Ethics and Time Macbeth
I believe that the main point in my essay is the fact that once moral codes are lost they are gone forever - Ethics and Time Macbeth introduction. My biggest problem with writing this essay was stringing everything together in a clear and concise manner. I think my point on the importance of morals and ethical conduct were made well. I feel that relating my point to the text was not as strong as it could have been. I’d like the reader to answer the question of whether or not my essay was persuasive. My favorite sentence is my thesis statement; it sets up what the essay is going to be about. My least favorite sentence is the last sentence of the conclusion.
I feel like it didn’t end the essay on the right note. At first glance, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a tale of a ruthless man with no moral or ethical boundaries limiting his murderous rampage. The second time Macbeth is mentioned in the play, he is described as a valiant yet violent warrior cutting his way through enemy lines without hesitation or second thought. Macbeth then goes on to end Duncan for his own political benefit and end the lives of many others who even pose the most miniscule chance of problems for Macbeth. However, Macbeth was not a blood thirsty savage when the play began.
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In fact, he had a strong ethical and moral standing in his life. Macbeth undergoes a dramatic transformation and character evolution. This is because, for Macbeth, once ethical and moral boundaries are crossed or broken the point of no return has been passed. These boundaries are what give Macbeth his essence of humanity and guide his moral compass. Macbeth broke these ethical and moral guidelines by taking the innocent blood of Duncan and, consequently, could not go back to his previous lifestyle nor regain an ethical or moral sense to guide him in his actions. Right off the bat, act one scene two sets up some difficulties for my thesis.
The wounded captain describes Macbeth’s actions on the battlefield and his slaying of Macdonwald in vivid detail stating that Macbeth “carved out his passage” and “unseam’d him from the nave to th’ chops, and fix’d his head upon our battlements” (1. 2. 19-23). Macbeth is literally described as a man carving his way through the bodies of enemy soldiers until he can get to his target, Macdonwald. Subsequently, he not only kills Macdonwald but also slices him so that his guts can fall out and decapitates the enemy king to put his head on a weapon as if it were a trophy.
These actions may seem immoral; these actions might seem unethical. They are neither. Macbeth was fighting for his country, an act that has been seen as honorable since before the time of the Ancient Greeks. He is not fighting for fiscal or material gain. He is standing up for his country in a way that is often regarded as the highest form of patriotism. He shouldn’t have any ethical concerns for this. The opening lines of act one, scene seven deliver a powerful image of Macbeth and his current dilemma on whether or not to assassinate King Duncan. This is where Macbeth’s ethical and moral codes are first truly tested.
Macbeth goes through what seems to be a mentally agonizing analysis of his predicament. He delivers a powerful soliloquy describing in detail his internal struggle in his quest to kingship. This murder would not be glory, it would definitely not be patriotic or in anyway honorable. He has invited the man he wishes to kill to stay at his house, and plans to assassinate while sleeping, a low act from any moral perspective. Macbeth acknowledges this stating that “first I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed; then, as his host, who should against his murtherer shut the door, not bear the knife myself” (1. . 13-16). Macbeth then shows us a glimpse of his moral struggle, the fight between his desire and his humanity. He describes an apocalyptic scene in excruciating detail. He speaks of trumpet playing angels and the heaven’s Cherubim. This Hellish scene is not what is to happen to the outside world; it is Macbeth describing the end of his moral and ethical standards should his dagger run red with Duncan’s blood. This speech is vital to understanding the complexity of his moral codes and his knowledge of ethical protocol. He exhibits a deep knowledge of both.
He speaks highly of the king and constantly brainstorms reasons not to commit this act of treason. He not only points out the grave ethical faux pas of killing a guest in their sleep but also shines a bright light on Duncan, claiming that he has been a valiant king and has done great in his office. However Macbeth is driven by the greed in his heart. He passionately seeks the crown and at the end states that “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’other “(1. 7. 25-29).
Macbeth is self aware at the conscious level and admits that it is only his desire to attain the throne that is causing this most fowl plot of treason. Here, his moral and ethical bearings have been tested to the fullest of their limits taking a toll on this fearless warrior. As we all know, Macbeth chooses the lower path and kills Duncan. The loss of morality is almost instantaneous and can be seen in the scenes directly following Duncan’s assassination. Fast-forward to act two, scene two: Macbeth has just done the bloody deed and confronts his wife to confirm the murder complete.
This scene is vital to my thesis. This scene shows the tragic consequences of moral boundaries being crossed and ethical codes being broken. Even at face value, Macbeth appears as a ranting lunatic who’s not in control of what he’s saying. His maddening statements give an even richer understanding of the consequences of moral loss when analyzed in detail. Almost immediately after meeting Lady Macbeth, he tells her his inept ability to say amen. He states that “I had most need of blessing, and amen stuck in my throat” (2. 2. 31-32).
Macbeth continues, proclaiming “Methought, I heard a voice cry, ‘Sleep no more! Macbeth does murther Sleep,’-the innocent sleep” (2. 2. 34-35). Macbeth is suffering the repercussions of knowingly venturing into the unethical territory. He has not only slain Duncan but killed him in his sleep. Macbeth did not fight him on the glorious battlefield nor did he give Duncan a means to defend himself. What Macbeth has done has literally taken away the safety and serenity of sleep. Macbeth is troubled by his conduct and is unable to sleep, perhaps a direct correlation to the slaying of a sleeping man.
As act two, scene two, continues Macbeth continues to have troublesome thoughts. He states “I’ll go no more: I am afraid to think what I have done; look on’t again I dare not” (2. 2. 49-51). Remember that Macbeth is a warrior who had no quandaries with cutting open Macdonwald and sticking his head on a sword or spear. Now he can’t even bear to look at the deceased Duncan, lifeless in bed. This is where Macbeth begins to try and find some sense of a moral standing. He can’t, however; he has lost something that can’t ever be regained.
This is why he won’t go back to Duncan’s chamber. This is the murder scene of his ethical and moral beliefs. They died with Duncan that day, forever taken by the most awful temptations. Macbeth isn’t afraid to look at Duncan’s corpse; he is afraid to revisit his own death of conscience where he’d have to rethink that moment over again. Macbeth comes to the realization that he will never be able to regain his moral grounds and ethical standards. Macbeth rants about how his hands are bloodstained, unable to ever be cleaned of the crime.
Lady Macbeth doesn’t realize he isn’t talking about his literal hands telling him that washing his hands in water will clear him of any charges brought against him. Macbeth knows that no amount of water can retrieve his humanity, an aspect that he has lost forever. He even points out that if he were somehow able to try and wash the blemishes from his soul all the water of the oceans would turn red before it was clean. This is shown in his quote “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red” (2. . 59-62). This quote is where I base my thesis on. This is why Macbeth doesn’t have a problem with recklessly murdering innocent people after this point. Once we break our morals we can’t go back. Macbeth admits that. He went through his moral battles in Act 1 debating the consequences of both paths he could have chosen. In Act two, he made his decision and went with his greed. The rest of the play is just his decision being played out. Notice how Macbeth doesn’t go through the same rigorous self-debate with anyone he kills after Duncan.
That’s because he made his choice when he ended Duncan. Macbeth chose to give up his humanity, moral sense and ethical reasoning for the throne. He lost these attributes to gain the crown. That’s why he was able to go on his murderous rampage without any qualms. You can’t give up something that you’ve already given up: therefore he was only left with the option of protecting the crown. He had nothing to lose by killing anyone who opposed him and had nothing to gain from refraining in murder. He had made his decision and had to play it out to the bitter end.