Being human means that at some point, we ultimately have to react to situations in which we find ourselves. Our perceptions are the primary determinant for these reactions as they often lead us to acknowledge the presence of new circumstances therefore going a long way in influencing our decision. Such is the case in Macbeth and Hamlet, where William Shakespeare constructs a plot surrounding fear and the loss of innocence in the main characters. Macbeth is set in Scotland at a time when the nation was at war with Norway (Bloom 56). Macbeth is a loyal subject who fights bravely for the king against all his enemies and all those plotting his downfall. He is victorious in his endeavors and soon receives a new title from King Duncan. As the Thane of Cawdor, his newfound power is the source of envy for many. Nonetheless, his meeting with three witches along the way changes the course events that were to take place in his life. They prophesy his new title, his rise to kingship and Banquo being the father of kings. When one prediction is fulfilled, Macbeth is taken aback by the developments and decides that it is best if he communicates the message to his wife. Lady Macbeth is not a woman who practices restraint and immediately views this as an opportunity for her to exert her influence on her husband and fast-track events to ensure that her husband takes the throne. What follows next is a tale of utter intrigue, when a once “spineless” husband becomes a murderer in a bid to ascend to power. It is this callous act that was ultimately responsible for their downfall. On the other hand, Hamlet revolves around the Danish prince whose father had died under unclear circumstances. It was at this moment that his brother decided to take the throne and also marry his Queen, Gertrud (Faulkner 12).The appearance of an apparition claiming that Claudius was the real murder and revenge should be sought. In this essay, I will provide an in-depth analysis of fear and loss of innocence in the two tragedies and the adverse effects they had on all those involved.
In Macbeth, fear is the driving force behind most of the offensive actions that take place throughout the play. After successfully killing King Duncan and placing the blame squarely on his son’s head, Macbeth begins contemplating his actions. He had taken part in the murder of a King and had spectacularly usurped power. On the flipside, there was blood on his hands and was fearful of the fact that his treacherous act might be discovered, therefore leading to his downfall. It is for this reason that he begins his purge to ensure that he stays in power to at all cost. The prophecy that he received from the witches is never out of his mind and always dogs him. The first two predictions had come to pass. He becomes the Thane of Cawdor, and then King of Scotland. It was at this point that Macbeth feared that the last prophecy would take place. On his way back home from battle, the witches had predicted that Banquo’s would be the “father of kings” (Schoenbaum 12). Macbeth therefore realized that the throne was not his to keep and that his longtime ally would soon have his children as the reigning monarchs. It is such thoughts that irked Macbeth: “Only for them; and my eternal jewel Given to the common enemy of man, To make them kings, the seeds of Banquo kings!” (3. 1. 72-75). Macbeth realizes the risks h took to snatch the crown from King Duncan. He is therefore not read to see it taken away from his offspring and placed on the heads of Banquo’s children. In a bid to change the future predicted by the witches, Macbeth decides to assassinate Banquo. It is his thirst for power and fear of being overthrown that leads him to commit these murderous acts without even stopping for a moment and thinking about the repercussions. Moreover, Lady Macbeth is also consumed by the fear of being caught and her ills revealed. She is continuously sleepwalking and washing her hands as she dreads that she might be discovered.
The loss of innocence in Macbeth also explains why he transforms from a principled nobleman and into a cold-hearted killer. From the onset, it is clear that Macbeth is a loyal subject whose sole goal was to serve the Kingdom of Scotland. He proves this through his acts of bravery where he fights the Norwegians and seeks to ensure that the kingdom remains strong and united. His unwavering loyalty catches King Duncan’s eye. The King does not hesitate to reward his loyal subject and acknowledges all the feats that he was able to achieve on the battlefield (Shakespeare and Brooke 23). It is also apparent that the King dramatically respects Macbeth and the reason why he even suggests that he would want to dine in his home. Although he killed a great many in battle, Macbeth still retains his innocence as his actions were for the greater good of the nation. Lady Macbeth, however, acknowledges this trait and views it as an impediment to her goals and aspirations. She is an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to ensure that she achieves her goal of attaining power and influence. Her fever is ignited by the prophecy made by the witches, and even views herself as the queen already. It was at this point that she decides to hatch a plan that would enable her to achieve her objectives. Macbeth becomes party these plans when she participates in her evil plan that ultimately kills King Duncan. Macbeth’s innocence is lost at this moment, and his murderous streak soon begins. He does not hesitate to kill anyone who stands in his way or anyone who might compromise the plans he had. It was the reason why he did not wait to order the assassination of Banquo, someone who had stuck by him through thick and thin. Macbeth is a changed man and all these points to his loss of innocence. At the beginning of the play, his acts were noble, and his altruistic attitude was noticeable to all, including the king. His loss of innocence transformed him into a beast that was obsessed with murderous intentions.
