Macbeth: Independence and Failure


Peasants of the early sixteenth century are often pictured carrying a
bundle of limbs tied with vines on their backs. This is a perfect metaphor for
the events in Macbeth. Macbeth is one of many thanes, or limbs, bundled
together. The thanes are united by the king, or the vine. Scotland, or the
peasant, carries the bundle by the sweat of his brow. They carry the bundle
for fires on cold nights, or wars, and to build homes, or castles, to protect
them from the elements, or invaders. If the limbs are tied improperly, one limb
may slip to the side and cause the peasant, or nation, to stumble or fall. If
the limb slides completely out, the rest of the limbs may follow because the
bundle is loose. Marriage is like a triangle. Each spouse makes up one of the
leaning sides, and marriage the lower side. The three together are very strong,
but to stand they all must be united. The longer a marriage is held the longer
the bottom stretches, and the more dependent each person becomes on the other.
If one side tries to stand on its own then the second will fall on the first as
it tries to stand. This metaphor also excellently exemplifies the catastrophe
that occurs in Macbeth as both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth try to separate.
Macbeth is a eighteenth century play written by William Shakespeare. Using
these two metaphors, the breakdown in the relationship between Lady Macbeth and
Macbeth and between the king and the thanes and how they perfectly parallel
each other because each is caused by Macbeth\'s will to be independent.
According to Webster\'s dictionary, the archaic definition of
independence is “competence” (1148). To be independent is not to be “subject
to control by others” (Gove 1148). This means that independence is to be in
control of ones decisions and to feel they are good decisions. Macbeth, on the
other hand, feels independence is to not be subordinate to others like the king.

To be independent, one must be strong. Inner strength, not physical
strength, is needed. Inner strength is only accomplished by having a high
self-esteem. Macbeth does not and must use others to reach for independence.
Macbeth needs this strength:
It [Macbeth] hurls a universe against a man, and if the universe that
strikes is more impressive than the man who is stricken, as great as his size
and gaunt as his soul may be he will fall. (Van Doren 217) According to
Macbeth\'s ideas of independence and of strength, he is neither independent nor
strong. He feels the need for both and thus allows nothing, including murder,
to get into his way.
Shakespeare opens Macbeth with the disorder being stabilized by the king
and thanes. The thanes fought “rebellious arm ‘gainst arm” to curb “his lavish
spirit” (I, ii, 56-7). Macbeth\'s stature increased to fill the space in the
bundle of limbs opened by the death of the Thane of Cawdor for “what he hath
lost, noble Macbeth hath won” (I, ii, 67). “When we first see him [Macbeth] he
is already invaded by those fears which are to render him vicious and which are
finally to make him abominable” (Van Doren 216).At the end of Act I, Lady
Macbeth and Macbeth are discussing whether or not to assassinate the king (I,
ii). Macbeth has not committed himself to this sin and to independence, he has
not broken the commitatus bond that exists between the king and thane.
Likewise, Macbeth\'s marriage is unstable as they argue, but their triangle is
still together as they depend on one another.
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth each experiment with external forces to gain
independence from their spouse. Macbeth uses the witches, on which he becomes
increasingly dependent. Lady Macbeth uses alcohol and Satan to “unsex” her and
make her strong (II, ii, 1; I, v, 42). Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth deny
their dependence on their aid, and still require their spouse. Their self
denial of their dependence makes them weak, and the more self denial the weaker
they get. As a married couple, they are splitting away from each other: they
are trying to turn their triangle of dependence into a open square of
independence.
The split between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth becomes apparent with the
assassination of king Duncan. By the end of their arguing in the beginning of
Act II, the two had not come to a final decision as to whether to kill the king
or not (I, v, 72). Without the consent of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth tries