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The Cautionary Tale of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a cautionary tale of not only greed and power, but the innate flaw of human impressionability

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The Cautionary Tale of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

  1. 1. The Cautionary Tale of Shakespeare’s MacbethWilliam Shakespeare’s Macbeth contains a lotof life lessons. Number one: Don’t listen to strangerbearded women when wandering through a fog. Number two: Never let anyone bully you into doingsomething you don’t want to, even if it’s your wife. And Number 3? If you want to become king, the kill-everything-in-your-path strategy, while seemingly effective, is bound to backfire.Macbeth is indeed a cautionary tale of greed, power and ambition. At the play’s core, it is abouthumanity’s tendency for evil and ruthlessness, particularly when fueled by the desire for ascension.Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman fresh from a ruthlessly victorious battle, stumbles upon a pack ofprophesizing witches who imply that kinghood is in his future, effectively messing with his head and ego.Just a few little words set Macbeth in motion to achieve his fate of being king, instead of letting thingsunfold naturally.Looking at Macbeth summary, Macbeth stands somewhat as a tragic hero and a villain in the play, as heis a man whose ambitious ego and thirst for power sets him on a path of destruction that inevitably arrivesat a grisly destination with his head on a spike. Violent is as violent does for Macbeth.What we learn from Macbeth, aside from the whole downside in embarking on a murderous rampage, isthat our desires and our emotions control us much more than we think. It also highlights how easilyswayed humanity can be at times, when all it takes is some eerie women to plant a seed of power in ourimpressionable egos. At its basic level, Macbeth is about the power and drive of man, and how that powerand drive can effortlessly steer us off course. Take, for example, a selection from Macbeth quotesfeaturing the hallucinations of Macbeth that finally convinces him to kill the king. A floating mirage of adagger, “a dagger of the mind” he calls it, seals the deal for Macbeth, reading it as something to“marshalst” him on his way to power. Note the level of agency he ascribes to this image, which couldeither be a manifestation of the witches or of his “heat-oppressed” brain. The image is both a sign and ausher of sorts for Macbeth, suggesting his own lack of agency and self-determination that allows him tobe easily swayed. A helpful comparison in understanding Macbeth’s craziness can found in anotherfamous Shakespearean play where a tragic hero is conflicted with inaction, uncertainty and of course,impressionability when it comes to the supernatural. In the Hamlet summary, Hamlet is directed on a pathto avenging his late father by his father’s ghost. He wavers and flip-flops on what to do—much likeMacbeth—until finally committing the first murder (Poor Polonius!) that gets the ball rolling. For him, as forMacbeth, the first murder is always the hardest, but it gets easier with next few. For Macbeth, it getsexcessively easier.The tendency to be impressionable—either by one’s own mind tricks or the biting word from LadyMacbeth or the witches—makes Macbeth vulnerable to his own impulses of greed and power and thesubsequent implication for evil. It’s also what makes him appear partly as a tragic hero, someone whoseflaws of initial weak sense of self allows him to be a plaything of fates and witches. Those readingMacbeth as a tale of power and greed must also take into consideration how such ambitions areessentially weaknesses for Macbeth, as he fails prey to his own flaws. A cautionary tale indeed.