Power Themes In Shakespeare Works 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 Shelleys 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 persons 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 Hamlets meeting with the ghost of his father, Hamlets behavior changes. Everyone perceives this change as lunacy due to Hamlets inability to accept the death of his father. However, Claudius does not believe that this is the root cause of Hamlets madness. Since he is uncertain of Hamlets knowledge of his secret, Claudius feels that his supremacy is being threatened by Hamlet. Claudius sends for Hamlets childhood friends Gildenstern and Rosencrantz to assist him with getting to the source of Hamlets “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 Hamlets madness is due to his daughter (Ophelia) rejecting Hamlets 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 Ophelias 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 Ophelias madness. To protect himself, he explained to the Queen that Ophelias “divided fair judgment” stemmed from the death of her father.
The play staged by Hamlet, in addition to Hamlets 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 upont, A brothers 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 wifes 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 resultdeath. “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.