Macbeth is presented as a mature man of definitelyestablished character, successful in certain fields ofactivity and enjoying an enviable reputation. We must notconclude, there, that all his volitions and actions arepredictable; Macbeth’s character, like any other man’s at agiven moment, is what is being made out of potentialitiesplus environment, and no one, not even Macbeth himself, canknow all his inordinate self-love whose actions arediscovered to be-and no doubt have been for a long time-determined mainly by an inordinate desire for some temporalor mutable good. Macbeth is actuated in his conduct mainly by aninordinate desire for worldly honors; his delight liesprimarily in buying golden opinions from all sorts of people. But we must not, therefore, deny him an entirely humancomplexity of motives.Order now
For example, his fighting in Duncan’sservice is magnificent and courageous, and his evident joy init is traceable in art to the natural pleasure whichaccompanies the explosive expenditure of prodigious physicalenergy and the euphoria which follows. He also rejoices nodoubt in the success which crowns his efforts in battle – andso on. He may even conceived of the proper motive whichshould energize back of his great deed:The service and the loyalty I owe,In doing it, pays itself. But while he destroys the king’s enemies, such motives workbut dimly at best and are obscured in his consciousness bymore vigorous urges.
In the main, as we have said, his natureviolently demands rewards: he fights valiantly in order thathe may be reported in such terms a “valour’s minion” and”Bellona’s bridegroom”‘ he values success because it bringsspectacular fame and new titles and royal favor heaped uponhim in public. Now so long as these mutable goods are at allcommensurate with his inordinate desires – and such is thecase, up until he covets the kingship – Macbeth remains anhonorable gentleman. He is not a criminal; he has no criminaltendencies. But once permit his self-love to demand asatisfaction which cannot be honorably attained, and he islikely to grasp any dishonorable means to that end which maybe safely employed.
In other words, Macbeth has much ofnatural good in him unimpaired; environment has conspiredwith his nature to make him upright in all his dealings withthose about him. But moral goodness in him is undeveloped andindeed still rudimentary, for his voluntary acts are scarcelybrought into harmony with ultimate end. As he returns from victorious battle, puffed up withself-love which demands ever-increasing recognition of hisgreatness, the demonic forces of evil-symbolized by the WeirdSisters-suggest to his inordinate imagination the splendidprospect of attaining now the greatest mutable good he hasever desired. These demons in the guise of witches cannotread his inmost thoughts, but from observation of facialexpression and other bodily manifestations they surmise withcomparative accuracy what passions drive him and what darkdesires await their fostering. Realizing that he wishes thekingdom, they prophesy that he shall be king.
They cannotthus compel his will to evil; but they do arouse his passionsand stir up a vehement and inordinate apprehension of theimagination, which so perverts the judgment of reason that itleads his will toward choosing means to the desired temporalgood. Indeed his imagination and passions are so vivid underthis evil impulse from without that “nothing is but what isnot”; and his reason is so impeded that he judges, “Thesesolicitings cannot be evil, cannot be good. ” Still, he isprovided with so much natural good that he is able to controlthe apprehensions of his inordinate imagination and decidesto take no step involving crime. His autonomous decision notto commit murder, however, is not in any sense based uponmoral grounds. No doubt he normally shrinks from theunnaturalness of regicide; but he so far ignores ultimateends that, if he could perform the deed and escape itsconsequences here upon this bank and shoal of time, he’ldjump the life to come.
Without denying him still a complexityof motives – as kinsman and subject he may possiblyexperience some slight shade of unmixed loyalty to the Kingunder his roof-we may even say that the consequences which hefears are not at all inward and spiritual, It is to bedoubted whether he has ever so far considered the possibleeffects of crime and evil upon the human soul-his laterdiscovery of horrible ravages produced by evil in his ownspirit constitutes part of the tragedy. Hi is mainlyconcerned, as we might expect, with consequences involvingthe loss of mutable goods which he already possesses andvalues highly. After the murder of Duncan, the natural good in himcompels the acknowledgment that, in committing the unnaturalact, he has filed his mind and has given his eternal jewel,the soul, into the possession of those demonic forces whichare the enemy of mankind. He recognizes that the acts ofconscience which torture him are really expressions of thatoutraged natural law, which inevitably reduced him asindividual to the essentially human.
