Moral Significance of Evil in Macbeth
Moral Significance of Evil in Macbeth
Evil plays a predominant part in ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare. Evil is evident throughout the play, albeit more obviously in Macbeth and his wife, in the witches or in other, less blatant, underlying instances.
Macbeth, I feel, is relatively unsullied at the start of the play. He seems suited to where he is, as Thane of Glamis, as illustrated by Angus towards the end of the play in Act V.2 ln 20-22 “Now does he feel his title| hang loose about himself like a giant’s robe| Upon a dwarfish thief”, comparing him to a dwarf who has stolen the clothes of a giant i.e. King Duncan. Banquo also comments on his new title in I.3 ln 54, “New honours come upon him| Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould| But with the aid of use.” It is interesting that the two both incorporate a theme of clothing in their speech. However, during his encounter with the witches, he is told of his inheritance: the Thanedom of Cawdor and King of Scotland. His thoughts at this point dismiss the witches as mad old women, but when Angus & Ross enter the stage and inform him of his appointment to Thane of Cawdor, his thoughts turn more sinister, as shown in a short speech aside of stage in I.3, “If chance may have me king, why chance may crown me without my stir”, the key word being ‘stir’ showing that he has intentions of disturbing the course of fate, be he however lays off the idea and decides that he needn’t interrupt it as it is prophesied that he will be King. However, he is not patient enough “ If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well| It were done quickly.” (I.7 ln 1-2) and resorts to murdering Duncan in II.2. From thereon, the evil in Macbeth seems to increase, as it were, scene by scene. Having murdered the king, he slays the two guards barring the threshold to Duncan’s room, Banquo and an attempt on his son, Fleance and Macduff’s family and “all my pretty little chickens and their dam”, “wife, children, servants, all.” (I.3). At first, it is a truly grave and difficult thing for Macbeth to murder Duncan, but after that it just seems to be a ‘slippery slope’, and, as Macbeth finds, “a little water clears us of this deed”, as said by Lady Macbeth in II.2 ln 68, it not so easy to put into practice.
Lady Macbeth has slightly more evil intention than Macbeth when we meet her. When she reads of the witches’ prophecy in I.5, her thoughts immediately run to gaining the crown of Scotland, “to have thee crowned withal”. We see this evil in her when Macbeth has doubts as to murdering Duncan, but Lady Macbeth drives him to do it, “Are thou afeared| to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire?” (I.7 ln 39-40) and calls him a “coward”. However, Lady Macbeth is not quite as evil as she seems, as illustrated in I.5 ln 41, when she has to ask “murdering ministers” to “make thick my blood;| stop up the access and passage to my remorse”. She requests “Come thick night,| and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,| that my knife may not see the wound it makes,| nor heaven peep through the blanket of dark| to cry, ‘Hold, hold!’ ”, showing that does not want to see the crimes she commits and also that her conscience may not get to her, showing a bit of unease and unnaturalness in her performing of the deed. Her regret later comes out in the sleepwalking scene (V.1) where she subconsciously feels her wrong: “All the perfumes| of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” V.1 ln 48.
Evil is evident elsewhere in the play, particularly with the witches, repeating their sinister mantras. The witches, traditionally evil in their own right, use their demon powers as an evil force, using their prophecies to destroy Macbeth. It should be noticed, however, that one can only ever be tempted by evil and can never be made evil. The point I am driving at is that it was only Macbeth who killed Duncan, and that the witches cannot be wholly to blame as they could only tempt Macbeth and not make him do wrong.
Evil is a sinister aspect of human life, and is all too evident in Macbeth.
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