Macbeth: A Mature Man of Established Character


Macbeth is presented as a mature man of definitely established character,
successful in certain fields of activity and enjoying an enviable reputation. We
must not conclude, there, that all his volitions and actions are predictable;
Macbeth\'s character, like any other man\'s at a given moment, is what is being
made out of potentialities 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