Macbeth: Power Is The Paradox

People have a hard time getting what they want; in fact, the things they
want can be incompatible with each other. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the
protagonist is lured to murder the king, Duncan, by the desire for power, an
appetite honed by witch's prophecies and his wife's encouragement. But when he
reaches the kingship, he finds himself insecure. He attempts to remove threats
that decrease his security, including his companion Banquo and his son Fleance,
predicted to be king. His lords grow angry and revolt successfully, after
witches lure Macbeth into a false sense of security by further foretelling. In
Macbeth, we see that, despite appearances of contradiction, man's goals of
comfort and power are forever opposed in increment, though the two may decline
The power from knowledge causes discomfort. As often has been said,
ignorance is bliss. After Macbeth is promised the throne, Banquo asks why
Macbeth is less than ecstatic. "Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear /
Things that do sound so fair?" (Act I, Scene 3) Macbeth's new knowledge makes
him uncomfortable, as he realizes the implications. His first thoughts
considering murdering Duncan appear, and he is scared. After he commits the
murder, Macbeth says, "To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself." (Act II,
Scene 2) Knowing that has committed such a vile act makes him uncomfortable. It
will be difficult to act innocent and to deal with his guilt. When he later
decides to murder Banquo and Fleance, he tells his wife, "Be innocent of the
knowledge, dearest chuck, / Till thou applaud the deed." (Act III, Scene 2)
Hecate sets Macbeth up for his final fall. The security provided by the second
set of predictions is only short-lived. Feeling there is no threat to his power,
Macbeth acts wildly, bringing his downfall and loss of both comfort and security.
The problem with knowledge was that it was power resulting in a decline in
Those most comfortable have the least power. The enjoyment of security
prevents strength. The Porter delivers an ironic speech on the evils of drink,
explaining, "Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes: it provokes the desire,
but it takes away the performance: therefore much drink may be said to be an
equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it
takes him off; it persuades him and disheartens him; makes him stand to and not
stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and giving him the lie,
leaves him." (Act II, Scene 3) While drink may cause comfort, this is
contradicted by its other effects. It takes away the power, the performance.
This recalls the guards, comfortably asleep but not standing guard, the latter
their blame, as they are said to stand and kill the king and then stop standing
to. After the murder, Duncan's sons Malcolm and Donalbain decide to forgo the
power of the kingship. Says Donalbain, "Where we are / There's daggers in men's
smiles; the near in blood, / The nearer bloody." (Act II, Scene 3) He realizes
that his father was murdered because of the position he was in. It would be much
safer to not be king, despite the loss in power, because the threats are too
great. Power serves as both a blessing and a curse.
Gaining power causes discomfort. When trying to gain power, hoping to
increase their pleasure, people find themselves wracked with guilt and paranoia.
Macbeth sees how lucky the dead and powerless Duncan really is. Duncan has no
power but faces no threats either. He is much safer than Macbeth, who lives in
fear of losing the throne. As he observed, "To be thus is nothing, / But to be
safely thus." (Act III, Scene 1) His power as king wasn't really as great as he
though it would be, and his power is really for nothing because he feels so
threatened. The same idea is found again when his wife opinions

"Nought's had, all's spent,
Where our desire is got without content.
'Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." (Act III, Scene 2)

Everything they had done to gain the power they desired just led to greater
discomfort, as they found the dead were much happier than they. After the murder,
Lady Macbeth is troubled by feelings of guilt, making her sleep erratic and
uncomfortable. "Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One- two -why then 'tis time to
do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard?