Good And Evil In Macbeth Essay Research

Good And Evil In Macbeth Essay, Research Paper

Good and Evil in Humanity and Macbeth

A major component of all human societies has been the existence of religion. In all of these religions the concepts of good and evil have been present. The reason for this is because man has constantly been in a struggle with internal and external pressures about the intentions of his actions either good or bad. Pressures have been given different names throughout history. These range from vices, temptation, morals, sins, conscience and goals. They can be either good or bad and can be exerted on an individual from others (external) or from within (internal). One play that examines the issue of external and internal pressures on an individual and his actions is William Shakespeare s Macbeth. One particular episode that reflects the intent of the play is when the title character kills the King of Scotland in order to become king himself. Shakespeare concludes that both external and internal pressures have forced Macbeth to act evilly. As both options (good and evil) are available for mankind and there are numerous examples of both being done, then it must be concluded that the choice of evil is not non-existent nor rare, but rather frequent. Therefore, through the murder of Duncan, Macbeth does not isolate himself from humanity but rather embraces it.

The character of Macbeth that the audience is introduced is the epitome of good. Act One sees nearly all characters, other then Macbeth, give some sort of compliment towards his character. The Sergeant declares For brave Macbeth well he deserves that name 1 while Banquo, Macbeth s second in hand, calls him My noble partner 2. Macbeth wife states that he is too full o the milk of human kindness 3. Duncan, King of Scotland, whose status would cause the audience to give his opinion the most weight, describes Macbeth s character three times in Act One. These are O valiant cousin! Worthy Gentlemen 4, They (Banquo and Macbeth) smack of honour both 5 and peerless kinsman 6. We also learn from Macbeth that he is not ambitious as he states come what come may 7. Thus the audience has a clear picture in their mind of the good nature of Macbeth by the end of Act One. However, Macbeth s character changes as a number of influences challenge his actions and lead him on a path of definite evil.

The first several pressures that challenge Macbeth are of the external nature. There are the three weird sisters, All hail, Macbeth! That shalt be King hereafter. 8, who first put into Macbeth s mind the possibility of being king. However, his internal pressures (commonly referred to in modern societies as the conscience) are not yet ready for a change in character. Macbeth replies If chance will crown me king, why chance may crown me, Without my stir 9. He then is told by Duncan that his son, Malcolm, shall be the next in line, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter the Prince of Cumberland 10. This marks a change in his conscience that sees it begin an internal struggle between good and evil. In one soliloquy Macbeth realises he must become more ambitious yet his morals are still present and an important factor:

The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step

On which I must fall down, or else o er-leap,

For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires!

Let not light see my black and deep desires;

The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be

Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see 11

The internal struggle is finally won by evil through the help of Lady Macbeth. After hearing of the meeting with the three weird sisters and their subsequent prophecy of Macbeth s kinship, Lady Macbeth formulates a plan to kill Duncan so Macbeth can fulfil the witches prophecy. She is able to convince Macbeth to kill Duncan despite his hesitancy, If we should fail? 12. Finally Macbeth comes under pressure from an internal influence. That influence is temptation and is symbolised by Macbeth s visualisation of a dagger:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee:

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

I see thee yet, in form as palpable

As this which I now draw.

Thou marshall st me the way that I was going;

That summons thee to heaven, or to hell 13

Thus the transformation is complete and Macbeth has, through internal and external pressures, acted evilly. Shakespeare then shows that, because of the murder of Duncan, Macbeth becomes hardened to his crimes, and yet how he suffers from the fears he had created for himself. These include paranoia, Thou hast harp d my fear aright! 14; and jealousy and insecurity, Our fears in Banquo stick deep, and in his royalty of nature reigns that which would be fear d 15. These internal pressures battle with guilt for Macbeth s subsequent actions. Macbeth s guilt, for this and his later murder of Banquo, are symbolised by the appearance of the bloodied ghost of Banquo at Macbeth s dinner party. He is the only one who can see him and states Avaunt! And quit my sight! Let the Earth hide thee Unreal mockery hence! 16. The ghost of Banquo eventually leaves as does Macbeth s guilty conscience and this sees evil win the struggle over Macbeth s later actions.

