Macbeth and Modern Dictators Essay

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MACBETH AND MODERN TOTALITARIANISM M. RAMA KRISHNA, M. A.
Sir C. R. Reddi College, Eluru. All great literary works are immortal, in the sense, that they are of eternal interest and applicability. Human nature is always fascinating and, surprisingly enough, it has remained almost un-changed. The desires that prod, the passions that move and the emotions that rouse man, have remained the same from times immemorial. Great classics, being studies of human nature at different times, from different angles and under different stresses and circumstances, always hold our interest. Time never withers them and custom does not stale their infinite variety. Every generation that studied them, saw itself and its problems in them. In the same way, the more we, the moderns, read them, the more interesting we find them and the greater seems to be their applicability to modern times. While rereading Shakespeare’s Macbeth sometime ago I was surprised at the striking similarity in many aspects, between Macbeth and the more recent manifestations of totalitarianism. In his rise and fall there is an uncanny resemblance between him and modern dictators like Hitler, though there are some differences in character. Even a casual reader of the drama cannot but feel the tremendous psychological impact the prophecies of the witches make on Macbeth and his wife. By making him feel that his becoming the king is inevitable, something that is fated or pre-destined, the witches thoroughly weaken his power to resist temptation to murder Duncan and usurp the throne. Not being the king’s son, he can come to power only by murder, by treason. He himself clearly recognises that to covet the throne is to be ready to commit treason. The witches predictions make his wife’s resolution to make him king by hook or crook doubly strong and she scolds and nags him into killing Duncan. Thus, the feeling that he is fated to be the king of Scotland makes him mentally prepared to commit all the crimes necessary for being so. That is why he yields so early to his wife’s persuasion. Strangely enough, this belief in the inevitability of their success is the most important part of the psychological make up of modern totalitarians. The Nazis believed in the inevitable victory of the Herrenvolk, the German Master Race, over the rest of humanity and hoped to establish the Thousand Years Reich. To communists also, their success is something that is inevitable, an inescapable process of history opposed only by the ignorant or the selfish. The fanatic devotion to party and the iron discipline of the totalitarians, which make them extremely efficient and successful, at least in the short run, are the direct results of their belief in the inevitability of their success. The actual crime in Macbeth, the murder of an unsuspecting old man by the very man he trusts and admires most, has all the horrible unscrupulousness of a modern political assassination like, for example, that of Trotsky by the Soviet agent who won his affection and trust. But to me, the most modern aspect of the crime is the intense anxiety on the part of the criminal to escape the odium or his action. With anxious sensitiveness to public opinion a quality he shares with modern dictators, Macbeth tries to shift the guilt of his crime to the unfortunate chamberlains and through them to the sons of Duncan themselves. But success in that is as little as that or Hitler’s attempt to convince people that his opponents were responsible for the Reichstag fire. Later on he is very particular that Banques should be murdered at a distance from his palace, so that people might think that he was killed by some robbers and do not associate him with the crime. The change that comes in the character of Macbeth is the perfect illustration of the saying that “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” His own treachery makes him suspect the only person who shares his secret and the…