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There are various views on human behavior: some believe that every action of us is thoroughly controlled by fate with virtues universally rewarded and vices strictly punished, others believe that there is no power responsible for the differentiation between good and evil. Literature works contain numerous examples of both ways of understanding human’s destiny, the current paper is concerned with how this problem is disclosed in G. Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale and in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to be more exact, we will find out how the notion of poetic justice is represented by examples of the main characters of the works mentioned.
Poetic justice in ‘Macbeth’
Starting with Shakespearean Macbeth we should admit that Macbeth gets poetic justice but one of the principles of poetic justice does not work here. The thing is that this character is fairly punished for the sins he has committed: first, he finds no real reason to live, he loses all his friends, family, and honor, then, he is duped by the witches’ second set of prophecies and is killed in battle by Macduff. But on the other hand, this character shows dramatic changes as the play goes on. The reader gets to know Macbeth as a brave general in the Scottish army, but in the course of the play, he cannot boast of ethical behavior, the numerous mistakes that he makes in his life lead to his ultimate demise. Therefore, the principle of poetic justice that logic always triumphs do not apply to this character.
Another character of the play, Lady Macbeth, wants to see her husband on the throne and acts accordingly. But things do not happen as she expects them to. Lady Macbeth starts to act going by her ambitions. This character helps Shakespeare to demonstrate that women are capable of engaging in acts that will secure their power, what is important, is that even the most immoral things do not stop them.
Macbeth represents the idea of lack of ethics which, when mixed up with greed, leads to immorality and even brutality. Her passion for power and her unwillingness to notice others and take into consideration their wishes and interests lead to her death. Her punishment is executed by her long-suppressed conscience that plagues her, seeming spots of blood on her hand that she cannot wash off are the sign of her would-be punishment; at last, she is tormented into madness by the guilt. Isn’t it a bright example of poetic justice in this play?
On the contrary, if we consider the character of Banquo who is Macbeth’s friend at first we will see that he does not get poetic justice in the play under consideration. Being contrast to Macbeth he resists evil every time where Macbeth embraces it. But when Macbeth starts to consider Banquo to be a threat to his striving for power he has him murdered. Still, we are not sure whether poetic justice fails here as there are essential motives in Banquo’s conduct that make the reader question his purity. So, if Banquo’s reluctance to accuse Macbeth of killing the King, the dark dreams that he has symbolized the other side of his soul, the principles of poetic justice work here.
The Miller’s Tale
As for The Miller’s Tale by G. Chaucer, we believe that all main characters but for the unfaithful wife get poetic justice. Alison betrays her old husband, she does not return Absolon’s affections but readily takes his gifts and no appropriate punishment for her is found in the tale. Others get their just deserts. But one thing remains a bit puzzling. It seems that a clerk who cares just about wooing young women at church, “that Jolie was and you are gay, /Gooth with a sensor on the holiday,/ Sensing the wyves of the parishes fast; / And many a lovely look on hem he caste, /And namely on this carpenters wyf.” (Chaucer 3339) deserves even more punishment than he gets.
The two works we have discussed are similar in addressing the question of poetic justice in the way that almost every character gets it and different in the way the authors present it. If in the Macbeth play the reader is horrified by the events described and the way the characters’ vices are punished, in The Miller’s Tale he or she is encouraged to smile at the things that happen to the characters.
We believe that various readers will have various views on the representation of poetic justice in Macbeth and The Miller’s Tale, but we are sure that all of them are equally thankful to the authors for allowing them to think over human virtues and vices once more.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Miller’s Prologue and Tale. An Interlinear Translation.” The Geoffrey Chaucer Page. 2006. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Web.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Washington Square Press , 2003.