Essay, Research Paper: Power Themes In Shakespeare Works

Literature: Shakespeare

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Power is the root of all evil. According to Perry Besshye Shelley, “Power,
like a disease, pollutes whatever it touches.” In other words, many characters
in literature become corrupted because of their quest for power. I fully agree
with Shelley that power “pollutes everything that it touches” because having
too much power concentrated in the hands of one person leads to dictatorship and
its bad consequences. “Power is the root of all evil” is another
interpretation of Shelley’s statement. This idea is demonstrated in the plays
Hamlet and Macbeth, both by William Shakespeare, where major characters lead
themselves to their downfall by trying to become very powerful. In fact, in both
plays many major characters die because of one person’s ambition to become a
powerful king. In Hamlet Claudius murders his brother, marries his former
sister-in-law (the Queen), and ascends to the throne of Denmark. These three
deeds are performed by a shrewd and self-serving man. The King will do almost
anything to protect the throne, in spite of knowing that he did not rightfully
earn it. He resorts to underhanded tactics such as spying, manipulation, and
deceit in order to overcome whatever he perceives as a threat to his supreme
position. As a result of Hamlet’s meeting with the ghost of his father,
Hamlet’s behavior changes. Everyone perceives this change as lunacy due to
Hamlet’s inability to accept the death of his father. However, Claudius does
not believe that this is the root cause of Hamlet’s madness. Since he is
uncertain of Hamlet’s knowledge of his secret, Claudius feels that his
supremacy is being threatened by Hamlet. Claudius sends for Hamlet’s childhood
friends Gildenstern and Rosencrantz to assist him with getting to the source of
Hamlet’s “so called transformation”. Claudius exercises his power and
plays on their loyalty and respect for his position, in addition to their
long-standing friendship with Hamlet, in order to get their cooperation. When
Polonius presents the idea to Claudius that Hamlet’s madness is due to his
daughter (Ophelia) rejecting Hamlet’s affections, he reserves judgment on this
notion. Claudius needs assurance, and recognizes an opportunity to get to the
bottom of this situation. He proceeds to manipulate Polonius into spying on
Hamlet. Together they use Opheila in a scheme intended to test Polonius’
theory of rejection. The outcome of the test reveals to Claudius that his
concern should be for something other than a rejected lover. Claudius says:
There's something in his soul, O'er which his melancholy sits on brood; And I do
doubt the hatch and the disclose Will be some danger: which for to prevent…
(Act III, sc. i) Claudius realizes that he must resolve the situation with
Hamlet to eliminate the potential threat to his security. However, Claudius is
astute enough to know that there are “two special reasons” why he could not
openly do anything to harm Hamlet. Claudius also knows that any direct action
taken against Hamlet would likely result in negative consequences for himself.
