When the audience experiences Macbeth by William Shakespeare, it is subjected to a large and heavy dose of evil in the form of intent and actions by the witches, by Lady Macbeth and by Macbeth.
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. Its meaning, therefore, is revealed in the expansion and unfolding of what lies within the initial evil, in terms of direct human experience. (93)
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)
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)
The Tragedy of Macbeth opens in a desert place with thunder and lightning and three Witches who are anticipating their meeting with Macbeth, “There to meet with Macbeth.” They all say together the mysterious and contradictory “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
Othello’s Evil Character
Othello’s Evil Character
William Shakespeare’s Othello gives the audience a full measure or dose of evil, mostly in the person of the sinister Iago, whose evil influence penetrates the lives of the victims around him.
In The Riverside Shakespeare Frank Kermode explains the type of evil peculiar to the ancient:
Over the ancient figure of the Vice – a familiar shape for abstract evil – Iago wears the garb of a modern devil. Iago’s naturalist ethic, as expounded to Roderigo at the close of Act I, is a wicked man’s version of Montaigne, an instance of the way in which men convert to evil the precepts of a common sense supported by no act of faith. (1200)
Even the imagery in the drama has its evil aspect. Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains the instances of diabolic imagery in the play as they relate to the infecting of the Moor by the ancient:
The same transference from Iago to Othello may be observed in what S. L. Bethell called diabolic imagery. He estimated that of the 64 images relating to hell and damnation – many of them are allusions rather than strict images – Iago has 18 and Othello 26. But 14 of Iago’s are used in the first two Acts, and 25 of Othello’s in the last three. The theme of hell originates with Iago and is transferred to Othello only when Iago has succeeded in infecting the Moor with his jealousy. (22)
In his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, A. C. Bradley gives an in-depth analysis of the brand of evil which the ancient personifies:
Iago stands supreme among Shakespeare’s evil characters because the greatest intensity and subtlety of imagination have gone to his making, and because …
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…enneth. Introduction. William Shakespeare: Othello. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
Wayne, Valerie. “Historical Differences: Misogyny and Othello.” The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed Valerie Wayne. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.
Wilson, H. S. On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy. Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1957.
Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “The Engaging Qualities of Othello.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Introduction to The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare. N. p.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1957.