Was Macbeth a man of great worth?

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jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Altogether, the human body, if you add up all the chemicals contained therein, is worth about $4.50.

I give yo this flippant answer because, really, who's to say whether or not a person is of great worth? Worth what to whom? A rich man is said to be worth a lot. A poor man is said to be worth a little. But how much is each man worth to his wife? To his children? To his boss? to the Internal Revenue Service? To his credit card company?

Yes, "worth" is a strange and variable concept for sure.

Early in his reign, the real Macbeth (yes, he did exist) was a very good King. He was thought of as being of great worth to Scotland. Later, when he resorted to extreme measures to control his country, he was thought to be a tyrant; his worth to the nation was diminished.

In the play Macbeth, Macbeth started out at the top of his game; he was a brave and victorious warrior. King Duncan considered him as worth more than almost any other, save Banquo. Duncan says to Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 4):

Would thou hadst less deserved,

That the proportion both of thanks and payment

Might have been mine!

He's worth so much that Duncan can't repay him for all he has done for King and country.

But by the end of the play no one in Scotland or England considers Macbeth to be worth anything; they see him as worthy of killing and nothing more.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suspect you might be asking about Macbeth's level of wealth in Shakespeare's Macbeth, so I'll help you with that. 

Macbeth is a castle and land owner and a thane.  This would make him a very wealthy man in 11th-century Scotland.  He also seems to be second-in-command to Duncan in the early scenes of the play, and this inference is shown to be at least fairly accurate by the fact that he is made king after Duncan is assassinated and Malcolm and Donaldbain flee the country. 

Of course, he is also given the castle of Cawdor by Duncan, which brings him more wealth.

Also, in Elizabethan tragedy, a protagonist would almost by definition be a wealthy and powerful man.  In order for a character to bring about a tragic ending, he must possess the kind of power that has the potential to do great good and great harm.  In other words, Macbeth has to be great and powerful to fit the idea of a tragic figure, and wealth is a prerequisite for greatness and power.

I hope I interpreted your question correctly.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many times, a person who is potentially of great worth is also potentially very "great" in the opposite way.  I think Macbeth is an example of this.

Macbeth was clearly a standout among the men of his time and place.  He had the qualities needed to become a leader in those days.

However, these qualities also made him a potential danger and a potential tyrant.  His bravery and his ambition made him be of great worth.  But when they went overboard, they made him into an evil person who hurt his country badly.