Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment explore the psychological depths of man. These two works examine tragedy as represented through the existential beliefs of many philosophers. Existentialist theory expresses the idea that man can satisfy his own needs, regardless of social codes, if he has the energy and ambition to act. Both Macbeth and Raskolnikov have the ambition to act, but each struggles internally with their actions, frightened of the consequences. Although these works examine the tragedy and remorse of Macbeth and Raskolnikov, the idea of a driving force within each character remains evident. Ultimately, William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment present similar aspects of the existential philosophy that examine the thoughts and actions of the two protagonists.Order now
The existential principle remains apparent within these works. The themes of existentialism vary, but one main focus is that man appeases himself by acting on his desires. Ignorance and hollowness penetrate human existence, creating anxiety, reverence, and dejection Moore & Bruder 503. And man faces, as the most prominent fact of human existence, the need to decide how he is to live within this “absurd and irrational world” Moore & Bruder 504. “Macbeth” employs many existentialist concepts. Macbeth’s murdering of Duncan to obtain his kingship displays a basic existentialist philosophy in that he eliminated his obstacles in order to fulfill his ambition Gellrich 17. The witches who constantly taunt Macbeth drive him to his ultimate goal Craig 255. Dostoevsky also employs an existentialist philosophy in his novel.
The “set of unconscious drives” Cox 42 that propel Raskolnikov to commit his crime reveal that “human nature is not entirely definable by its rationality”Jalava 1. This relates to existentialism by virtue of people occasionally performing certain actions that cannot be explained Jalava 6.
Both the works of Shakespeare and Dostoevsky suggest “existential approaches to tragedy”Gellrich 257 that ultimately determines the protagonist’s fate. The two protagonists, Macbeth and Raskolnikov, possess tragic flaws that lead to their downfalls. Confronted with numerous alternative courses of action, the tragic hero agonizes in his intentions and understands that he is going to suffer no matter which choice he makes Gellrich 17. The tragic hero is recognized primarily because he “is a free and responsible agent whose extraordinary stature is established in a refusal to accept the limitations posed from without,” Gellrich 256 moreover exhibiting existentialist concepts. Existential tragedy remains elucidated within the works of Shakespeare.
The problems of a tragic hero tend to come out into the open and lead to his demise in that every tragic hero’s rapport manifests itself in its own way such as the hallucinations of Macbeth Honigmann 69. The virtue and bravery shown in Macbeth are overcome by the evil force of the witches who draw him to his demise Somerville 33. Similarly, Raskolnikov evinces himself as the epitome of a tragic agent. Raskolnikov commits the murder because he was “drawn by a power over which he now has no control,” Goddard 14 thus once again exhibiting the existential philosophy that man has no control over his actions. Tragically, Raskolnikov struggles internally wondering why he committed such a horrible deed, further illustrating the point of existentialists in that man’s conduct is unexplainable Bradbury 38.
The existential theory explains the motivation for both protagonists. The philosophy of existentialists stresses man’s determination to satisfy his aspirations. The bases for their belief stems from the “conception of the human condition,” Stone 1 referring to the manner in which man’s actions are justified. The existentialist ideas focus on the irrationality behind man’s behavior Jalava 1. Furthermore, Macbeth demonstrates his motivation through his thoughts and actions. Illustrating the theory of existence as fallacious, and feeling ashamed of his actions, Macbeth loses his mind Somerville 33. Of course, the thought of becoming king at last drove Macbeth to acquire his ultimate goal, transforming him from a noble man to an irrational and senseless one Campbell 238. Lastly, Raskolnikov exhibits inspiration for his actions through his rational. Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov commits murder because he feels the need to affirm something to himself about his own identity, explaining the existential concept of filling the emptiness within one’s self. Cox 42. Raskolnikov, moreover, feels a void in his life for which some form of stimulus must complete, thus justifying the existential belief about the preposterousness of human nature Kern 127.
