A Structuralist View of "Macbeth" Essay

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In "The Structural Study of Myth" Claude Levi-Strauss explains that we can discover a myth's meaning by identifying and isolating what he calls mythemes. Like phonemes in language studies, mythemes are the constituent units of myths and they find meaning in and through their relationships within the mythic structure. The meaning of any individual myth, then, depends on the interaction and order of the mythemes within the story. Many critics believe that the primary signifying system is best found as a series of binary oppositions that the reader organizes, values, and then uses to interpret the text. Applying this structuralist approach to Shakespeare's tragedy "Macbeth", we find that the play revolves around two major binary…show more content…
He murders his kind king Duncan who trusts him very much, arranges the death of Banquo and orders the slaughter of Macduff's wife and children. Behind the opposition of the two selves is the opposition of passions over reason. As a noble man, Macbeth is a man of reason who can tell good from evil. However, his cruel and villainous part is driven by passions. "The right action requires a harmonious relationship between the higher faculties of the soul and lower: between reason and will on the one hand, and ` appetite' (the passions, `affections', or `motions'), imagination and memory on the other --- but especially between reason and passion." In this play, Banquo and Duncan are the ideal example of the man of right action. However, in general, mankind, as a creature of passion, is a creature of change --- contrarious and variable. In the case of Macbeth, his reason and will are weakened and his passions become rebellious, and thus the harmonious relationship between the higher and lower faculties is transformed into strife and conflict, which in turn becomes the chief source of his tragedy and imperfection. This harmonious state of reason and passions in Macbeth is already on the point of collapse at the beginning of the play, and its collapse is Macbeth's tragedy. Of all the passions, which motivate Macbeth, ambition is perhaps the most illuminating. Macbeth's ambition is a desire not so much for power and wealth as for "greatness."

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