In Hamlet fear grips the Danish prince, and it is clear, throughout the tragedy, that it was a struggle that he had to face. Hamlet was close to his father and had been gravely wounded by his death. If all had gone according to plan, he would be the successor to the throne and would rule the kingdom that once belonged to his father. Now, things had gone wrong, and it was clear that he was deeply affected by his father’s death. All he wanted was to revenge which would mean that his father’s killers would finally atone for their sins (Shakespeare and Hibbard 78). However, all this changed when his father’s apparition appeared to him informing him of the circumstances that led to his death. He reveals to the young prince that it was his uncle Claudius that had orchestrated his murder to take his throne. What was more disturbing was the fact that his wife, Gertrude, was now queen to his killer. Hamlet is enraged by this revelation and intends to carry out his revenge. One inhibiting factor is that he is fearful of carrying out this act as he is apprehensive towards death (Miller 15). He has always lived his life avoiding death and destruction, yet here he was planning on avenging his father through the deaths of all those who were responsible. His first step was feigning his madness to hide his intentions. Marcellus and Horatio are aware of this plan and know that it was a ploy to distract the kingdom from striking. Overcoming this fear was the first step in his quest to realizing his murderous intentions. He invites troubadours to perform for his uncle where they show a reenactment of the events that led to his father’s death. After observing his uncles reaction, he is convinced that he was responsible for his father’s death and overcomes. The most pronounced phrase in the whole book is an indication of the decision that he had to make; “To be, or not to be, that is the question” (3. l. 56). Surmounting his fears ultimately led to death and destruction during the fencing games where all those present subsequently perished.
The loss of Hamlet’s innocence is one of the reasons why the play has a tragic end. Before his father’s death, Hamlet had been living an ordinary life by all standards. He was preoccupied with what life had to offer and was focused on his studies. All this changed when he learned of his father’s death. It was an abrupt change that was also responsible for turning his disposition. His loss of innocence hurts him as it drives him to vow that he would not rest until his father’s death was avenged. In his formative years, he has known for his amiable disposition, and no one would have thought that he would embrace death and destruction so readily. A possible explanation lies in the trauma that he experiences after losing his father. The end of a loved one has always been an awkward moment for many people. Hamlet is not a different. He is deeply affected by this loss and drives him from his morality. It is, however, important to acknowledge that it was Claudius who set off this chain of events when he decided to make a conscious decision to murder his brother, inheriting both his throne and wife (Sheinberg and Cantillon 90). Hamlet soon finds himself in an environment filled with evil and the reason why he suddenly decides to have a change of heart. He sees no way out of this situation, with his goal being the murder of all those who played a part in his father’s death. Such a move is indicative of the fact that his innocence had apparently been lost and was even willing to go as far as ensuring that he kills all those who were responsible for this vice. It is shocking that an individual who had formerly been repulsed by death, murder, and intrigue was now ready to perform these acts without any fear whatsoever. Similarly, Ophelia was once a loving and obedient girl but soon loses her innocence. She finds it difficult to choose her between staying faithful to her father, the Lord Chamberlain, and loving Hamlet. Her innocence comes to an end when she is heartbroken, loses her mind and eventually commits suicide.
Though fear and loss of innocence have been blamed for most of the ills that took place in Macbeth and Hamlet, they also had positive attributes. Macbeth was fearful of making wrong choices in life. The mere fact that he was afraid of the act proves that fear is essential in keeping individuals in check. This serves as a lesson to others that there exist moments where we have to allow our fears to consume us to make the right decision. Macbeth’s loss of innocence also serves as a lesson to the negative influence that other persons can have on us and how that can affect us negatively. Lady Macbeth was responsible for thawing the innocence that had been present all along in Hamlet, leading to the murder of King Duncan. Hamlet faces a similar circumstance when fear engulfs him when he thinks of avenging his father’s death. Things would have taken a different course if Hamlet had decided to allow his concern to take over. Instead, his actions led to the deaths of his intended target and other innocent individuals whose only crime was that they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Similarly, his loss of innocence drives him to the abyss and eventually leads to his death. Hamlet’s obsession with revenge is his tragic flaw which ultimately leads to his destruction and that of others around him. If he had stuck to his innocence, the chances are that he would be more concerned with how to better the lives of those around him as opposed to seeking revenge.
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