“In Macbeth, Shakespeare presents us with a powerful vision of evil. ” Write your response to the above statement. Textual support may include reference to a particular performance of the play you have seen. William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, explores many different themes including loyalty, betrayal, and ambition but is it the powerful theme of evil and the consequent guilt that have the most devastating effects on the play’s protagonist, Macbeth and his loyal wife. It is this theme above all others that stays with us, the readers long after we have finished reading.
This play explored many of the branches in evil, namely human’s propensity to commit evil acts, and supernatural evil. Evil was portrayed through two main characters: Macbeth and his wife. Evil was also portrayed in this tragic play through the use of stylistic techniques like pathetic fallacy and language. The opening scene introduces the themes of evil and disorder as the three powerful witches plot Macbeth’s downfall, amid a stormy setting. The vision of evil is powerfully presented through the witches. They are seen as personifications of evil, as their actions always involve the cruel misleading or suffering of their victims.
It was clear to us that they have great power over events and knowledge of the future, but that they use this supernatural power for evil and not for good, causing chaos and mayhem wherever they go. It is evident that they have no ethical values and their mantra ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ represents their reversal of morals. The cruel acts they commit such as the torture of a man at sea ‘I’ll drain him dry as hay, sleep shall neither night nor day’ or ‘killing swine’ they hold proudly, like trophies and so we conclude that they do this for the pleasure of it.
In our opinion anything that can delight in others suffering can only be evil. The most evil act that they perform is the misleading of Macbeth. They lulled him in to a false sense of security, making him trust and become dependant on them. Their aim was no to help him along the path of power and glory as he thought, but to instigate his ruin. They delighted in this. The apparitions they conjured in Act 4 Scene 1 comforted Macbeth – he was reassured by them, such as the second apparition telling him that ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’, and this prophecy is what caused Macbeth to think he was indestructible.
This kind of mind play on people’s emotions and ambitions show us the witches’ wickedness. The gruesome imagery used in Act 4 Scene 1 also showed us how dedicated to evil the witches are. They added disgusting ingredients such as snakes venom, mummified corpses and dead babies. ‘Finger of birth strangled babe, ditch delivered by a drab’, ‘nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips’. Their visual appearance also represents how wicked they are. Banquo was shocked at their hideous appearance . ‘What are these so withered and so wild in their attire,that look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ Earth’
Shakespeare’s vision of evil in this play is further personified through Lady Macbeth. In my opinion she was a huge driving force in the transformation of Macbeth’s character. From our first meeting of her in Act 1 Scene 5 she forms a pact with the evil spirits to take away her tender, womanly qualities. ‘Come, you spirits that tend on moral thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty’. She urged Macbeth and manipulated him in to proceeding with Duncan’s murder. ‘Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent underneath. Readers and Lady Macbeth were aware of Macbeth’s hesitation to commit sacrilege but she would hear none of it – it was clear all she wanted was the crown. ‘If we should fail? We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail’. I think it is here that her driving ambition developed into evil. My first impression of her was of a woman using Macbeth, like a puppet on a string to climb to royalty. It was obvious that Macbeth needed her. In Act 2 Scene 2, in the aftermath of the murder of Duncan, Macbeth is traumatized by his actions and Lady Macbeth takes over. ‘Give me the daggers’.
She also covers up for him in the Banquet Scene, asking everyone to stay seated and lying to explain his actions. ‘Sit, worthy friends. My lord is often thus, and hath been from his youth. Pray you, keep seat. The fit is momentary; upon a thought he will again be well. ’ As the play progresses we begin to feel pity for Lady Macbeth. The repercussions of her evil acts are clear and she is incapable of ignoring her guilty conscience. In Act 3 Scene 3, at the murder of Banquo we realise that Macbeth no longer needs his wife to spur him on, and does not confide in her ‘Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck’.
Evil has started to take over, and she is needed no more for his devious plans he is capable on his own. She grows fully aware of her actions and knows that ‘all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand’ and descends into babbling madness, culminating in her suicide. Therefore, through Lady Macbeth a powerful vision of evil and its repercussions is painted. Evil is also powerfully personifies through Macbeth. We see how evil took him over. At the start of the play he was ‘valiant and noble Macbeth’, a mighty warrior in Duncan’s army.
When he hears a prophecy from the witches that he will one day be king he says ‘this supernatural soliciting cannot be ill, cannot be good’ reflecting his inner conflict about the awakening of his evil desires. This showed me the powerfulness and evil in suggestion and temptation. It is this idea implanted in Macbeth’s mind that starts off a long and bloody chain of evil events. The first evil act he commits is regicide. one of the most unimaginable crimes in Shakespeare’s time as the king was seen as Gods representive on earth. ‘O horror, horror’. This Macbeth’s first step in to the realms of evil, from which he cannot return.
From this point on he descends further and further into evil acts, and becomes evils servant, corrupting everything he touches. He becomes a victim of his own flawed evil character, which is revealed to the audience that his mind is ‘full of scorpions’. His evil side gets worse as the play progresses. Everything he decides to do is out of greed for the crown. It is clear he has become a complete and utter tyrant. The murder of Banquo was the beginning of Macbeth’s tyranny. He did not consult Lady Macbeth and therefore made the decision by himself – he no longer needs her to s spur him on.
Killing your best friend is something only someone who is full of evil could do. ‘Our fears in Banquo stick deep’. ‘thus did Banquo’. Lady Macduff and her ‘babes’ are a symbol of the innocent people in Scotland who have to suffer under Macbeth’s rule. ‘I have done no harm. But I remember now I am in this earthly world, where to do harm is often laudable, to do good sometime accounted dangerous folly’. Lady Macduff and her son evoke a picture of innocence and defencelessness which only a heartless and evil man would take advantage of. This meaningless violence show us how tyrannical and evil Macbeth has become.
He had no purpose in killing them but for evil’s sake. At the end of the play Macbeth prepares for war with England. All of his murderous deeds and evil ways have backfired on him and he will pay for it with death. It is only in the last few minutes of his life that he realises that the ‘instruments of darkness’ have fooled him, ‘Despair thy charm; and let the angel that thou still hast served tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped’. The evil of the witched trickery, and the persuasion of his now dead wife brought him to his inevitable death.
It’s clear that his commitment to evil was his downfall. Shakespeare’s language and imagery constantly reinforced the theme of evil. In our society, darkness tends to be the primary characteristic of evil. A black cat, a dark and stormy night, and a dark alley, for instance, are all modern day symbols of wickedness and evil. The use of the night’s dark hour’s gave a sense of evil to the play. Macbeth’s rule over Scotland is marked by an absence of light from the country – it is covered by a shadow of darkness, ‘shrouded in darkness’.
This technique is very effective in portraying the vision of evil in Macbeth. The use of pathetic fallacy also is used. Foul weather symbolizes both evil and the chaos it creates, and the most important function of weather imagery is to link Macbeth with evil and chaos. Macbeth is also described as ‘Black Macbeth’ by Malcolm to show how evil he has become. In conclusion, Macbeth’s innate propensity for evil and he and Lady Macbeth’s desire for power, cause them to commit the heinous murder of a king, and to descend down a path of evil destruction.
This commitment to evil was their downfall. And it hindered the well being of their bodies and their souls. By embracing evil, they deny their own spiritual, mental and physical health. This caused us to conclude that to embrace evil is to embrace your own destruction. The images of cruelty, suffering and evil in this play, with the constant references to hell , disease, and violence, strongly contribute to the vision of evil in the play. Although order is restored at the play’s completion, it was the powerful vision of evil and immorality that gave a lasting impression.