Both King Lear and Macbeth were written in the 17th century, and based on the 17th century kings. Many kings in that day were shown to have varying strengths and weaknesses. Many kings were religious which lead to them believing kings were chosen by God, leading to them thinking themselves as powerful as God himself. King Lear displays this weakness. Many kings also believed their country was the best. This was because many people wanted their country to be the best and if the king was shown to be leading their country forward, the people were happy. Macbeth was a strong leader compared to other Kings who were content to let their citizens become unhappy. Merriment was also a popular trait, Kings Charles II was given the nickname ‘the merry monarch’ Also Kings were courageous; they had to focus on what they had to do to be successful. They had to think of the citizens of their country but also at the same time focus on themselves. Kings also had to be good at speaking to the public and getting ‘on their side’.
King Lear doesn’t posses this quality because he isn’t popular, nor can he speak to a crowd, he also shows that he is stubborn because he refuses to listen to advise from others. But what he lacks in popularity he makes up in courage, this is shown by him making decisions and deciding not to change them because of other people. Macbeth doesn’t posses this quality, he is shown to constantly
The plot of both Macbeth and King Lear is comparable with each other. King Lear is being plotted against by his family and Macbeth is plotting against Duncan. This shows how neither monarchy is stable. King Lear’s monarchy is unstable because his family are plotting against him and Duncan’s monarchy is unstable because Macbeth is plotting against him.
It can be seen that both King Lear and Macbeth made decisions in different ways. King Lear is adamant that he makes all the decisions and does not listen to advice whereas Macbeth follows instructions and advice given to him by his wife, Lady Macbeth. Even though Lady Macbeth helps to change Macbeth from being originally a loyal and honest man into a murderer and betrayer, hell bent on seizing his vaulting ambition to secure his own destiny; even if it does involve murdering King Duncan. I know this because in this quotation that follows instead of Lady Macbeth being civilized and trying to persuade Macbeth naturally; she instead starts being nasty; ‘I have given a suck and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out, had I sworn as you have done to this’. This is where she’s saying that Macbeth promised to make himself King, and that if she’d made a promise like that – even a promise to kill her own baby – then she would have done it. This speech by Lady Macbeth changes the tone of the play as the audience are now wondering how Macbeth will react to this, will he not listen, will he listen, and has he made his decision?
King Lear treats his friends and family like normal people. He does not thank them for at least trying to give him advice but instead he is misunderstanding them and therefore sees it as if they are ordering him about and telling him to make this and that decisions. He is very protective over his power and leadership and therefore treats them with disrespect. Where as, in contrast Macbeth listens to advice and listens to peoples’ opinions on the matter in hand. The advice may not be correct and as a result the man at the end of play is one we would barely recognize from the loyal Macbeth we met at the beginning. This shows that different Kings rule in different ways even though neither may be correct.
It can also be said that another contrast is the flaws of the Kings. King Lear should have listened to advice from his family and friends whereas Macbeth should have trusted his own opinion.
Another comparison between the two plays is the way the kings act to both passing on and seizing the throne. For example, King Lear is trying not to be overthrown but because he thinks at the start of the play when his daughters and friends are advising him on what to do he sees it as if they are trying to overthrow him. Because he sees it this way and is therefore so protective over his thrown he banishes his loyal friend Kent, ‘If on the tenth day following thy banished trunk be found in our dominions the moment is thy death. Away! By Jupiter, this shall not be provoked’. This quote backs up my reason. As a result of this happening the mood and tone of the play changes from being everyone trying to give King Lear advice to where they are being careful of what they say and how they are coming across in case they are next to be banished. Macbeth also knows what he wants and has to do but is not as forceful as King Lear. It is not until Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth cruelly to murder King Duncan that Macbeths heart is fully into the plot.
The language used by Shakespeare in both King Lear and Macbeth helps to set the tone of each play as well as portraying the characters.
My final contrast between the two plays is the endings. King Lear fails in keeping his rain to the throne and in the end is overthrown by his daughters. Perhaps instead of being so forceful he should have listened to their advice to begin with instead of banishing them. Whereas, Macbeth is successful but his success plays a heavy price on him and his wife’s lives. In the end Macbeth seizes the thrown by murdering King Duncan but because of this he is now a man that we do not recognise, as is his wife; Lady Macbeth. She is now continuously cleaning her hands because she thinks she can see blood on them – this is the after affect of murdering Duncan.
In conclusion, I would believe that by the end of Macbeth the audience would judge Macbeth very harshly if they put the play into the context of their own historical knowledge. Indeed, when I first read the play I saw Macbeth as being a weak but ambitious man led on by a clever and manipulating woman in Lady Macbeth. However as my knowledge of both 17th Century Kings and the influence of Christianity increased my opinion of him changed and therefore I started to view Macbeth differently. For example, early on in the play Banquet warned him against the witches but Macbeth did not take any notice of his advice and in the end he paid the price for his naivety. Macbeth was evil by disobeying God and by becoming an agent of the devil he condemned himself to hell. I think that Macbeth was the most effective King.