The Importance of Duncan’s Murder in Macbeth
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the repercussions of Macbeth murdering his King are very numerous. Through themes that include, imagery, soliloquies, atmosphere, and supernatural beings, Shakespeare enforces the magnitude of Macbeth’s crime. Most of these factors are linked together.
One of the main ways in which the horror of the murder is underlined is through the Great Chain of Being. At the time this play was written, it was believed that there was a hierarchy in the universe, with God being at the top, then angels, then the King, then man, and finally animals. This meant that the King was God’s representative on earth, and so if a rebel were to attack the King, he would be seen to be attacking and rebelling against God. This is seen in Act One, Scene Two, when the Thane of Cawdor rebels against King Duncan, where the Sergeant says – “Ship wracking storms and direful thunders break” (L.26). This thunderous weather symbolizes God’s anger at his representative of Scotland being attacked. The darkness during the play (all but two of the scenes are set in darkness) shows how the night is strangling the earth, representing the anger of God at the events in Scotland. The “Dark night strangles” (Act Two, Scene Four, Line Seven) the earth, showing God’s, overall grip on the world. The King at this time had an absolute monarchy (power of life and death over everyone in his kingdom). The belief was that God had passed special powers to all Kings, such as that for healing, which Malcolm identifies in Edward the Confessor (the King of England) in Act Four, Scene Three – “He cures…the healing benediction…he hath a heavenly gift of prophecy” (L.152-157). Shakespeare later uses Edward to compare a great King to Macbeth, in order to show what a bad King Macbeth is. Macbeth does not have the divinity as he is not a rightful King, and this is why his Scotland turns into chaos.
In killing Duncan, Macbeth goes against the great chain of being. He attacks God through killing Duncan; he undermines God’s authority on earth, which will lead to God being very angry, and eternal damnation for Macbeth. By losing the rightful King, Scotland can only become a worse place, and this is what happens – “Poor country; It cannot be call’d our mother, but out grave” (Act four, scene three, line 164). Duncan was a great King, and for a king of his power and greatness to be sacrificed to the ambition of someone like Macbeth shows the magnitude of the murder.
Duncan’s character backed up his status– he was very generous, such as in giving Macbeth the title of the Thane of Cawdor. But his naivety was his fault as a King, and it is partially what led to his downfall. When Macbeth defends him on the battlefield, he describes Macbeth as a “Valiant cousin…Worthy gentleman” (Act 1 Scene 2 L.24). He praises Macbeth in a regal way – “More is thy due than more than all can pay…I have begun to plant thee, and will...