Thus as king, Macbeth reigns over all Scotland. However, he does not reign with goodness but rather commits evil acts. These include the killing of Macduff s wife and children, give the edge of sword his wife, his babes and all unfortunate souls that trace him in his line 17. Macbeth becomes a bloodthirsty tyrant, Hang all those who talk of fear 18, who is described as a butcher 19. Through his reign Scotland becomes a suffering country 20 where cruel are the times 21 all because of devilish Macbeth 22. He is perhaps perfectly described by Malcolm:

I grant him bloody,

Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,

Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin

That has a name. 23

Thus Macbeth is now fully identified as being evil by the audience. All that is needed is to discuss whether the audience, whether Elizabethan or contemporary, would identify Macbeth with members of their society. The answer for both would be yes.

The Elizabethan age saw England and the European continent between the refinement of the Renaissance era and the cruelty of the medieval times. This context lead to the conception of a new philosophical argument. This argument centred on the actions and thoughts of man and contained two binary opposite views. One was known as the Age of Gold. This idea stated that man was fundamentally good. The other, the Age of Folly, stated that man was fundamentally bad. The audiences of Macbeth could use this character for evidence for either side. They could argue Macbeth was a fundamentally good and noble individual who was led astray by some external influences, primarily supernatural ones. Contrarily they could argue Macbeth was primarily bad and was not noble at the start, but rather lacked a goal for his ambition to realise and that once the goal was set, namely that of King, his true side came out. Regardless of their side they must draw the conclusion that Macbeth was not isolated from Elizabethan humanity but rather epitomised it.

Contemporary audiences would feel the same way. To fully understand the context of modern day audiences it is perhaps wise to examine another favourite event of present society, namely the Olympic Games where they Celebrate Humanity . This event sees the best athletes from around the world compete on a four yearly basis. It is where the ideals of competition and fair play are meant to be espoused. However, it is not always like this. Many competitors fall to both external and internal pressures and turn from good to evil. This is evidenced by the fact that there were 49 cases of athletes caught with illegal drugs in the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympic Games. This does not include many athletes who did not turn up knowing that new drug tests meant they were going to be caught. The Olympics have also been used as a political vehicle. Hitler used the 1936 Berlin Games to advertise the Nazi belief. While the Munich Games of 1972 were marred by the assassination of 11 Israeli athletes and officials by a Palestinian Terrorist Group known as Black September.

However, out of many dark moments can spring good. An Olympic example would be the performance of the African-American Jesse Owens in the Berlin Games. There he won four gold medals and destroyed Hitler s argument of the sole supremacy of the Arian race. This also occurs in Macbeth. Out of the wounds 24 of Scotland come the noble and good Macduff and Malcolm. Who bring harmony back to Scotland, Will perform in measure, time and place. 25

Thus it can be seen that for both audiences viewing Macbeth, then and now, they would be able to understand and acknowledge his actions. For in the words of Frederick Nietzsce, Macbeth is Human, all too human . Macbeth was potentially good but realised of evil. Like all other members of humanity external and internal pressures struggled over the intentions of his actions. On this occasion evil happened to prevail. Therefore through the murder of Duncan, Macbeth does not isolate himself from humanity but rather symbolises it on a much larger scale.


1. Sergeant, Act One, Scene Two, Line 46

2. Banquo, Act One, Scene Three, Line 54

3. Lady Macbeth, Act One, Scene Five, Line 16

4. Duncan, Act One, Scene Two, Line 24

5. Duncan, Act One, Scene Two, Line 45

6. Duncan, Act One, Scene Four, Line 58

7. Macbeth, Act One, Scene Three, Line 47

8. Third Witch, Act One, Scene Three, Line 50

9. Macbeth, Act One, Scene Three, Line 144

10. Duncan, Act One, Scene Four, Lines 38-9

11. Macbeth, Act One, Scene Four, Lines 48-54

12. Macbeth, Act One, Scene Seven, Line 59

13. Macbeth, Act Two, Scene One, Lines 33-64

14. Macbeth, Act Four, Scene One, Line 74

15. Macbeth, Act Three, Scene One, Lines 49-51

16. Macbeth, Act Three, Scene Four, Lines 93-96 and 99-104

17. Macbeth, Act Four, Scene One, Lines 151-3

18. Macbeth, Act Five, Scene Three, Line 36

19. Malcolm, Act Five, Scene Seven, Line 98

20. Lennox, Act Three, Scene Six, Line 48

21. Ross, Act Four, Scene Two, Line 18

22. Malcolm, Act Four, Scene Three, Line 117

23. Malcolm, Act Four, Scene Three, Lines 57-60

24. Malcolm, Act Four, Scene Three, Line 41

25. Malcolm, Act Five, Scene Seven, Line 102


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