Kingship in Shakespeare’s
It goes without saying that kings have always been among the most respected personalities in the world. According to King James I, "Kings are justly called gods for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power on earth. For if you will consider the attributes to God, you will see how they agree in the person of a king. God has the power to create, or destroy, make, or unmake at his pleasure, to give life, or send death to judge all, and to be judged nor accountable to none; to raise low things, and to make high things low at his pleasure, and to God are both soul and body due. And the like power have kings." (King James I). In the given paper, we will prove that Shakespeare in his plays challenges this view.
The first play to consider is “Macbeth”. The tragedy by William Shakespeare "Macbeth" is a great story about a strong desire for power instead of different obstacles. It is a story of two persons, who became blind because of their eternal desire to have immense power. Shakespeare interpreted the story about the King of Scotland, Macbeth (1040). Shakespeare's representation of the plot was influenced by Queen Elizabeth and later by James VI. During the times of Queen Elizabeth the plot was rather dramatic. However, during the ruling of James VI Shakespeare was forced to polish the plot because James VI was involved in the story of Duncan’s murder. James VI focused on the necessity to kill witches, and Shakespeare reflects this tendency in his dramatic play, as well. The Chronicles of Scotland speak of Duncan as of a young ruler while Shakespeare makes his own interpretation portraying him as an older man. In addition, the act of murder got a rather tragical reflection in the play.
Shakespeare adapted his tragedy to the period he had lived. The contemporaries have many difficulties with comprehension of the story. That is why it is relevant to interpret the nature of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth characters in the context of their relations development.
Shakespeare does not portray the king who has absolute divine power. He depicts a week personality, unable to fix the problems in his personal life and his kingship. Unlike his cunning and powerful wife, Macbeth is shown as a weak-willed person, who cannot properly behave in a risky situation. He is a murderer, but he is afraid even to think about the consequences of his actions and to say "amen". It means that he is afraid for his soul, and his emotional state of confusion leaves him concentrated on his "bloody hands". He does not know what to do next, and Lady Macbeth is jockeying at him and tries to redirect his gloomy thoughts into actions, which should be taken in order to catch up the moment. Macbeth is too sensitive, and Lady Macbeth strictly criticizes him for this. She is convinced that something needs to be done immediately, and murder is only a necessary step taken for further glory. Blood and death do not scare her off. This fact underlines that the character of Lady Macbeth is rather strong, and unlike other women, she is not afraid of cruelty.
Shakespeare shows us that all our actions and thoughts will come back to us. If you kill someone, your life will be taken for certain. Moreover, an attempt of a murder is not shown as a brave deed; it is an attempt to escape from the responsibility for future fight to obtain a higher social status. We can see wild ambitions and a violent corruption of power. Therefore, a natural question arises. If a king exercises divine power on earth than how he can act as a coward? Nowadays this matter is topical to the same extent. Contemporary literature critics depict crime and punishment in the 11th century in Scotland and compare it to modern times. Modern power is often vicious and corrupted. It means that the society is developing along the same paths, and it is important to show the outcomes of such an unfair power as it is shown in Macbeth by Shakespeare. The grand ambitions and a blind desire of power are the features that cannot in any way be characteristic to those who are supposed to realize God’s will on earth. King, as a manner or resemblance of divine power on earth cannot be unsure, afraid and get easily influenced. A king who represents the power of God and possesses the limitless possibilities and rights cannot be weak. It would be better to think about their inner essence. Who knows, if Macbeth continued his self-concentration and did not listen to pacified speeches of his wife, he would have confessed in his murder…
His wife wanted power and she was blinded by the possibility of having immense power if only her husband could commit a murder. Lady Macbeth used her husband to embody her vicious plans. From the play we can see that Lady Macbeth has an immense influence on her husband who is depicted as an unconfident person, not as a king should be. It is obvious that the character of King Macbeth has much in common with a simple, weak person, but there is nothing alike with the ruler described by King James I.
They wanted to become closer by becoming partners in the crime, like Boney and Clyde, but their marriage failed because they allowed their poignant ideas ruling over them. Macbeth dies and Lady Macbeth commits a suicide. There is no matter, where he or she dies. Death finds them because they were not afraid of imposing it on other persons for reaching their goals. Now, it is time to pay for them. Thus, even the kings pay before the eyes of God.
