Macbeth: A Man of Established Character

Macbeth is presented as a mature man of definitely established character,
successful in certain fields of activity and enjoying a greedy reputation. We
must not conclude, there, that all his violations and actions are predictable;
Macbeth\'s character, like any other man\'s at a given moment, is what is being
made out of likelihood plus environment, and no one, not even Macbeth himself,
can know all his inordinate self-love whose actions are discovered to be-and no
doubt have been for a long time- determined mainly by an inordinate desire for
some temporal or mutable good.

Macbeth is actuated in his conduct mainly by an inordinate desire for worldly
honors; his delight lies primarily in buying golden opinions from all sorts of
people. But we must not, therefore, deny him an entirely human complexity of
motives. For example, his fighting in Duncan\'s service is magnificent and
courageous, and his evident joy in it is traceable in art to the natural
pleasure which accompanies the explosive expenditure of prodigious physical
energy and the euphoria which follows. He also rejoices no doubt in the success
which crowns his efforts in battle - and so on. He may even conceived of the
proper motive which should 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 work but dimly at best and are
obscured in his consciousness by more vigorous urges. In the main, as we have
said, his nature violently demands rewards: he fights valiantly in order that he
may be reported in such terms a "valour\'s minion" and "Bellona\'s bridegroom"\' he
values success because it brings spectacular fame and new titles and royal favor
heaped upon him in public. Now so long as these mutable goods are at all
commensurate with his inordinate desires - and such is the case, up until he
covets the kingship - Macbeth remains an honorable gentleman. He is not a
criminal; he has no criminal tendencies. But once permit his self-love to
demand a satisfaction which cannot be honorably attained, and he is likely to
grasp any dishonorable means to that end which may be safely employed. In other
words, Macbeth has much of natural good in him unimpaired; environment has
conspired with his nature to make him upright in all his dealings with those
about him. But moral goodness in him is undeveloped and indeed still rudimentary,
for his voluntary acts are scarcely brought into harmony with ultimate end.

As he returns from victorious battle, puffed up with self-love which demands
ever-increasing recognition of his greatness, the demonic forces of evil-
symbolized by the Weird Sisters-suggest to his inordinate imagination the
splendid prospect of attaining now the greatest mutable good he has ever desired.
These demons in the guise of witches cannot read his inmost thoughts, but from
observation of facial expression and other bodily manifestations they surmise
with comparative accuracy what passions drive him and what dark desires await
their fostering. Realizing that he wishes the kingdom, they prophesy that he
shall be king. They cannot thus compel his will to evil; but they do arouse his
passions and stir up a vehement and inordinate apprehension of the imagination,
which so perverts the judgment of reason that it leads his will toward choosing
means to the desired temporal good. Indeed his imagination and passions are so
vivid under this evil impulse from without that "nothing is but what is not";
and his reason is so impeded that he judges, "These solicitings cannot be evil,
cannot be good." Still, he is provided with so much natural good that he is able
to control the apprehensions of his inordinate imagination and decides to take
no step involving crime. His autonomous decision not to commit murder, however,
is not in any sense based upon moral grounds. No doubt he normally shrinks from
the unnaturalness of regicide; but he so far ignores ultimate ends that, if he
could perform the deed and escape its consequences here upon this bank and shoal
of time, he\'ld jump the life to come. Without denying him still a complexity of
motives - as kinsman and subject he may possibly experience some slight shade of
unmixed loyalty to the King under his roof-we may even say that the consequences
which he fears are not at all inward and spiritual, It is to be doubted whether
he has ever so far considered the possible effects of crime and evil upon the
human soul-his later discovery of horrible ravages produced by evil in