Depiction of Evil in Shakespear's Macbeth

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This essay is going to explore how Shakespeare creates a mood of evil through the characters, scenes and language and examines how the audience at that time may have been affected and how they reacted to this tragedy, Macbeth, set in Scotland in 1040. Macbeth is the epicenter of the play. He is a national hero. We identify with him and his good qualities. However, as the play perseveres, his ambition for power and the throne creates national terror, and he also becomes a tragic hero, Macbeth evolves from a loyal man full of good qualities to an evil one. It is clear that the witches are the main source of evil, followed by Lady Macbeth. Therefore, Macbeth is largely influenced by the three witches and Lady Macbeth to undertake this transition.

The opening scene with the three witches is crucial as it sets the mood and tone of the play. At the time when Shakespeare wrote the play people were very religious, and witchcraft was a topic of considerable interest. People had very strong feelings against witchcraft and convicted witches were usually tortured. They were also associated with the devil, and in this scene they would have been very likely to scare, in order to thrill Shakespeare’s audience. Shakespeare creates this mood of evil with pathetic fallacy, shown by the witches as they speak, “In thunder, lightning or in rain”. This quote strengthens the audience feelings about evil in the air. This is when the witches are first presented. Shakespeare makes the witches speak in rhyming couplets, which set a rhythm and these chants sound like spells the witches will use to invoke the apparitions. He uses this technique to emphasize the evilness of the witches and scare the audience. However, the noble characters speak in lambic pentameter. The fact that the noble characters only speak in Iambic pentameter gives the audience a sense of a heartbeat. This builds up tension towards the apparition of the 3 witches and makes the audience feel precarious and vulnerable.

Moreover, as I said before, the witches create spells to create apparitions, which at the times, would have been considered evil. The last couplet of the first scene, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair, Hover through the fog and filthy air”, reaffirms the witches are evil, supernatural, and associated with the devil and darkness. At this point the audience has no doubt about it. In this quote, the word “fog,” can have two different meanings. It can simply mean that the place is foggy, because the witches are around. The audience can understand the unethical and wicked actions of the witches, as they use pathetic fallacy. However, this word could also show clouded minds, which shows that both Macbeth and Banquo are confused. At the time it was thought that confusion was a result of supernaturalism and evilness. They thought the devil was affecting the mind. This, again would have scared the audience, which also supports the sense of evil and unholiness of the witches.

When Macbeth and Banquo first meet the witches they wonder how something that looked like a human, could vanish. Banquo demonstrates this when saying, “The witches have vanished into the air and what seemed corporal…melted as air into the wind.” The witches show a link between the real world and the underworld. This ability to disappear or change aspect would have shocked and scared the present audience, and reaffirms their union with evil.

The witches are also shown as genderless because they look like women but share many features with men, as shown by the quote, ”You should be women, but your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.” The witches are like this because they are supernatural. First of all, witches are frightening to the eyesight, hence they look like this. Shakespeare has illustrated his audience a stereotypical picture of the witch, to make the audience feel vulnerable, as witchcraft in those days was a topic which was taken very seriously. As they are the typical witches, the audience will be able to easily recognise them as evil beings, which was what they thought at the time.

Moreover, it is in this scene, where we first meet Macbeth. He is presented as a loyal, honest soldier of his King. The background is full of lightning and thunder and the air is filthy and foggy, this may be the results of the battles, or the use of pathetic fallacy by the witches. This is shown by the quote, “so foul and fair a day have not seen.” This quote means that Macbeth is saying that it is a good day, as they have won the battle, but is also a bad day, as it is full of death. The fact that Macbeth recalls what the witches said, shows that since the beginning, Macbeth is opened to more than one interpretation. This builds a contrast against the audience’s first impressions about Macbeth, being loyal and trustworthy, into being evil. Since the beginning, Shakespeare wants to make the audience believe, that “evil” doesn’t overcome Macbeth, but that it already within him. It is in this scene where the witches first propose Macbeth with the throne. Again, they speak in rhyming couplets, as shown in the quote, “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, that shalt be king hereafter.” Banquo is surprised about Macbeth’s petrified reaction.

Macbeth reacts like this, because he knows that to end up becoming the leader, he will have to kill Duncan. Banquo is surprised because they were good news, but they caused such sinister and disturbing thoughts. In those times, only even thinking of killing the King, which was the representation of God in Earth, was thought as evil. Banquo finds the prophecies hard to believe, but Macbeth gets carried away by them, as they build suspicion in him. And the audience starts to see a change in him. These prophecies make Macbeth generate and ambition of power, and in order to get it, he even considers killing the king. Moreover, these statements slowly deceive him into committing the murder and eventually to his death, as he is a tragic hero. The sympathy the audience feels for him is replaced by horror.

Also, after killing Banquo Macbeth, then talks with his ghost and has visions with him, he is going mad. The assassination converts Macbeth into a lunatic man, and a serial killer. The quote, “Things bad begun make themselves strong by ill,” shows Macbeth telling his wife the only way to make this right is by continuing to attack, Macbeth knows it has no remedy, the only thing he can do to not get discovered is killing. At this point he has already become a killer. All the evil from the witches and Lady Macbeth is passed onto Macbeth.

Moreover, this is where Macbeth’s evolution starts, as after he becomes a serial killer, killing Banquo and his family. The quote, “It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight, if it finds heaven, must find it out tonight,” shows us that Macbeth has arranged Banquo’s death. Macbeth does this because fear builds up on him for being discovered, as Banquo was the only person present when the witches proposed Macbeth with the Throne. However, the unholy sisters also declared that Banquo’s sons will be kings. This outrages Macbeth, and makes him take the decision of killing Banquo, his best friend. At this point, we can clearly see Macbeth’s ambition to power has outgrown his empathy and feelings. The audience still feels terro towards Macbeth as he has committed the worst sin, more than once now. They feel like he is a representation of the devil in Earth, which contradicts the principals of the reign at that time.

