In Shakespeare’s time a King was considered to be god’s representative on earth. He was looked upon as equal to god. Shakespeare’s ideas towards kingship can be seen throughout the play. He shows that a king should be chosen by divine right and shows the character and attributes of what is takes to be a good king.
Macbeth is the main character in the play and starts the play as a very brave, fierce and loyal warrior. His bravery has just led the way to a great victory over the Norwegians. He was a hero. But soon his ambitions overpower his good qualities and becomes ‘this tyrant’, this ‘dwarfish thief’ and this ‘hellhound’.
He is degraded from ‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ to ‘this dead butcher’. He allows the witches’ prophecy to determine his steps, which finally lead him to destruction. I believe that Macbeth could have been a worthy king if he did not let his ambition and greed take control. If fate had made him king, he could have been a noble king for Scotland.
We first meet Duncan behind the battle fields of two battles (against the rebel MacDonwald and an invading Norwegian army) waiting anxiously for any news. From this time until his brutal murder, he is presented as a noble King of Scotland. Duncan is pictured as the perfect, impartial king in the play. Shakespeare shows Duncan to be an example to others. Duncan’s love for his country is one of the main qualities of Duncan. We can see this when he eagerly seeks for any news from the captain who has returned from the front lines.
When Duncan hears of Macbeth’s bravery in battle, he rewards Macbeth for his heroism by naming him the Thane of Cawdor while punishing disloyalty of the treacherous previous Thane of Cawdor by having him hanged. Duncan also vows that his royal blessings will continue to fall on Macbeth. Here we see the king executing his power righteously by rewarding who are loyal and punishing disloyalty.
Duncan acts responsibly in naming an heir to his throne – his son Malcolm. He did this so that the line of ascension to the throne is clear and that Scotland will remain politically stable. Duncan was preventing the very political chaos that resulted when Macbeth murdered him.
Unfortunately Duncan is too trusting and dependent of his Thanes. As the King, he does not lead his men into battle directly, but heavily relies on his Thanes to act on his behalf. He is a very poor jude of character. He completely misjudges Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as loyal friends while they were plotting his downfall.
Even Macbeth recognised the noble character of the King before murdering him in his sleep. Macbeth speaks of Duncan’s goodness and loyal nature and considered the consequences of his death. He states that even the angels will mourn for Duncan and that “tears shall drown the wind” when he dies.
King Edward of England
King Edward of England is least mentioned in the play, but we still see a lot of his good character. We see that he is a good, loyal king, who is unwilling to see others suffer. In act 4, a doctor comments on how ill people are cured on King Edward’s touch. Malcolm then after comments it is “a most miraculous work in this good king.”
He is a good and caring king who chooses to help Malcolm and Macduff in their problems. He generously provides them with the army force that need to win their battle. From this we can also conclude that he is a friendly king towards his neighbour countries. Always seeking peace and not violence and trying to conquer new land for his own kingdom.
Malcolm who is the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland appears to a worthy king. We learn of his character mostly in his conversation with Macduff. Malcolm foresees the future of Scotland and unlike Macbeth, we see Malcolm acting after giving serious thoughts to his actions. He humbles himself before Macduff by calling himself unworthy to be king and that Macbeth might be a better fit for the title. “black Macbeth will seem as pure as snow”.
As a reader, it is obvious to see that Malcolm will be a good king as he does not force his right to be king, but patiently waits for God to set things right and to make everything for his good. Also in the end of the play, Malcolm’s last words of the play is similar to Duncan’s speech when he was king, following Duncan’s footsteps and in the path of restoring Scotland to its former glory.