Is Macbeth a Machiavellian leader?

8 August 2016

Not a Machiavellian Leader Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince was written as a guide to success for future and current rulers all over the world. Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Machiavelli’s The Prince both present different viewpoints on how to be a noble ruler. Some people say that Macbeth is a Machiavellian ruler. Others qualify him saying that he holds certain Machiavellian traits but not all. While other people say he isn’t a Machiavellian character at all, nor does he possess any qualities of a genuine Machiavellian ruler.

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Macbeth does hold some Machiavellian qualities like maintaining the fear of his army, restraining himself from possessing the women that belong to others, and not being opposed to using force in order to obtain that which he desires. Despite possessing these Machiavellian qualities, Macbeth is not a true Machiavellian leader. According to Machiavelli, a prince should avoid being hated by all, which Macbeth doesn’t do so well.

Machiavelli says a prince should avoid being cruel, rapacious, a violator of the property and women of one’s subjects, because “…you will find [the] cruel and rapacious– men who… did not hesitate to commit every kind of iniquity against the people; and all… came to a bad end…” (19. 20). With the death of Duncan, the other characters in the play become suspicious of Macbeth – maybe he isn’t the type of ruler they wanted after all. The other characters lose all trust and respect for Macbeth. The death of Macduff’s family ultimately causes everyone around Macbeth to hate him.

Macbeth’s abrupt and ruthless decision to “give to th’edge o’th’sword to [Macduff’s] wife, [Macduff’s] babes, and all the unfortunate souls that trace [Macduff] in his line” shows how unhesitant he is to rid of any and all obstacles in his path to the throne (4. 1. 151-153). This is when Macduff finally decides that Macbeth must be overthrown and Macduff himself will not rest until he “[treaded] upon the tyrant’s [Macbeth] head” (4. 3. 45). In addition to not being hated, Machiavelli indicates that a ruler should also keep one’s people satisfied and content.

The people of Scotland look up to Macbeth. In act 4 scene 3, Malcolm is telling Macduff about the hardship that Macbeth is bringing to Scotland saying “I think our country sinks beneath the yoke it weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash is added to her wounds” (4. 3. 40-42). The people of Scotland trusts Macbeth to run their country well, but in the end he runs it into the ground, forcing them into poverty and misfortune. By murdering Duncan, Banquo and Macduff’s family Macbeth causes a lot of misery in the lives of the deceased’s families.

Macbeth never keeps his people satisfied, but rather he does things to make them extremely displeased. According to standards set forth by The Prince, Macbeth did many things wrong as a ruler, but above all, he let others influence his decisions and he messed with what wasn’t his. A prince should never “… be too ready of belief” or have “too great confidence in others [throwing] him off his guard, nor groundless dis trust [rendering] him insupportable” (17. 3). Time and time again, Macbeth puts all his trust into the witch’s prophecies.

He lets the prophecies control all his actions and decisions from that point on, which leads to his downfall. Not only does Macbeth let the prophecies control his every action, but he also lets his wife, Lady Macbeth, make all his decisions for him. She drives him to kill Duncan to achieve the thrown. When he questions her direction she outraged, calls him a coward and questions his manhood: “When you durst do it,” she says, “then you were a man” (1. 7. 49). She makes him the power hungry tyrant he ultimately becomes.

In The Prince, Machiavelli states that “A wise Prince should build on what is his own, and not depend on what rests with other” (17. 9). Macbeth takes the heir to the throne which should not have been his. He also achieves the throne by treacherous means. He even contemplates whether he should kill him or not saying that “Duncan hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office that his virtues will plead like angels” (1. 7. 16-19). He knows what he is doing is wrong, but if he doesn’t kill Duncan, he otherwise won’t be heir to the throne.

Macbeth depends on the witches’ prophecies to build his future. He never makes his own plan; he uses the prophecies as his plan. Macbeth lets too many outside characters affect his decisions, feelings and actions; something a true Machiavellian leader would never do. To a true and successful ruler, war is the number one priority. “A PRINCE ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline…” (14. 1). Macbeth is too preoccupied with the fulfillment of the witch’s prophecies to worry about anything else.