This is the inescapablebond that keeps him pale, and this is the law of his ownnatural from whose exactions of devastating penalties heseeks release:Come, seeling night. . . And with thy bloody and invisible handCancel and tear to pieces that great bondWhich keeps me pale. He conceives that quick escape from the accusations ofconscience may possibly be effected by utter extirpation ofthe precepts of natural law deposited in his nature.
And heimagines that the execution of more bloody deeds will servehis purpose. Accordingly, then, in the interest of personalsafety and in order to destroy the essential humanity inhimself, he instigates the murder of Banquo. But he gains no satisfying peace because hes consciencestill obliges him to recognize the negative quality of eviland the barren results of wicked action. The individual whoonce prized mutable goods in the form of respect andadmiration from those about him, now discovers that even suchevanescent satisfactions are denied him:And that which should accompany old age,As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,I must not look to have; but, in their stead,Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.
But the man is conscious of a profound abstraction ofsomething far more precious that temporal goods. His beinghas shrunk to such little measure that he has lost his formersensitiveness to good and evil; he has supped so full withhorrors and the disposition of evil is so fixed in him thatnothing can start him. His conscience is numbed so that heescapes the domination of fears, and such a consummation mayindeed be called a sort of peace. But it is not entirely whatexpected or desires.
Back of his tragic volitions is theineradicable urge toward that supreme contentment whichaccompanies and rewards fully actuated being; the peace whichhe attains is psychologically a callousness to pain andspiritually a partial insensibility to the evidences ofdiminished being. His peace is the doubtful calm of utternegativity, where nothing matters. This spectacle of spiritual deterioration carried to thepoint of imminent dissolution arouses in us, however, acurious feeling of exaltation. For even after the externaland internal forces of evil have done their worst, Macbethremains essentially human and his conscience continues towitness the diminution of his being.
That is to say, there isstill left necessarily some natural good in him; sin cannotcompletely deprive him of his rational nature, which is theroot of his inescapable inclination to virtue. We do not needHecate to tell us that he is but a wayward son, spiteful andwrathful, who, as other do, loves for his own ends. This isapparent throughout the drama; he never sins because, likethe Weird Sisters, he loves evil for its own sake; andwhatever he does is inevitably in pursuance of some apparentgood, even though that apparent good is only temporal ofnothing more that escape from a present evil. At the end, inspite of shattered nerves and extreme distraction of mind,the individual passes out still adhering admirably to hiscode of personal courage, and the man’s conscience stillclearly admonishes that he has done evil. Moreover, he never quite loses completely the liberty offree choice, which is the supreme bonum naturae of mankind. But since a wholly free act is one in accordance with reason,in proportion as his reason is more and more blinded byinordinate apprehension of the imagination and passions ofthe sensitive appetite, his volitions become less and lessfree.
And this accounts for our feeling, toward the end ofthe drama, that his actions are almost entirely determinedand that some fatality is compelling him to his doom. Thiscompulsion is in no sense from without-though theologians mayat will interpret it so-as if some god, like Zeus in Greektragedy, were dealing out punishment for the breaking ofdivine law. It is generated rather from within, and it is notmerely a psychological phenomenon. Precepts of the naturallaw-imprints of the eternal law- deposited in his nature havebeen violated, irrational acts have established habitstending to further irrationality, and one of the penaltiesexacted is dire impairment of the liberty of free choice.
Thus the Fate which broods over Macbeth may be identifiedwith that disposition inherent in created things, in thiscase the fundamental motive principle of human action, bywhich providence knits all things in their proper order. Macbeth cannot escape entirely from his proper order; he mustinevitably remain essentially human. The substance of Macbeth’s personality is that out ofwhich tragic heroes are fashioned; it is endowed by thedramatist with an astonishing abundance and variety ofpotentialities. And it is upon the development of thesepotentialities that the artist lavishes the full energies ofhis creative powers.
Under the influence of swiftly alteringenvironment which continually furnishes or elicts newexperiences and under the impact of passions constantlyshifting and mounting in intensity, the dramatic individualgrows, expands, developes to the point where, at the end ofthe drama, he looms upon the mind as a titanic personalityinfinitely richer that at the beginning. This dramaticpersonality in its manifold stages of actuation in asartistic creation. In essence Macbeth, like all other men, isinevitably bound to his humanity; the reason of order, as wehave seen, determines his inescapable relationship to thenatural and eternal law, compels inclination toward hisproper act and end but provides him with a will capable offree choice, and obliges his discernment of good and evil.