once. It's one of the things that make them so absolutely fascinating to study.

"Macbeth" is - as the recent Stalinist production by Rupert Goold with Patrick Stewart brought out so strongly - an extremely political play. It deals with ambition, with what it means to be a king, and with the politics of assuming a crown.

However, Shakespeare never divorces the political from the personal. Lady Macbeth, Macbeth's wife, and his friend (turned enemy) Banquo are always very much in play as personal characters. Macbeth the man is just as important as Macbeth the king: and if you think about it, most of the political relationships in the play are also personal ones:

  • Macbeth states early in the play that he cannot kill Duncan, not just because Duncan is king, but also because Duncan is his friend.
  • Macbeth's crown in the second half of the play is unstable not just because of his leadership, but because he has no children (of course, personal, rather than political) - and his relationship with Lady M revolves around the lack of child (notice that Lady M persuades him by talking about the fact that she has "given suck" to a baby, who - it seems - no longer exists).
  • Lady Macbeth desperately tries to keep up appearances at banquet, though Macbeth descends into personal madness. She's trying to put politics above personal - and it just doesn't work.

"Macbeth" is not simply a political play!

pmiranda2857's profile pic

pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

A theme in Macbeth that is applicable to both politics and every day life is unchecked ambition. Macbeth's out of control desire for power ends up consuming his life. This same theory can be applied to people who want success but don't want to work or wait for it.

In every day life there are people who will sacrifice their integrity, or break the law to get a jump on acquiring a level of power or money that they must have immediately. They engage in immoral or illegal behavior to acquire material wealth and position. In many cases, just like in Macbeth, the individual who falls into this temptation, had a successful, stable life, but the need for more, the desire becomes overwhelming, the rewards are great, the method of acquiring more seems easy.

Macbeth believes that his plan to murder King Duncan will secure his wearing of the crown, he does not consider the cost or the consequences. Just like tax cheaters or insider trading, people think only of the benefit but not the cost.

Macbeth was successful, rewarded for his bravery and his loyalty to King and country. He had a good life before he acted on the impulse ignited by the witches prophecy. He had a nice home, a loving wife, a successful career, everything that makes a person happy. It was when he started to reach for that which he did not earn or deserve that he ran into tragic consequences.

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