Archetypal Approach to Macbeth by William Shakespeare

July 23, 2017 | Author: Lenka Koutná | Category: Macbeth, Archetype, Mythology, William Shakespeare, Tragedy
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Archetypal Approach to Macbeth by William Shakespeare The aim of following essay is an analysis of use of archetypes in Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Archetypal literary criticism is a critical theory which ‘interprets a text by focusing on recurring myths and archetypes in the narrative, symbols, images, and character types in a literary work’ (Kharbe 327). Their origins are rooted in two other academic disciplines, social anthropology (the study of the origins and history of myths and rituals) and psychoanalysis as a sub-branch of the critical theory. It has been almost abolished as it is thought that every human being is individual and no one is alike, but it still remains one of the traditional literary theories. Archetypal approach is considered to be closely connected with psychological theory, because individual archetypes are embedded in human psyche and the majority of archetypal qualities have something to do with the personalities, their actions and behaviour. The main protagonists of the theory of archetypes are Sigmund Freud and primarily his student and follower, Carl Gustav Jung. They both studied human psyche through psychoanalysis and came up with a theory of archetype. It is ‘a pattern or prototype of character types, images, descriptive details, and plot patterns that find their way from our minds to our myths to our literature, to our lives’ (Kharbe 327). Those archetypes are through our dreams transformed into myths, which are “the stories we told to explain our world before science” (Kharbe 329). Their main function was to help the humankind understand the world and its processes before there was science and rational explanation. They gave people some assurance of the world order and were important element in their lives. The most prominent in every culture was the archetype of hero and according to Joseph Campbell, there was just one type of archetypal hero (Campbell …...). Our main focus is on Macbeth a tragic hero of Shakespeare’s play and his downfall.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare belongs to one of the most prolific tragedies, which is thought to be originated between 16th and 17th centuries. It was the time of revolution in England, connected with the succession of Queen Elizabeth I. by Scottish King James to the throne of England. The change was to be seen not just on the throne, but also among the common people of English land and the social and political environment of the country. The previous certainties and securities of feudal era with its fixed and settled values were slowly being diminished and even the religion was called in question. Prosperity and future of country was at stake. So Shakespeare came up with the play of Macbeth, the fall of a man to warn the readers about what happens when the power blinds a man and destroys his good nature. He wanted to point out the change of human being, connected with newly gained power, as well as the threat of integrity and unity of people in the court. Main focus of Shakespeare as a witness of those changes in society was to show the binary forces and thoughts which tear the individuals apart. Although it is well known that Shakespeare gathered inspiration from various sources from the past, the play was able to fletch than actual problems. Although Shakespeare is claimed to take the inspirations for his works from numerous sources, he is nevertheless considered to be one of the greatest English authors of AngloSaxon period. It is no wonder that he used many aspect of archetypal and mythical tradition, because those aspects share a common and well-known cultural and human knowledge. Shakespeare’s work was popular especially because his audience was able to identify themselves with the characters of his work, no matter how unreal, obscure or remote they seemed. Tragedy of higher or middle mimetic level is a fall of the hero. He or she has to go through a downfall in order to isolate him/herself from the rest of the people around him. Macbeth’s downfall is not just a matter of personality, but also of a higher moral and social recognition.

We can see the change in Macbeth’s characters as a formerly brave and admired character; as he changes into a selfish and cold hearted ambitious evil man. Although at some point we can feel sympathy with Macbeth and see the influence of his wife upon his actions. The source of the tragic impression on the reader is in the myth itself, and the notion of action-reaction which is to be found. It is a warning that every good or bad deed is to be rightfully awarded or punished. In the beginn Macbeth is brave and great soldier, admired by many, even king Duncan himself. But his tragic flaw results in his doom and inevitable death. Macbeth starts as a young brave soldier who through his success on battlefield wins over King Duncan’s respect and admiration. Although as a soldier he killed many people, he does not approve of deliberate killing as we can see when he is told that in order to become a thane of former one must be executed. He does not consider killing as a pleasure or passion, but rather as a necessity. But this innocent young thane is to be set on a journey towards recognition of his true self. Upon the encounter with the Three Witches, Macbeth is drawn into his own supressed desires and conflicts among his own self. Therefore the three mysterious and supernatural creatures can be called ‘heralds’ because they call out Macbeth’s obsessions and ‘the awakening of the self’ (Campbell 47). This calling symbolizes a way to transfiguration of Macbeth’s values and attitudes. As Campbell points out “the familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit” (Campbell 47). Following this calling is phase called ‘passing the threshold.’ It is a process of leaving the old life behind and setting on a journey towards self-recognition. The Three Witches also symbolize the unconscious deep in Macbeth’s psyche where all undesired, unadmitted or even unrecognized elements of existence are embedded (Campbell 48). Those secret thoughts may be frightening to the conscious personality of Macbeth, as he clearly does not approve of killing and violence as

such. So he at first tries to fight the evil thoughts and acts as if they never crossed his mind. But even when he meets Duncan in the palace and invites him into his castle, his actions are contradictory. His evil conduct is inevitable and cannot be postponed any longer. So when he confesses about his vision to his wife, Lady Macbeth, he is still undecided whether he should risk his own old life, which was previously satisfactory to him and turn to his evil self. His wife is resolute about Macbeth’s actions and advises him to do what he desires. She can be seen as a second ‘herald’ for Macbeth, as she is determined to force Macbeth to kill King Duncan.

