Stripped of Shakespeare's poetic style and skilful characterization, Macbeth is revealed as little
more than a petty tyrant. Like Machiavelli's Prince, Macbeth seeks power as an end in itself and
sees any means as justified provided it helps him achieve his goal. It is a standard image of power: an individual, or small group, occupying a position of authority from which he (seldom she) attempts to force his will upon others. Today's equivalent of a feudal monarch is the power-hungry politician, the cult leader, or the ruthless business tycoon. But the new historicist conception of power is different; rather than being a top-down affair that originates from a specific place or individual, power comes from all around us, it permeates us, and it influences us in many subtle and different ways. This idea of decentralized power, heavily indebted to post-structuralist philosophy (see Derrida and Foucault), is sometimes difficult to understand because it seems to have an intangible, mystical quality.
Power appears to operate and maintain itself on its own, without any identifiable individual actually working the control levers.
This new historicist notion of power is evident in Macbeth in the way in which Macbeth's apparent subversion of authority culminates in the re-establishment of that same type of authority under Malcolm. A ruthless king is replaced with another king, a less ruthless one, perhaps, but that is due to Malcolm's benevolent disposition, not to any reform of the monarchy. Similarly, the subversion of the play's moral order is contained, and the old order reaffirmed, by the righteous response to that subversion. In other words, what we see at the beginning of the play--an established monarch and the strong Christian values that legitimize his sovereignty--is the same as what we see at the end of the play, only now the monarchy and...