In act four scene one, the three witches see three apparitions and earn Macbeth not to ask about them. Despite the witches’ warnings, Macbeth demands answers saying “I conjure you, by that which you profess, howe’er you come to know it, answer me” (4. 1. 50-51). What they “profess” are the arts of black magic, but Macbeth cares about nothing except himself. He wants answers, even if it means that winds knock down churches, waves swallow ships, crops are lost, or “though the treasure of nature’s germains tumble all together, even till destruction sicken” (4. 1. 58-60).

The numerous murders Macbeth commits occupies a lot \ of his time, leaving him no time to prepare for anything else, especially war. “A wise prince ought to observe some such rules, so that if fortune changes it may find him prepared to resist her blows. ” (14. 6). After the death of Duncan, Malcolm and Macduff begin planning their attack on Macbeth, while Macbeth worries about obtaining more power. When the woods “move” Macbeth loses it. He tells the messenger that “If thou [the messenger] speak’st false, upon the next tree shalt thou hang alive” (5. 5. 38-39).

He realizes in that moment, that he will be defeated. He has no army to fight with, and no plan. Because he is unprepared, he loses his life to Macduff. Macbeth never once worries about or prepares for war, instead he spent his time fixating on other things, which leads to his defeat. Outstanding rulers take on great conquests and inspire others by their noble actions. “[Rulers] should strive by all [their] actions to inspire a sense of his greatness and goodness. ” (21. 3). Macbeth thinks he will be a great ruler of the throne, and he will have great affairs, but he does nothing of greatness or goodness.

He forces the people of Scotland into hardship and calamity, and he tells the murders to “Know Banquo was [their] enemy” (3. 1. 125). He does nothing for them that a good ruler should. In The Prince, Machiavelli says that a good ruler should show that he loves talent and rewards it, encourage his citizens to prosper in their occupations, keep the people entertained with festivals when appropriate, and he should give attention to the various civic groups without appearing undignified; none of which Macbeth did.

Machiavelli also says that “Nothing makes a prince so well thought of as to undertake great enterprises and give striking proofs of his capacity” (21. Macbeth never proves himself to his people. He never does anything extraordinary. Machiavelli gives the Spain of Ferdinand as an example; he did various things to distract his people from overthrowing him such as; attacking Granada, driving the Moors out of Spain, and attacking Africa, Italy, and France.

Macbeth never does anything to keep his people from overthrowing him, he is too infatuated with gaining power to worry about anything else. Macbeth does nothing of great statute during his reign, nothing anyone could remember him by, besides his cruelty and selfishness One of the most important ideas that Machiavelli says is that “A prince is likewise esteemed who is a stanch friend and a thorough foe, that is to say, who without reserve openly declares for one against another, this being always more advantageous course than to stand neutral. ” (21. 4).

A prince should always be ready to take a side—Macbeth flip flops to whichever side benefits him at that moment. Macbeth puts up a false exterior towards Duncan telling him that ”The service and the loyalty he [Macbeth] owe, in doing it pays itself” meaning that Macbeth finds great joy and happiness in serving Kind Duncan and keeping him safe, which isn’t true what so ever. (1. 4. 22-23). He only says this so he can lure Duncan into trusting him, so he can murder Duncan. Macbeth always acts like Banquo’s friend. He and Banquo build a relationship full of trust.

The two always take each other’s side, but then Macbeth betrays Banquo by murdering him, because at the moment that is what benefited him. Not only did Macbeth fail to choose sides, but he also goes against people much more powerful than himself. The witches warn Macbeth to fear Macduff, but Macbeth disregards their warnings – a decision he would come to regret. By killing Macduff’s family, Macbeth starts a war between Macduff and himself – a war he wasn’t ready to fight. Macduff is much more powerful and prepared than Macbeth.

Macbeth hardly takes a side, but when he does he never sticks to it. He goes against the one person everyone told him to fear. He does everything Machiavelli says not to in this particular situation. While Macbeth exhibits certain Machiavellian characteristics, he does not wholly correspond to the standards set forth by The Prince. In agreement with Machiavellian values, Macbeth maintains the fear of his army, restrains himself from possessing the women that belong to others, and is not opposed to using force in order to obtain that which he desires.

In opposition, he lets outside forces influence him, he does not build upon what is his, and he does not avoid being hated by his people, nor did he keep them satisfied. In addition, he neglects war, does nothing of noble regard, and does not pick a side when necessary. Although Macbeth demonstrates several Machiavellian characteristics, he does not bear all the qualities of a respectable ruler, therefore Macbeth is not a truly Machiavellian character, or leader.

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