Evil And Gender Archetypes In Macbeth Essay

, Research Paper

Adrian Bisson

Honors English 11


Evil and Gender Archtypes in Macbeth

At the heart of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is an examination

of the nature of evil and it’s many faces and facets. The principal evil characters in the

play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, are both evil, but the manifestation of evil is different

in each.

Macbeth’s evil is a dynamic character trait. He begins the play as a celebrated

hero, loyal to his friends and dedicated to his king. He is strong and noble, a man to be

admired by his audience. Then he and Banquo are visited by the three witches, who

promise him that he will be king. This veiled initmation ignites a secret ambition within

Macbeth. Evil has dawned within him, but at this early stage of his transformation

Macbeth is ashamed of his evil urges. He says, “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.” (I, iv, 50) Soon, however, Macbeth is overcome by his

ambition and his fall begins. He says, “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but

only/ Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself/ and falls on the other.” (I, vii, 25) As

soon as the descision to murder Duncan is made, and until his death, Macbeth is a vessel

relentlessly filling with evil. Macbeth is the source of all the dastardly deeds in this play.

The witches ignite his evil ambition, Lady Macbeth stokes the fire, but the blame for

Duncan’s murder rests squarely on the shoulders of Macbeth. Macbeth may not have

held the knives that killed Banquo or Macduff’s family, but the agression is his.

Lady Macbeth does not descend into evil. She wallows in it. From the first

moment the audience meets her, she has blatantly committed herself to evil. She longs to

be even more evil, and tries to commune with unseen spirits to help her. She says,

“Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here./ And fill me from the

crown to the toe top-full/ Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;/ Stop up the access and

passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature/ Shake my fell purpose, nor

keep peace between/ The effect and it! come to my woman’s breasts,/ And take my milk

for gall, you murdering ministers,/ Whatever in your sightless substances/ You wait on

nature’s mischief! Come think night,/ And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,/ That

my keen knife see not the wound it makes,/ Nor Heaven peep through the blanket of the

dark,/ To cry ‘Hold, hold!’” (I, v, 36) For all the sound and fury, Lady Macbeth’s evil

signifies nothing. She has no goal which requires this sinisterness. When she learns of

the witches’ promise, Duncan is nothing to her but a suitable victim. Her true goal is not

to gain the throne. Her motive is only to increase her personal perception of her power.

It is interesting to note the importance of gender in the personifications of evil in

Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is as obsessed with her gender as her evil. When she implores

evil to “unsex” her, to take her “woman’s breasts for gall” she reveals the sense of

powerlessness and weakness she feels. Being a woman makes her dependant on her

husband for her social standing. She feels that her femaleness is the cause of the

sympathy, compassion, and remorse that stand in the way of free action. She feels that

her gender makes her physically weak. It is idle posturing when she assures Macbeth, “I

have given suck, and know/ How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me;/ I would,

while it was smiling in my face,/ have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,/ And

dashed the brains out” (I, vii, 54). This comment is purely a rejection of her womanly

self, in favor of physical power to “dash brains out.” She is trying to convince herself, to

believe that she can overcome her natural emotions. She urges Macbeth to kill Duncan

for the same reason: to prove to herself that she posesses the cruelty to do it. However, it

remains a struggle for her, as she admits after seeing murdered Duncan. She says, “Had

he not resembled/ My father as he slept, I had done’t.” (II, ii, 13) In addition, the murder

does not relieve her of her self-doubt and insecurity. The evil deed has not imparted the

feelings of power she had expected. This is what she means when she says, “Naught’s

had, all’s spent,/ Where our desire is got without content.” (III, ii, 4) Lady Macbeth does

not seem to realize that her greatest advantage in evil is her womanly intelligence. She

makes the plans and handles the emotional and mental consequences of the deed, where

Macbeth is overcome.

Macbeth’s evil is physical. Where Lady Macbeth schemes and waits, Macbeth

rushes to violence. His evil is brutal and impatient. His weakness is his inability to

control his mind.


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