THE SHARED CRITICISM OF NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR AND MACBETH

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Ayşe Başak İnci

Abstract

Throughout history, political works of literature have attempted to examine politics of a particular society the author lived in or the world politics in general. Their criticism largely include the oppressions made by ruling classes, authorities, tyrannical leaders and the defects of political systems in a country. Moreover, by providing people knowledge about the circumstances of their environment and the world, they changed the way people perceive and understand events that inevitably affect their lives. No matter how many years have passed, history repeats itself and authors, poets, playwrights etc. deal with the same issues in life continuingly. For instance, although there are three huge centuries between the times of the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare and one of the leading novelists of the 20th century English literature George Orwell, both authors harshly criticize suppressive authorities in most of their works. I argue that, being strong political works, Shakespeare’s play Macbeth (1606) and Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty- Four (1949) have many surprising similarities between their underlying criticisms of suppressive, tyrannical authority figures and the chaos and unnaturalness created by their rules, with the help of the shared themes of uncertainty and confusion.


In Nineteen Eighty-Four and Macbeth, both Orwell and Shakespeare harshly criticize the absolutist ideology and the usurping tyrants who rule these states. Both works criticize political extremism and lawless despotism; and the underlying implication of the works is that if there is a constant and huge flaw in a ruling state, brutality and bloodshed are inevitable. According to Alan Sinfield, “The reason why the state need[s] violence and propaganda [is] that the system [is] subject to persistent structural difficulties” (122). George Orwell saw the hazards of tyrannical and totalitarian ruling systems after he experienced the Spanish civil war. He was a genuine socialist and his accomplished novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is unquestionably a warning to people all around the world about totalitarianism.  Being the authoritarian tyrant of Nineteen Eighty- Four, Big Brother’s [in fact the Party’s] sole aim is to consciously make people work for the party and to leave them starving in terrible life conditions. Big Brother becomes the authority by demolishing human rights and the possibility for a democratic state, only for his greed for being on the top. Just like Macbeth, Big Brother “vaporizes” anyone that goes against his ideologies, anyone who talks of freedom and of better living conditions. Furthermore, they are both unlawful and violent leaders: They act like they are god-like figures, Macbeth claiming to be the divine rightful king of Scotland and the description of Big Brother is god-like, no one ever saw him but he is said to be constantly watching and he is controlling everyone. Both are despotic leaders devoted to the absolutist ideology which supports that even if the ruler is a tyrant he is unquestionable and every single act he does is legitimate. Big Brother and Macbeth have an endless greed to gain more and more just for their “vaulting ambition”. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, O’Brien tells Winston, “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power” (234).


Similarly, written in the 16th century in which there was a development from Feudalism to the Absolutist state, Macbeth criticizes the violence exercised under the practises of Absolutist ideology. Shakespeare was aware that as long as there is a tyrant ruling the country, chaos and disorder will prevail and extend in that society. Macbeth, the usurping tyrant who has been triggered by the uncanny witches, goes astray: His passion to ascend to the throne and his evil deeds in the end cause a civil war between Scotland and England. He unjustly becomes the king by killing the legitimate and worthy King Duncan and exterminates every single person that questions his authority or threatens his monarchy even after he becomes the king. Moreover, Macbeth has no heir to ascend his throne after him: He has no other reason but his greed for doing his evil deeds. For example, in Act 4 Scene I, long after his ascend to the throne, he recklessly continues to slain those around him just to assert his place. In his last encounter with the witches, Macbeth asks questions to them to learn more about his future as a king. Then the witches send their masters as apparitions for them to answer him. The first apparition, which appears as an armed head, tells Macbeth: “Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth: beware Macduff, / Beware the Thane of Fife” ( 69-71). Later, the second apparition as a bloody child says: “Be bloody, bold and resolute; laugh to scorn/ The power of man, for none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth” (78-80). Here the bloody child implies that Macbeth will be slain by nobody but Macduff who was “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb; he was considered not be born of woman. Although Macbeth does not realize the meaning of this prophecy at first, upon the first apparition’s words, he decides to murder the Macduff family for fear of a revolt against his reign: “From this moment, The very firstlings of my heart shall be/ The firstlings of my hand... The castle of Macduff I will surprise; /Seize upon Fife; give to th’edge o’th’sword/ His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls/ That trace him in his line” (145-152). Upon hearing the murder of Lady Macduff and the children, Macduff, who is in the English court to meet Malcolm there, decides to take revenge from Macbeth and he and the English army declare war against Scotland.


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References

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