The work of William Shakespeare has endured centuries. Indeed, his sonnets and plays have done more than endure: they are widely celebrated as some of the finest examples of English Literature in the world. This success can be attributed to a combination of elements: Shakespeare’s writing is lyrical and rhythmic, his characters lush, his storylines detailed and insightful. Furthermore, the themes utilized by the playwright in each of his works are timeless, resonating as deeply with the listener of the 21st century as with that of the Elizabethan Era. That modern readers may relate to these themes for different reasons than their historical counterparts, citing the state of politics or current events, is only further evidence of their timelessness. In the tragedy Macbeth, Shakespeare deftly weaves a variety of themes and motifs around a cast of tortured, riveting characters, resulting in a masterpiece. Themes such as overwhelming ambition and thirst for power, the use of violence and bloodshed to gain power and maintain power, and viewing rumors and prognostications as fact are prevalent in this play. Each is a fine example of themes that transcend time, fascinating and absorbing contemporary readers just as they did those of the Elizabethan Era.
The ambition that drives Macbeth also drives the play’s storyline, prompting him to commit an act that initially horrifies him: killing Duncan, a man both kin and king to him. “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical shakes so my single state of man that function is smothered in surmise, and nothing is but what is not,” muses Macbeth, a line that marks the first moment that roiling ambition beneath Macbeth’s surface is revealed to the reader. (I. iii. 137-138). His words foreshadow an inner struggle that will continue throughout the play as Macbeth’s thirst for power wars with his concept of good and evil. As the storyline unfolds and Macbeth’s compunctions about murder lessen, it is clear that his ambition has consumed him, at least for the moment.
It is this trait that gives rise to comparisons between the power-hungry character of Macbeth and a multitude of individuals that exist in today’s world, particularly politicians. In every country in the world, there exist politicians driven by a thirst for power and influence, rather than by a desire to bring about positive change in their nation. Though many of these figures cloak their ambition in persona of good will, some are more transparent. For example, the late dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, used a variety of methods, from propaganda to military intervention, to ensure his position as “Supreme Leader.” His desire for absolute power permeated every aspect of North Korean life, affecting the country’s economy, political atmosphere, and the attitude of the international community towards the country. This had a profound impact upon the people of North Korea, just as Macbeth’s ambition irrevocably affected the country of Scotland.