Can the audience fully appreciate the depth of evil presented in the tragic drama Macbeth by William Shakespeare? This essay explores the various aspects of evil from beginning to end of the drama.
D. F. Bratchell in Shakespearean Tragedy delineates the specific type of evil within the tragedy:
Long regarded as a profound vision of evil, Macbeth differs from the other Shakespearean tragedies in that the evil is transferred from the villain to the hero; not that Shakespeare’s tragic figures are ever conceived in the simplistic tones of black and white. Although the Elizabethans took liberties with Aristotle’s dictum that tragedy does not deal with the overthrow of a bad character, it would be accepted by them that concentration on the evil deed itself does not constitute tragedy. The overtly political theme is clear, and the play has been called the greatest of the moralities. It is Shakespeare’s ability to identify, or to portray with an understanding which engages our sympathy, a villainous hero who is not merely a villain which perhaps constitutes the major critical question. (132-33)
Charles Lamb in On the Tragedies of Shakespeare explains the impact of evil as seen in Macbeth’s initial murder:
The state of sublime emotion into which we are elevated by those images of night and horror which Macbeth is made to utter, that solemn prelude with which he entertains the time till the bell shall strike which is to call him to murder Duncan, – when we no longer read it in a book, when we have given up that vantage-ground of abstraction which reading possesses over seeing, and come to see a man in his bodily shape before our eyes actually preparing to commit a murder, if the acting be true and impressive as I have witnessed it in Mr. K’s performance of that part, the painful anxiety about the act, the natural longing to prevent it while it yet seems unperpetrated, the too close pressing semblance of reality, give a pain and an uneasiness [. . .]. (134)
L.C. Knights in the essay “Macbeth” specifies the particular species of evil present within the play:
Macbeth defines a particular kind of evil – the evil that results from a lust for power. The defining, as in all the tragedies, is in strictly poetic and dramatic terms. It is certainly not an abstract formulation, but lies rather in the drawing out of necessary consequences and implications of that lust both in the external and the spiritual worlds.
evilmac Variety of Evils in Macbeth
Variety of Evils in Macbeth
The tragedy Macbeth by William Shakespeare manifests a rich variety of evils, not only by the main characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, but also by the witches.
Clark and Wright in their Introduction to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare interpret the main theme of the play as intertwining with evil:
While in Hamlet and others of Shakespeare’s plays we feel that Shakespeare refined upon and brooded over his thoughts, Macbeth seems as if struck out at a heat and imagined from first to last with rapidity and power, and a subtlety of workmanship which has become instructive. The theme of the drama is the gradual ruin through yielding to evil within and evil without, of a man, who, though from the first tainted by base and ambitious thoughts, yet possessed elements in his nature of possible honor and loyalty. (792)
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 Dies Irae. (283)
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, …
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…nk. “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.
Lamb, Charles. On the Tragedies of Shakespeare. N.p.: n.p.. 1811. Rpt in Shakespearean Tragedy. Bratchell, D. F. New York, NY: Routledge, 1990.
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.