Macbeth and The Free Lunch

In Robert Greene’s book on “Power” he offers the following advice: “What is offered for free is dangerous–it usually involves either a trick or a hidden obligation. What has worth is worth paying for. By paying your own way you stay clear of gratitude, guilt, and deceit. It is also often wise to pay the full price–there is no cutting corners with excellence.” When the Weird Sisters tell Macbeth he will ascend to King, he asks them, “From whence you owe this strange intelligence?” After all why are these “black and midnight hags” going out of their way to tell Macbeth things if they get nothing out of it. They are offering this [highly dangerous] information completely unsolicited; something which should draw suspicion from the get go. Banquo offers the insight: “oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.” After all any kind of Thane is a trifle when compared to the title of King. Macbeth reacts to their prophesy initially with elation and jovial hope, but when the reality of what they tell him sets in, he reflects in a fearful cloud of ambivalence, “This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill, cannot be good…my thought…shakes so my single state of man that function is smothered in surmise, and nothing is but what is not. If indeed they are ” instruments of darkness” and therefore akin to evil, then they are being paid in the pleasure of watching Macbeth’s life crumble before their eyes. That is the price they are charging. Ergo, no free lunch, not even close. Robert Greene’s 40th “Law of Power” is “To despise the free lunch.” When Macbeth first hears the Sisters tell him he will become King, Banquo comments that he “seems to fear things that do sound so fair.” Since he had an instant and obvious visible reaction, he was definitely hearing something that had crossed his mind before: the thought of murdering the king. After brooding over in his mind, maybe somewhere in his thoughts he felt like he could act “free” of guilt, as he might justify that the thought of regicide was coalesced through the Sisters initiation into the web of their deceitful prophesies. He could think along the lines of, “If they were right about me becoming Thane of Cawdor, which included a promotion full of honor and praise, then I can trust them to lead me aright in my path to the throne.” There is no murder free of guilt. There is no valuable information given gratis. Everything is paid one way or another. There is no free lunch; not in our worlds; not in Macbeth’s.

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