To compensate for this, he uses Laertes to do his dirty work. Claudius takes
advantage of Laertes’ intentions to revenge the death of his father. He is
able to put Laertes’ anger to rest and win over his confidence. He then
succeedes with leading Laertes into a scheme intended to kill Hamlet. Claudius
sends Horatio to spy on Ophelia, which appears to be a show of concern to the
Queen for Ophelia’s safety, but is more likely due to Claudius’ need to
protect his secret. He also withholds information from the Queen concerning the
scheme that ultimately leads to Ophelia’s madness. To protect himself, he
explained to the Queen that Ophelia’s “divided fair judgment” stemmed from
the death of her father. The play staged by Hamlet, in addition to Hamlet’s
wit, agitated the King. His reaction during the play causes a disruption, and
the play is discontinued. His self-conscious struggled with his self-serving
mission to remain in power as “the Dane”. Claudius tells us: It hath the
primal eldest curse upon’t, A brother’s murder. Pray can I not, Though
inclination be as sharp as will: My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
(Act III, sc. iii) Claudius attempts to repent but realizes that he cannot do so
because the throne of Denmark means more to him than obeying the natural laws of
divinity. Claudius is an individual whose greed and selfishness are responsible
for his rise and fall from the throne of Denmark. The power and position that he
tried so hard to maintain is ultimately destroyed by the same evil methods that
he used to acquire them. In Macbeth, Macbeth is the central character of the
play and a good person, but his personality gives a 180 degrees turn throughout
the story. Evil is the worst thing on Earth. It affects everyone. A very good
example of the manifestation of the power of evil on the play, is the sudden
breakdown of Macbeth's personality. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth
appears as a hero, he is brave and loyal to his king. Three witches encounter
Macbeth and address him as Thane of Cawdor and as the future king. "First
Witch: All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glomis! Second Witch: All hail
Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! Third Witch: All hail, Macbeth, that
shalt be king hereafter!" (Act. 1, Sc. 3) they also tell his friend Banquo
that he will not be king but his descendants will rule. The witches disappear
leaving Macbeth pleading for more information. Two messengers from the king
arrive and tell Macbeth that he is now Thane of Cawdor. This is the start of the
changing in the personality of Macbeth because he contemplates to himself on his
ambition to be a king, which has been strengthened by these events. Macbeth is
afraid of killing king Duncan, he is afraid of "the even handed
justice" that says that if he kills the king, another person may kill him;
but ambition is greater than decency and he commits the murder. Ambition can
ruin a person's life and we can see it in this tragic play. Macbeth doesn't want
to commit the murder, but his wife, Lady Macbeth, encourages him by saying that
he made a promise. Lady Macbeth persuades her husband by saying: What beast
wasn't, then, that made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it,
then you were a man; and to be more than what you where, you would be so much
more the man. Nor time nor place did then adhere, and yet you would make both.
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now does unmake you. I have
given suck, and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me. I would,
while it was smiling in my face, he plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and
dashed the brains out, had I sworn as you have done to this." (Act.1. Sc.
7). Macbeth, after hearing these words, proceeds with the plan. By being
ambitious, Macbeth kills his governor and takes away a great leader from
Scotland. Power is the best thing that a person, with the characteristics of
Macbeth, can have; but since everything that goes up has to go down, Macbeth
goes down too. When Macbeth is at the highest point that he can reach by being a
king he plans the murder of Banquo, because he is afraid of the prediction of
the Witches of Banquo's descendants being the rulers. After he kills him, he
starts seeing Banquo's ghost and going insane. Macbeth's personality changes
dramatically, from being a loyal and brave man, to a powerful king and at last
an insane person. When Malcolm, son of Duncan, wants to kill him, Macbeth is
informed of his wife’s death and looses his mind, and begins to be a person
that doesn't distress about life. At the end of the play he suffers by the
comprehension that his life could have been entirely different. Macbeth is not a
monster, but he cannot accept his evil coldly: he suffers for it. Evil doesn't
have to be of plain fantasy, like in Macbeth. Witches are not as Shakespeare
explains them to us. In our days, evil is represented in different forms.
Witches do not exist, evil does. People that think that power is the first thing
on Earth, tend to be ambitious and by consequence, evil. Evil does no good to
anyone, it just rotten a man's life by changing his personality from a positive
way to a negative one. In both great works of literature, major characters are
thirsty for power, they try to do everything they can to protect their
authorities in many different ways. Claudius chooses spying, manipulation, and
deceit in order to overcome whatever he perceives as a threat to his supreme
position. Macbeth is less imaginable; he just kills everyone who represents any
danger to his throne. Despite the power-hungry rulers’ tactics to retain their
thrones, they are faced with the same result—death. “Power is the root of
all evil”, Macbeth and Claudius started their rises toward power by committing
serious murders, killing the kings, which set off the chain reaction of “the
even handed justice” that came back to them. “Power, like a disease,
pollutes whatever it touches” is a true statement that demonstrates the cruel
human nature and is displayed throughout many works of literature.
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