Macbeth by William Shakespeare involves evil on the part of Macbeth, his Lady, and the three witches. This essay will consider evil in its many guises in this tragedy.
In “Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action” Francis Fergusson describes the evil course of action within the drama:
At this point there is the brief interlude with the Doctor. The king’s evil and its cure and the graces which hang about the English throne are briefly described. [. . .] It marks the turning point, and it introduces the notion of the appeal by faith to Divine Grace which will reverse the evil course of the action when Malcolm and Macduff learn to outrun reason in that way, instead of by responding to the Witches’ supernatural solicitations as Macbeth has done. (110)
Fanny Kemble in “Lady Macbeth” asserts that Lady Macbeth died as a result of her evil acts:
Lady Macbeth, even in her sleep, has no qualms of conscience; her remorse takes none of the tenderer forms akin to repentance, nor the weaker ones allied to fear, from the pursuit of which the tortured soul, seeking where to hide itself, not seldom escapes into the boundless wilderness of madness. (116-17)
Roger Warren states in Shakespeare Survey 30 , regarding Trervor Nunn’s direction of Macbeth at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1974-75, how the witches represented the evil force of black magic:
Much of the approach and detail was carried over, particularly the clash between religious purity and black magic. Purity was embodied by Duncan, very infirm (in 1974 he was blind), dressed in white and accompanied by church organ music, set against the black magic of the witches, who even chanted ‘Double, double to the D…
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… Women Reading Shakespeare 1660-1900. Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts, eds. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.
Kermode, Frank. “Macbeth.” The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972.
Knights, L.C. “Macbeth.” Shakespeare: The Tragedies. A Collectiion of Critical Essays. Alfred Harbage, ed. Englewwod Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964.
Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Warren, Roger. Shakespeare Survey 30. N.p.: n.p., 1977. Pp. 177-78. Rpt. in Shakespeare in the Theatre: An Anthology of Criticism. Stanley Wells, ed. England: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Wilson, H. S. On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1957.
Sex and Darkness in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Sex and Darkness in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Shakespeare’s Macbeth presents more than the simple tale of a murder and revenge. Macbeth wants to be king, and Duncan stands in his way. However, Macbeth hesitates. His wife, Lady Macbeth, must urge him on strongly, like a rider whipping a horse. Macbeth does not want to commit the murder because it creates a conflict in his unconscious mind. Specifically, the act of plunging a knife into Duncan’s breast is like the sex act, making the murder a homosexual act for Macbeth. For Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, it is a reversal of the normal sexual roles. She has plays the dominant, male role, forcing her husband and Duncan both to take the submissive, female role. She is much stronger than her husband, and she uses her strength to force him into the act of murder.
Most of the action in Macbeth takes place in the darkness that comes just before dawn. The murder, the nightmares, and the confession all take place in the hours of the night when most people are sleeping, either alone or with a lover. When the blood begins to flow, it becomes a metaphor for sex. Lady Macbeth displaces her desire to destroy her husband onto Duncan, and Macbeth displaces his desire to dominate his wife sexually onto Duncan. The poor victim of these psychological mechanisms, Duncan, is killed more like the victim of a rape than the victim of a murder. When his blood flows, and his life ebbs away, Lady Macbeth feels a sexual orgasm, and Macbeth feels the loss of his erection at the end of the act.
Macbeth is trying to prove his manhood by committing the murder, and Lady Macbeth is unconsciously expressing her desire to possess the power of a man, which Freud called “penis envy.” The murder causes a greater conflict for Lady Macbeth because of her deep psychological problem, which is that she cannot accept her position in the world as a member of the weak female sex.