Power Shifts of Macbeth

Janelle Draper


The text Macbeth by famous playwright William Shakespeare portrays a dramatic power struggle by the careful employment of various literary techniques. "Authority poisons everybody who takes authority on himself" (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin) aptly describes this prominent theme of Macbeth. Techniques include symbolism, emotive language, narrative structure and imagery, which combine to represent the tragic plot portraying the contest between goodness and evil in Macbeth.

In the tragedy Macbeth emotive language and soliloquy have been employed to emphasize the struggle for domination between the characters. The main theme of Macbeth, the desire for power and dominance, is appropriately summarized by the following quote:
"Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other" (I, VII, 54)

The main character, Macbeth, seeks increasing authority influenced by the witches' prophecies, at any cost. Dramatic language has been successfully portrayed Macbeth's desire, through the above quote, whereby the search for power and ambition has been decided. Yet, the result of such ambitious ideals is at risk of resulting in the opposite, being condemnation. Personification in the form of 'Vaulting ambition" and "itself" has been employed to aid to the understanding of the exert, combining with dramatic language which also contributes to the overall impact of the theme. Macbeth lets his "vaulting ambition" rush fate, hence hasten doom.

The technique symbolism has also been suitably employed to further enhance Macbeth's struggle for power and dominance, hence the main theme. This may be demonstrated where Lady Macbeth states:
"What, will these hands ne'ver be clean...!
Here's the smell of blood still..." (V, I, 174)

The apparition of blood on Lady Macbeth's hands, which can not be removed, is symbolic of her subconscious revealing her 'wrong doing' in previous sections of the text. Even though Lady Macbeth is no longer influencing her husband towards evil occurrences, the blood is symbolic of her attempts to aid Macbeth's path towards power and dominance. Blood is linked to treachery and murder, hence the emphasis on Lady Macbeth's crimes. The struggle for authority and supremacy has now shifted from Lady Macbeth to her husband, yet her evil deeds are still prominent in he subconscious mind.

Light and dark imagery have been portrayed throughout Macbeth to aid to the representation of the main themes of evil opposing goodness. Each detail of Shakespeare's imagery contains important symbols of the play, which aid the further understanding of the text. An example of this employment of light and dark imagery is demonstrated in Lady Macbeth's first invocation to darkness, when she declares:
"Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife sees not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry Hold! Hold! (I, V, 48)

The majority of prominent scenes in Macbeth involve darkness as symbolic imagery, hence the portrayal of evil. In the above quote "night", "hell" and "dark" are equated to evil; and "heaven" to goodness. This passage is a clear portrayal of Lady Macbeth's inner torment in question of their evil deeds, which has been carefully condensed by Shakespeare into an instance of figurative power. The inquisition of goodness in contrast to evil has created both a psychological and dramatic effect, which results in the query, is the struggle for power worth the evil? A power shift is now detected, between the act of pondering the evil actions, and the act of physically doing these evils.

A further symbolic gesture employed by Shakespeare to represent his plot of power shifts and the struggle for dominance between characters includes reference to natural imagery, where he states:
"Look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under't" (I, V, 48)

The natural imagery of the above quote adds to the portrayal of the main themes of Macbeth, as the "serpent" is symbolic of evil and the "innocent flower" of goodness. To be the serpent under the innocent flower is simply implicating to Macbeth that to achieve the power and status he obsesses of, he must appear innocent, yet become evil and deceptive, and stop at nothing to achieve his desire. These are the words of Lady Macbeth requiring the shift of dominance to move from herself to her husband, Macbeth.

Finally, the narrative structure of Macbeth contributes to the significance of the