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Macbeth, since the beginning, is clearly open-minded to the prophecies and their effect to make him king. Not only Macbeth but also his wife, are prepared to confront such statements and will do what is necessary to achieve power, despite the fact they were respected landowners, which was a very strong position in society. Some people may argue, that it is easy to blame his influences (the witches and the devil) but at the end, Macbeth is responsible for his own actions. Although, he could have been ‘possessed’ by ‘evil’ and couldn’t control his actions, as, as I said before, it is like ‘evil’ is within him.

“Is this a dagger which I see before me”. This shows that Macbeth was having hallucinations before he killed the king, which makes us think he was somewhat nervous or doubtful about his actions. This again builds a contrast, as Macbeth is a soldier and has killed large quantities of people in the battlefield, but now, he cannot perform the assassination of an unprotected person. At this moment the audience is doubtful, and doesn’t expect Macbeth to commit the murder, however, he surprisingly does. The fact that Macbeth was having hallucinations, makes himself evil, as in those times, this was thought to be a result of mental-illness and it was supernatural, which was thought to be an effect of evil and the devil.

Also, after killing Banquo Macbeth, then talks with his ghost and has visions with him, he is going mad. The assassination converts Macbeth into a lunatic man, and a serial killer. The quote, “Things bad begun make themselves strong by ill,” shows Macbeth telling his wife the only way to make this right is by continuing to attack, Macbeth knows it has no remedy, the only thing he can do to not get discovered is killing. At this point he has already become a killer. All the evil from the witches and Lady Macbeth is passed onto Macbeth.

Moreover, this is where Macbeth’s evolution starts, as after he becomes a serial killer, killing Banquo and his family. The quote, “It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight, if it finds heaven, must find it out tonight,” shows us that Macbeth has arranged Banquo’s death. Macbeth does this because fear builds up on him for being discovered, as Banquo was the only person present when the witches proposed Macbeth with the Throne. However, the unholy sisters also declared that Banquo’s sons will be kings. This outrages Macbeth, and makes him take the decision of killing Banquo, his best friend. At this point, we can clearly see Macbeth’s ambition to power has outgrown his empathy and feelings. The audience still feels terror towards Macbeth as he has committed the worst sin, more than once now. They feel like he is a representation of the devil in Earth, which contradicts the principals of the reign at that time.

Additionally, Lady Macbeth, feels that Macbeth has the ambition needed to kill Duncan however, he lacks the courage to do so. This is shown by the quote, “too full o´ the milk of human kindness.” Although Macbeth appeared to have no problem to kill his enemies, he is totally incapable to kill in cold blood, as I mentioned before. “We will proceed no further in this business.” This quote shows, that Macbeth has still got an understanding of good and evil. Lady Macbeth’s values would have been strange to the audience, as at the time women were considered inferior. However, the audience can perceive the change in the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The audience also thinks Lady Macbeth is the evil one, compared to Macbeth, and they now see Macbeth more than a victim, which emphasises the change in positions between Macbeth and his wife.

Moreover, she purposely asks her femininity to be removed, as shown by the quote, ”Come, you spirit that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”. It suggests that Lady Macbeth is willing to give up her femininity to become a man, for the purpose of the killing of King Duncan. This idea opposes the Elizabethan thoughts of women in society. This quote describes how Lady Macbeth takes the role of man, and this develops further on in the play. This, again, goes against the principles of women at those times. Furthermore, the word unsex, means that lady Macbeth was asking for masculinity, in order to commit actions independently, as Jacobean women were controlled and belonged to their husbands. As I said before, she is wanting to become a man just for the sake of the assassination of Duncan. This shows how big her ambition for power is, which slowly spreads to Macbeth as the play goes on.

The actual murder of Duncan, is the turning point of the play, as up until this action, there has been an equilibrium between the good and the evil. We know that Macbeth still has the ability to distinguish between good and evil, unlike his wife, but after he kills the king, we can see that evil has overwhelmed Macbeth. This murder is the start of a killing cycle, as after Macbeth, kills Banquo, Lady Macduff and her children and Macduff killing Macbeth.

After the murder, Macbeth is full of confusion again, and returns to the witches. The fact that he returns to the witches, confirms his evil nature, as the witches are the symbol for the devil and for evil. Moreover, to emphasise that Macbeth is already evil, he starts in rhyming couplets, like the witches. This makes the audience feel no empathy for him.

In conclusion, I think evil is portrayed in Macbeth through the witches, as they are the ones who first proposed and manipulate Macbeth to undertake the transition between a loyal man to an evil man. However, Lady Macbeth also manipulates Macbeth to become evil for her own benefit, in order to become queen. Finally, it is clear that Macbeth is manipulated by both and influenced by their thoughts, and at the end, both his thoughts and ambition combine to transform Macbeth into an evil man.

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Depiction of Evil in Shakespear’s Macbeth. (2020, September 04). WritingBros. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/depiction-of-evil-in-shakespears-macbeth/
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Depiction of Evil in Shakespear’s Macbeth. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/depiction-of-evil-in-shakespears-macbeth/> [Accessed 24 Oct. 2020].
Depiction of Evil in Shakespear’s Macbeth [Internet]. WritingBros. 2020 Sept 04 [cited 2020 Oct 24]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/depiction-of-evil-in-shakespears-macbeth/
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