Macbeth by William Shakespeare is a recognized classic tragedy portraying the victory of good over evil. This paper will explore the various expressions of evil within the play.
In Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack compares the fall of Macbeth to the fall of Satan:
In some ways Shakespeare’s story resembles the story of the Fall of Satan. Macbeth has imperial longings, as Satan has; he is started on the road to revolt partly by the circumstance that another is placed above him; he attempts to bend the universe to his will, warring against all the bonds that relate men to each other – reverence, loyalty, obedience, truth, justice, mercy, and love. But again, as in Satan’s case, to no avail. (187)
Blanche Coles states in Shakespeare’s Four Giants the evil intentions of Lady Macbeth:
Lady Macbeth is at the same time greater and lesser than her husband. She has a hardness which he lacks, but she has none of his subtlety and perception. She knows her husband well and despises him a little, but to satisfy her ambition, which is a crude desire to see her man King, she will devote herself soul and body to evil. (62)
Lily B. Campbell in her volume of criticism, Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion,
explains the very evil intentions of the weird sisters:
If we accept Scene v of Act III as canonical, we must accept it as a prologue to Act IV, and if we accept it, much of the mystery of the witches is gone. We are not allowed to be in doubt concerning the evil intention of Hecate, and we hear the ideas of King James re-echoed in her proposal further to raise “such artificial sprit…
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…n 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.
Macbeth’s Evil Dimension
Macbeth’s Evil Dimension
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.