Peasants of the early sixteenth century are often pictured carrying a bundle of limbs
tied with vines on their backs. This is a perfect metaphor for the events in Macbeth.
Macbeth is one of many thanes, or limbs, bundled together. The thanes are united by the
king, or the vine. Scotland, or the peasant, carries the bundle by the sweat of his brow.
They carry the bundle for fires on cold nights, or wars, and to build homes, or castles, to
protect them from the elements, or invaders. If the limbs are tied improperly, one limb
may slip to the side and cause the peasant, or nation, to stumble or fall. If the limb slides
completely out, the rest of the limbs may follow because the bundle is loose. Marriage is
like a triangle. Each spouse makes up one of the leaning sides, and marriage the lower
side. The three together are very strong, but to stand they all must be united. The longer
a marriage is held the longer the bottom stretches, and the more dependent each person
becomes on the other. If one side tries to stand on its own then the second will fall on the
first as it tries to stand. This metaphor also excellently exemplifies the catastrophe that
occurs in Macbeth as both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth try to separate. Macbeth is a
eighteenth century play written by William Shakespeare. Using these two metaphors, the
breakdown in the relationship between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth and between the king
and the thanes and how they perfectly parallel each other because each is caused by
Macbeth’s will to be independent.
According to Webster’s dictionary, the archaic definition of independence is
“competence” (1148). To be independent is not to be “subject to control by others”
(Gove 1148). This means that independence is to be in control of ones decisions and to
feel they are good decisions. Macbeth, on the other hand, feels independence is to not be
subordinate to others like the king.
To be independent, one must be strong. Inner strength, not physical strength, is
needed. Inner strength is only accomplished by having a high self-esteem. Macbeth does
not and must use others to reach for independence. Macbeth needs this strength:
It [Macbeth] hurls a universe against a man, and if the universe that strikes
is more impressive than the man who is stricken, as great as his size and
gaunt as his soul may be he will fall. (Van Doren 217)
According to Macbeth’s ideas of independence and of strength, he is neither independent
nor strong. He feels the need for both and thus allows nothing, including murder, to get
into his way.
Shakespeare opens Macbeth with the disorder being stabilized by the king and
thanes. The thanes fought “rebellious arm ‘gainst arm” to curb “his lavish spirit” (I, ii, 56-
7). Macbeth’s stature increased to fill the space in the bundle of limbs opened by the
death of the Thane of Cawdor for “what he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won” (I, ii, 67).
“When we first see him [Macbeth] he is already invaded by those fears which are to render
him vicious and which are finally to make him abominable” (Van Doren 216).At the end of
Act I, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are discussing whether or not to assassinate the king (I,
ii). Macbeth has not committed himself to this sin and to independence, he has not broken
the commitatus bond that exists between the king and thane. Likewise, Macbeth’s
marriage is unstable as they argue, but their triangle is still together as they depend on one
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth each experiment with external forces to gain
independence from their spouse. Macbeth uses the witches, on which he becomes
increasingly dependent. Lady Macbeth uses alcohol and Satan to “unsex” her and make
her strong (II, ii, 1; I, v, 42). Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth deny their dependence on
their aid, and still require their spouse. Their self denial of their dependence makes them
weak, and the more self denial the weaker they get. As a married couple, they are splitting
away from each other: they are trying to turn their triangle of dependence into a open
square of independence.