Jeremy Keeshin Macbeth: The Story of Human Incentive

The wise philosopher Aristotle said in his book Politics, “It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.” In this sentence, Aristotle was picking at the fundamental tenet behind human drive. Aristotle realized what Shakespeare was to realize many years later in his play Macbeth about greed. Aristotle observed the inherently persistent nature of greed, and how humans exist entirely for its fulfillment. In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, the characters are all motivated by their natural human incentives, and the power achieved by Macbeth cause him to become corrupt and is the underlying catalyst behind the plot. Macbeth’s response to incentives is evident throughout the play when he decided to aggressively pursue the fate set out by the witches. Throughout the play he sets these goals for himself, and uses his knowledge asymmetry to fulfill them. Macbeth finds out early in the play that he is destined to a certain fortune. The witches greet him with the eerie titles of Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and king hereafter. His selfish want and curiosity cause him to demand the witches an explanation. Macbeth says, “Stay, you imperfect speakers. Tell me more. By Sinel’s death I know I am Thane of Glamis. But how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives a prosperous gentleman, and to be king stands not within the prospect of belief, no more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence you owe this strange intelligence or why upon this blasted heath you stop our way with such prophetic greeting. Speak, I charge you” (1.3. 73-81). Whenever Macbeth is offered information from the witches, he seems to extract it forcefully. He demands it from them early in Act 1, but also does again later in Act 4. Macbeth demands, “I conjure you by

Jeremy Keeshin that which you profess (Howe’er you come to know it), answer me” (4.1.51-52). The prophecies lent to Macbeth offer him an advantage against his opponents, as he knows what the final outcome will be. He knows he will be king, so he decided to make this dream a reality through his own force. The character of Macbeth is the epitome of the flow of impetus and motivations in human beings. Once he realizes he will be ‘king hereafter’ he wants to kill Duncan. Once he kill’s Duncan and has ascended the throne he wants to protect it. Macbeth demonstrates some of the most fundamental human motivations. He wants power, he goes after the power, and he struggles to maintain the power. While Macbeth preserves his power, he sees Banquo as a threat and does what any person would do to competition: he eliminates him. He even convinces two men to murder Banquo who have no prior grudge against him. Macbeth says, “Both of you know Banquo was your enemy” (3.1.129-130). He is lying blatantly to them, and the idea that he is king is convincing enough to get them to commit a murder. The essence of his character is best summed up as a power hungry and greedy individual. Once Macbeth has attained power, he will cease at nothing to guard over it. Late in the book, Lady Macbeth is ill and dies from the realization of the sheer magnitude of the crimes she has perpetrated, but Macbeth fails to stop his greed. Macbeth says after Lady Macbeth has passed, “She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace form day to day to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!” (5.3.20-26). Macbeth is so caught up in his own desired that he cannot take time out to stop and mourn the death of his wife. Macbeth’s character shows the inherent corruption

Jeremy Keeshin that comes with power. At the beginning of the play, his character does not seem power hungry and conniving, but after he becomes king and starts killing people, his entire demeanor changes. The other characters in Macbeth exhibit a large amount of response to their own incentives and selfish actions. Lady Macbeth is arguably as selfish or more selfish than Macbeth because she attempts to act out her ambitions through him. She wants to gain the crown, so she pushes him into the murder of Duncan. Macduff, the Scottish noble who eventually kills Macbeth in a duel, has his own motives as well. Macduff acts selfishly when he leaves his wife and child alone in Scotland when he flees to England. He only lingers on the news that they are dead for a moment until he moves on. Macduff says, “But I must also feel it as a man. I cannot but remember such things were that were most precious to me” (4.3.261-263). In this instance Macduff displays his own selfishness when he cares not to think of his family that he left to die. Malcolm acts in a very similar way with this greed. Malcolm tests the loyalty of Macduff, but while doing so is very selfish and greedy, not thinking that Macduff’s belief in him is faltering. Malcolm says how he would be even worse than Macbeth and that he would be even more greedy and lustful than ever and it would not make him a good candidate. Malcolm says to Macduff, “With this there grows a stanchless avarice that, were I king, I should cut off the nobles for their lands, desire his jewels, and this other’s house; and my morehaving would be as a sauce to make me hunger more, that I should forge quarrels unjust against the good and loyal, destroying them for wealth” (4.3.91-99). In this instance Malcolm shows the same type of greed that Macbeth showed as well.

Jeremy Keeshin In Shakespeare’s story Macbeth, the plot moved along because of human response to incentives and power. The characters in this play, although all acting based off a different perspective, acted off the same underlying reason. They each acted off their own knowledge and motivation. Macbeth acted of the prophecies of the witches to gain the power to the throne. This demonstration of incentives is why the values of Shakespeare’s play are timeless. The morals that Aristotle told about human desire in his book Politics were that same as Shakespeare told in Macbeth, which is the same as today’s society. Humans are naturally greedy.

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