Examine the role of force and violence in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Are these actions justified for their own sake or only as a means to an end? How would Machiavelli view these behaviors?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Though Macbeth is initially portrayed as an honest, loyal thane of King Duncan, we see very early on that he is capable of extreme acts of violence, as he disembowels and decapitates the rebel leader Macdonwald in battle. Macbeth 's Scotland was one in which a man's ability to...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Though Macbeth is initially portrayed as an honest, loyal thane of King Duncan, we see very early on that he is capable of extreme acts of violence, as he disembowels and decapitates the rebel leader Macdonwald in battle. Macbeth's Scotland was one in which a man's ability to use force and violence were the measure of his masculinity and his worth. It is the fact that Macbeth uses violence to usurp his natural place in Scotland that carries him down a path to destruction. When he kills the King, he kills a divinely-chosen leader, God's representative in Scotland. He is thus a usurper, and is forced (as he sees it) to defend his position with more violence, though notably he uses assassins to carry out the murders of Banquo and Macduff's family. So violence is not necessarily bad in and of itself in Macbeth, but disloyalty and usurpation of the natural order of things are. As for how Machiavelli would have viewed these developments, we can say that he (at least if we are going by his treatise The Prince) would have not necessarily had any compunction about the treachery of Macbeth, but he ultimately thought that leaders who constantly schemed and betrayed were engaging in self-defeating behavior: 

Still, to slaughter fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be devoid of honour, pity, and religion, cannot be counted as merits, for these are means which may lead to power, but which confer no glory. 

Macbeth's tyranny and unrestrained use of violence were his undoing, and Machiavelli certainly could have predicted this.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team