A Comparative Analysis of Macbeth and Richard III
Macbeth and Richard III: Two Paths to Villainy
Macbeth and Richard III are both protagonists. They are villains driven by power and their lust for ambition. They are both villains who are driven by different forces that lead them to be evil and commit heinous deeds. In order to get the power they long for, they are willing to resort to murder. Both Macbeth and Richard’s minds become so clouded by their need to rule and become King that they lose sight of right and wrong. Through the examination of each character, they both reveal that they are villains that become so in different ways. The theme of power is seen in both Macbeth and Richard III; power is the evil that drives them to become more and more corrupt.
Macbeth’s Transformation: From Ambition to Villainy
Macbeth was never a villain from the beginning. He would’ve never been able to become a villain alone. But with the badgering of Lady Macbeth and the witches, he is fueled by the greed for power. Stephen Greenblatt states, “Macbeth is tormented by an awareness of the wickedness of what he is doing. Endowed with a clear-eyed grasp of the difference between good and evil, he chooses evil, even though the choice mystifies and sickens him” (). Macbeth knows right from wrong, and every wrongdoing that he commits sickens him. But once the evil deed is done, he becomes numb and willing to do so again to get the power he longs for.
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Act 1 Scene 7 is a perfect example of Lady Macbeth pushing Macbeth to commit murder, “From this time Such I account thy love. Art thou afeared To be the same in thine own act and valor As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that Which thou esteem the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem, Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,” Like the poor cat the adage?” Lady Macbeth fuels Macbeth’s desire more by stating that from now on, this is how she will see their love. She continues by asking if this is what he wants and if he doesn’t, then he can live like a coward. Macbeth goes back and forth about committing the murder, but after a while of convincing, he decides, “ I am settled, and bend up/ Each corporal agent to this terrible featю” The lust for power and taking Duncan’s royalty has finally made Macbeth decide to commit his first murder. After committing his first murder, he becomes more obsessed with the idea of becoming King, and that evil leads to more evil, and slowly, that becomes easier for Macbeth to do.
Richard III: Born into Villainy
Richard III was a villain from the very beginning. Richard states in Act 1 Scene 1 that he has dangerous plans and lies in motion to make Clarence and King Edward go against each other. Stephen Greenblatt states, “..he spares Richard little else in the way of both deformity and villainy: his king is a twisted, devious, ruthless murdererю” Richard is known for being deformed, devious, and a murderer. From the very beginning, Richard says, “Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time/ Into this breathing world scarce half made up, And that so lamely and unfashionable That dogs bark at me as I halt by them; Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, Have no delight to pass away the time, Unless to spy my shadow in the sun And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villainю” Richard states that because of his deformities, he has nothing, and he is weak. He uses his deformities as a way to justify his behavior. He can’t amuse himself as a lover, so he has decided to become a villain. Richard had planned on doing whatever it took for him to become King. He uses his deformity as a tool to gain sympathy from others. He is manipulative and a liar and will not stop by any means to get what he wants. Richard, without even thinking twice, starts committing murder to get the throne. “But, sirs, be sudden in the execution—Withal obdurate. Do not hear him plead, For Clarence is well-spoken, and perhaps May move your hearts to pity if you mark himю” He first executes his older brother Clarence in order to guilt King Edward into accelerating his death to become the person in charge. Richard shows no remorse for killing those who stand in his way of the throne.
Contrasting Journeys: Macbeth’s Guilt and Richard’s Resolve
Macbeth and Richard are both villains, but their process of becoming a villain is very different. It took time and encouragement for Macbeth to slowly accept the idea of becoming evil and committing heinous acts to get what he wanted. Richard, on the other hand, was born to be a villain. The fact that he was born “Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time” (1.1.20) makes it seem as though he is angry with the fact that he was born deformed, so he gets to be evil. His whole life’s purpose was to be evil and to prove that he was a great villain. He had a set plan for the evil acts he was going to commit to get what he wanted in life. With the deformities that he had, he used that to his advantage to make others feel sympathy for him and used it to manipulate others as well.
One main difference between Macbeth and Richard is guilt. Guilt is seen frequently in Macbeth. In Act 1 Scene 7, you can see that Macbeth knows right from wrong. He didn’t want to commit evil acts. Macbeth goes on to say, “We will proceed no further in this business. He hath honored me of late, and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people, Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, Not cast aside so soonю” He was content with the honor that King Duncan had given him. He had earned all sorts of good opinions from people. But Lady Macbeth kept pushing him not to be a coward. He knew he shouldn’t kill Duncan, but the lust he had for power and the throne was so great that he could not help it. After the murder, Macbeth states, “ I am in blood Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’erю” Macbeth feels guilt after the murder, but he knows that there is no going back, and this is the start of him committing crimes more easily to get what he wants. As for Richard, you never see any guilt from him. He knows what he wants, and in order for him to get what he wants, he must commit all the heinous crimes.
Macbeth was an honorable man in the beginning, but over time, his lust for power ultimately destroyed him. Macbeth teaches us that we are all capable of becoming evil. Humans all want “things.” Whether it be money, power, or love, we could all fall into the shoes of Macbeth. If we let our lust for something become unhealthy, we, too, could commit evil deeds to get what we want. It’s important to know right from wrong and to not let our lust for something get to the point where it is unhealthy. We should strive to be like Macbeth in the beginning. We should also not let outside forces (friends, strangers, etc.) stray us from what is right.
In the end, villains ultimately always end up alone. After all the heinous crimes they had to commit, they finally both became kings. Lady Macbeth has committed suicide; therefore, that leaves Macbeth by himself. In the end, Macbeth is beheaded by Macduff. Richard got everything he had planned for himself. But in the end, he was haunted by the ghosts of all the people that he had killed. Richard was also killed in battle the next day after his encounter with the ghosts. All in all, they both got what they needed by force and the evil they committed and in the end, they were punished by death.
- Greenblatt, Stephen. Macbeth. W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.
- Shakespeare, William. Richard III. W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.