Symbolism and imagery in both works present existential concepts. Shakespeare’s symbols illustrate the inner feelings and ambitions of his protagonists. The nightmares of Macbeth reveal Macbeth’s desire to obtain the kingship, and yet his nightmares also show how uncomfortable Macbeth is with his decision to murder Duncan, presenting no reason for his absurd actions Goddard 14. The nightmares, of which Macbeth has no control, displays the existential philosophy Goddard 14.
Furthermore, “Macbeth” contains dark imagery that relates to existentialism. The constant references to night foreshadows the evil deeds that are soon to occur Spurgeon 330. Night, moreover emphasizing the existential principles, lies as the only safe place where Macbeth can commit evil deeds “which might appall the devil” Spurgeon 331. Dostoevsky’s usage of recurrent imagery illustrates man attempting to appease his intentions. The crossing of a bridge or a river stands as a symbol for the decision-making process Cox 56. Raskolnikov frequently sways back and forth between the extremes of “aggression and submission” Cox 57 when he is on a bridge, illustrating the existential belief of how absurdity and separation permeate man’s existence Moore & Bruder 503.
Feelings of remorse which resemble existential concepts surface after the deeds of both Macbeth and Raskolnikov. Existentialism remains the bases for both protagonist’s penitence. A view of an existential philosophy states human existence “is ultimately absurd and inexplicable,” Kern 144 meaning that every action by man raises questions. And yet another similar notion of the existential theory maintains the constant irrationality of existence and how it creates anxiety Moore & Bruder 503. Macbeth possesses regret for his insane actions. Macbeth’s guilt overwhelms him to the point where it drives him insane, demonstrating the frustration behind acts of irrationality Craig 262.
Macbeth, well aware of the consequences for his actions, and revealing attributes associated with existential concepts, is ready to accept responsibility for his inconceivable deed Craig 265. In addition, Raskolnikov exhibits existential beliefs through his remorse. Showing the absurdity so often referred to in existential philosophy, Raskolnikov, feeling tremendous guilt after killing the old woman, refuses to feel any desire for anything “Dostoevsky” 8. The “terror of contempt” “Dostoevsky” 8 frightens Raskolnikov more than anything else because he realizes the stupidity behind his behavior.
Existentialist concepts exist in the punishment of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov. Chastisement remains evident in these works through the existential philosophy. Existential philosophers insist that the irrational actions of humans cannot be explained Moore & Bruder 498. Men, according to existentialism, decide their own existence or fate through their thoughts and actions Kern 147. Macbeth’s punishment defines his existence. Forced to live with his actions, Macbeth confronts many obstacles that attempt to challenge his sanity, further depicting the existential concepts of irrationality Craig 262.
Secondly, as a result of Macbeth’s murdering of Duncan, Macbeth, himself is slain, illustrating the existential point that absurdity creates treachery and demise Craig 267. Moreover, Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov suffers a painful fate. Demonstrating the implausibility of the existential philosophy, Raskolnikov is “separated from the other convicts by his social background and his solitary temperament” Bradbury 35. The most pressing punishment of Raskolnikov is the “disintegration of his mind and character,” “Dostoevsky” 8 which accounts for the existential concept involving the deterioration of man’s existence.
Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” explore the depths of irrationality in both Raskolnikov and Macbeth. Both Shakespeare and Dostoevsky create characters who decide their own existence. The tragedy of these protagonists comes as a direct result of their actions. After each commits his murder, an uneasy feeling enters the bodies of Macbeth and Raskolnikov, ultimately leading to their downfalls. U.S. News & World Reports’ Brian Duffy compared the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, to “a character worthy of Dostoevsky,” 30 commenting on Dostoevsky’s criminal ingenious. Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” idealizes the tragic hero whose absurd actions cause destruction. These two masterpieces examine “redemption through suffering” Wasiolek 2 that dramatizes the philosophic principles of existentialism.