The second play to consider is “King Lear”. “King Lear” is one of the greatest plays by William Shakespeare. A depiction of the interesting and difficult personalities make the readers think about a challenging nature of human inner world. In this play, Shakespeare describes sensitive human beings and King Lear is not the exception. The deepest feeling of humanity, love, is correlated with the personal arrogance and superiority of King Lear. True love is reflected by Cordelia and Gloucester’s sons. Lear’s daughter shows her love for her father King Lear, who was misguided by his eldest daughters and got mad finally. Gloucester is misguided by his greedy son, who closes his father’s eyes on a true love of his loving son.
In spite of the highest social role that King Lear plays in the Shakespeare’s play implies his inability to sort the wheat from the chaff. A king representing God’s power and will cannot be so limited. Thus, in the beginning of the play King Lear is misguided by lie of his elder daughters. Lear, longing to beautiful words, cheats himself first of all. His need for power has already clouded his mind. He composes a false letter to his father implicating his brother. He is blind and does not see Cordelia’s love for him. Thus, he floods out his daughter from his house with the following words: “...for we Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see That face of her again. Therefore be gone Without our grace, our love, our benison.” (1.1. 265-267)
It is a well-known fact that no king can be successful without the help and support of his loyal followers. Unfortunately, King Lear can be called a divine sovereign. Confused in his ambitions and pride he continues a chain of persecutions and banishes one of his faithful followers, Kent. Then, Kent returns to the kingdom as a servant, but King’s blindness prevents him from identifying Kent. As far as we can see, King Lear lives blind; he is unable to make clear and correct decisions, and he is misguided by the people around him. Vice versa, he does not believe to those people, who want to shed light on his wrong actions. Fortunately, his blindness begins to slowly disappear, and Lear finds out the real intentions of his daughters and realizes the true love of Cordelia for him. Still, he fails in his attempts to save himself from further erroneous judgments and thus he loses his life, as well as Cordelia does.
Analyzing the quotation by King James I a conclusion comes to mind - King’s social responsibility intensifies his wrong actions to the greatest extent. The revelation of truth for King Lear occurs too late. He says: O my follies! Then Edgar was abus'd. Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper him! (3.7.91-92). Lear tries to find out how he managed to live among “men of stones” (5.3.258). Therefore, blindness can be cured, but the blind heart cannot. However, once a suffering person acknowledges a blindness of his heart he may be healed by God. Thus, Shakespeare shows that no one, even the king, can be as powerful as God. People are weak, and they are not in the ability to fight their demons. The treachery of a self-loving character leads only to crimes and suffering. Lear, Regan, Goneril and Edmund are the four exemplary sinners of the play, who destroy others, each other, and themselves. Moreover, a degrading power of blindness makes King Lear going mad. His madness is the result of his weak-willed individuality, his easily confused nature and his intolerant attitude to the most caring person for him, Cordelia. Shakespeare is the great tragic play writer. Therefore, juxtaposing a concept of blindness and a sight, he manages to make the play even more dramatic. Blindness is Lear’s essence, but in spite of it, he does not make an attempt to fight against it, but continues following the path of erroneous decisions. It is easier for the King’s spoiled nature to agree upon the eldest sister’s lies than to believe in the innocent, pure and true love of his daughter for him.
Kings are just humans, not gods; thus Shakespeare challenges the words of King James I. The masterpiece by William Shakespeare "Macbeth" is a thrilling story about people, common people who wanted to gain power despite different obstacles on their way. On the one hand, Shakespeare shows a "perfect marriage", when spouses are united by their common goals, by their feelings and emotions, by their madness and death. However, on the other hand, it is clear that Shakespeare appeals to the audience in order to prevent people from committing murders or allowing their perverted feelings prevail over them. This topic can be met in the works of many writers, but Shakespeare, like a true genius, did his best to help people understand his main idea and reveal the drawbacks all humans have. King Lear has gone through a difficult life and has met with deception, despair and betrayal. Fortunately, God blessed him, and in the end of his life he got a chance to uncover the truth. Shakespeare puzzled his readers because he opened the door to the most challenging phenomenon of humanity: to the essence of a human being. Nevertheless, the readers may wonder if King Lear would manage his revelation of truth or whether blindness in his inner world would last for ages.