Archetypes help us to sense the world as being under some kind of a higher order. Something which has its roots in the nature, as is the change of seasons. It is an ensuring aspect which gives us a sense of understanding the worlds and its processes. The monarch, King Duncan represents an authority, the head of the country and someone who is looked up on. His relationship to Macbeth is not just the one of king and his servant. He calls Macbeth his good and loyal companion and is fond of his friendship. The king is murdered before he grows old and the one who kills him replaces him. This ritual is connected with the changing of seasons, circle of life and death. Something old, corrupted, bad, damaged has to be replaced by something new, young, full of life and hope. This myth is connected not just with the nature, but also with the healthiness and well-being of the whole country. Especially in bad times, when the people suffer and struggle in their lives, there is the call for better, brighter future, which can be depicted by this ritual of ‘succession of throne’. The king can also be seen as a scapegoat, a hero which is inevitably killed in order to bring the country its much needed prosperity and peace. According to Frazer, it was believed that when the country was going through some hard times, natural disasters or any unrest, the

monarch was blamed for them because it was his responsibility to have the sympathies of the Deity (Frazer 134). So it was not unusual that the king had to be sacrificed for the good of his own people and his kingdom. Death of the king is thought to be a symbol of reincarnation of wellness of the country. But the king was thought to be the chosen one and his murder was considered an unforgivable act. It was not thoughtful to obtain the crown by someone who was not appointed for the role of the king by the higher power. Therefore Duncan is the first victim of Macbeth and as such starts the deterioration of his personality. His murder helps to reveal the true nature of Macbeth and his Lady. This is stressed out also by the admiration and respect which the two men share. He does not shy away from killing the sole authority of the country, King Duncan. He is even ready to kill his closest friend and companion, Banquo and his young son, who is according to the Three Witches a future king of Scotland. But all this time, Macbeth is constantly questioning the goodness of his nature and is calling for a redemption. The hero is not able to commit the crime himself. At first he hesitates and is forced to kill the king by his wife, Lady Macbeth. In the case of Banquo, he calls for Murderers and pays him to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. Macbeth as a tragic hero. He begins as a brave soldier, who because of his good and courageous deeds in the war gains the higher status of nobility. Everyone admires him and his ability on the battlefields. One day he comes up to three witches (symbols of magic, mystery) and they predict him a bright and successful future. Blinded by the prospect of power and wealth, Macbeth is torn between his good and relatively peaceful nature and the temptation of killing Duncan and becoming The King.

His personality is torn, because he does not approve of killing of innocent people, as we can see when Duncan proposes him that when …. is killed, Macbeth will get his title. He points out that killing is not a solution to anything and that it will only result in the death of others. But this attitude is easily diminished when Macbeth confesses to his wife about his intentions. Lady Macbeth is determined to become a queen and is furious when she discovers that Macbeth is not sure if he wants to kill the king. She is furious and calls him a coward and asks his about his manhood. Macbeth realizes that only way how to prove his strength and power is to kill Duncan and become a king. So they both come up with an evil plan how to murder the king and put the blame on the two guards. However, Macbeth still hesitates and asks his own conscious. He gives up and kills Duncan, well aware of the consequences which his action entails. The father figure is not clearly determined. We do not exactly know much about Macbeth’s father or his death and its impact on Macbeth. It is only revealed that Macbeth gained his title of thane after his father’s death. Therefore the role of a father figure is transformed to Duncan. He is older than Macbeth, possibly in an age of his death father. They share respect for each other and king Duncan seems to adore Macbeth for his bravery and loyalty. Macbeth protects Duncan in the battlefield and is not afraid to put his own life on a stake. But Macbeth is not a true son of Duncan and so cannot become a rightful heir to the throne which belongs to King’s eldest son Malcolm. Macbeth’s formerly repressed desire for power forces him to kill Duncan, as it was his own father. Here we can see another archetype shared throughout different cultures. The monarch represented an authority of the country and was admired and respected as a ‘Chosen one’ by the Deity or some higher power. We can see a change in Macbeth’s character as well as his attitude to killing and unnecessary death. When he is at first acquainted with the idea that the king of …… should be killed in

and his title should be passed to Macbeth, he does not approve. But later as he gains more and more power through his status in society and kingdom, he becomes ignorant to his former belief and killing is not more a taboo for him. He decides to kill king Duncan in order to become a King of Scotland. In the history, the succession to the throne was considered to be a ritual which had its own rules and certain measures had to be taken before the new king was crowded. This process is seen also in Macbeth with Malcolm, the eldest son of Duncan being a successor to the throne (Prince of Cumberland). But because of the sudden death of the king and the running away of Malcolm and Donalbian, this process cannot be completed. There are no rightful heirs left, but the land needs a sovereign to support its stability and order, so Macbeth is appointed to become a king himself, although he is not a rightful successor. But all this time he is hunted by the past and the things he had done. He is not able to fully get rid of the thought of blood on his hands. He becomes mad and starts to see a ghost of dead Duncan. He is possessed by the fear of losing his power and is threatened by his companion, Banquo and his son, Fleance. He has to kill them, but does not find enough strength to do it himself. So he invites the Murderers and tells him that the only person, who is responsible for their misery if Banquo. The Murderers do not hesitate and decide to murder Banquo and his son. They are however successful only partially, because Banquo is able to run away.

Works cited:

Kharbe, Ambreen. English Language And Literary Criticism. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Raglan, Richard S.F. The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama. (Courier Dover Publications, 1956)

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with A Thousand Faces. (Princeton University Press, 2004) Makaryk, Irena R. Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory. (University of Toronto Press, 1993). Staton, Shirley F. Literary Theories in Praxis. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987) Sugg, Richard P. Jungian Literary Criticism. (Northwestern University Press, 1992) Frazer, James G., Sir. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. (Oxford University Press, 1998) CH10

(Frazer 134)

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