To What Extent Is ?Macbeth? A Play That Deals With Good And Evil? Essay, Research Paper
In this essay I will be looking at Macbeth, a play written by William Shakespeare, and to what extent it deals with good and evil. The play tells the story of how a noble warrior, Macbeth, descends into evil after meeting with three witches ? supernatural beings who prophesy Macbeth?s destiny. He is told he will become King of Scotland, and this idea of gaining power leads him to murder the king, take his throne and then continue his ?murder spree? on seemingly whoever he feels like. Eventually Macbeth is slain and order is restored in Scotland.
Personally I think that Macbeth is a play concerned wholly with the battle between good and evil ? throughout the play we continually see signs of a supernatural struggle between the two, with evil ?winning? over good when Macbeth murders the king, but then good finally defeating evil when Macbeth is slain. In fact, very the opening scene we see signs of supernatural happenings and evil ? the witches:
Fair is foul and foul is fair;
Hover through the fog and filthy air
(Witches, I, 1, 11-12)
Here we see that, to the witches, what is evil is good (?foul is fair?) and what is good they find repulsive (?fair is foul?). This seems to be their attitude to life, but it could also be a warning to the audience that things to follow are not what they might seem.
In the following scene we hear of an honourable Macbeth, fighting valiantly for his king against enemies:
For brave Macbeth ? well he deserves that name ?
Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution?
(Captain, I, 2, 16-18)
Here there is a contrast between scenes I and II, with evil being shown in I and good being shown in II. However, it is in scene III that good and evil collide, when Macbeth meets with the witches. In this scene the witches prophesy Macbeth?s future ? one hails him with his current title, Thane of Glamis. Another greets him with the title ?Thane of Cawdor?, a title he does not currently possess. The third witch hails him as ?King
Hereafter?, which surprises him greatly, and sends his mind into mental turmoil:
All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!
All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!
All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter!
(Witches, I, 3, 48-50)
Banquo, Macbeth?s friend, is equally surprised, but he sees that something evil is at work and attempts to warn Macbeth. However, Macbeth is already thinking of what will happen if he does become King ? this is the very beginning of his descent into evil.
Might yet enkindle you unto the crown,
Besides the Thane of Cawdor. But ?tis strange:
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray?s
In deepest consequence
(Banquo, I, 3, 121-126)
In scene 4 we see Macbeth being presented with the title ?thane of cawdor? (what the second witch prophesied) and it appears that Macbeth will continue to live honourably and let ?chance? run its course, and if he does become king then so be it. However, when he sees Duncan name his son Malcolm as his successor Macbeth begins thinking and realises he must do something.
We will establish our estate upon
Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter
The prince of Cumberland
(Duncan, I, 4, 37-40)
The prince of Cumberland! ? that is a step,
On which I must fall down, or else o?erleap,
For in my way it lies
(Macbeth, I, 4, 47-50)
In the next scene we are introduced to Lady Macbeth, and it is soon clear that she is the ambition, the ?driving force?, behind her husband. She knows of his ambition but fears he is too noble to fulfil the third prophecy. We also see a clear indication of evil spirits being present in this scene ? Lady Macbeth calls upon them to make her ruthless so she can kill Duncan.
Come you spirits,
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the top toe-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood
(L. Macbeth, I, 5, 40-43)
When Macbeth does return Lady Macbeth tells him to leave everything to her ? she is his ambition, and she is the reason that causes Macbeth to follow his path of evil.
When Duncan reaches Macbeth?s castle he is warmly greeted ? the evil present is kept hidden from view ? this is emphasised by the way Duncan compliments the Macbeths ? Duncan does not suspect that evil could be here, ready to strike him down.
Act II begins with Macbeth imagining a bloody dagger, leading him to where Duncan is asleep. This dagger signifies the evil inside Macbeth is winning over him, and he goes to commit the murder.
Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heart-oppressed brain?
(Macbeth, II, 1, 37-39)
In scene 2 we again see how ruthless Lady Macbeth is ? when Macbeth returns after committing the bloody deed he is not thinking straight ? it as if he is controlled by evil and can not think properly. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, seems to be controlling her evil, and keeps a level head and takes the bloody daggers back to the murder scene ? Macbeth, not thinking properly, brought them back with him.
So brainsickly of things. Go get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
Why did you bring these daggers back from the place?
They must lie there. Go carry them, and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood
(L. Macbeth, II, 2, 43-47)
Here we see another evil act being executed ? the bloody daggers are planted on the ?sleepy grooms? ? the drunk guards ? so as to make them seem the obvious culprits.
When Duncan?s body is discovered the guards are assumed guilty ? and Macbeth quickly kills them ?out of his love for Duncan?. The audience though knows Macbeth killed them in order to keep them quiet and ensure nobody would suspect him ? Macbeth is now being slowly
Engulfed in evil, as he has proved by killing innocent guards. Lady macbeth then faints ? this could be either as a diversion to stop Macbeth saying too much, or she have been actually overcome by Macbeth?s reconstruction of the night?s events.
Here lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with golden blood,
And his gashed stabs looked like a breach in nature
For ruin?s wasteful entrance; there the murderers,
Steeped in the colours of their trade, their daggers
Unmanly breached with gore
(Macbeth, II, 3, 109-114)
In Act III the prophecies are fulfilled as Macbeth is crowned King. However, Macbeth is not content ? he has tasted evil once and he has a desire to taste it again. When Banquo begins to suspect Macbeth of ?foul play? Macbeth begins plotting the next murder. Macbeth is also bitter because the witches also prophesised that Banquo?s descendants will be heirs to the throne. Macbeth obviously is not happy with this and so believes that if he kills Banquo and his son, Fleance, this will not be able to happen. Macbeth is now a truly evil character ? he has ordered the execution of his own best friend simply because he felt slightly bitter.
They hailed him father to a line of kings.
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my grasp
(Macbeth, III, 1, 59-62)
Banquo is murdered and in the confusion Fleance escapes, which displeases Macbeth. Macbeth however has to turn back his attention to the banquet going on, but when he goes to sit down he sees a bloody ghost of Banquo in his seat.
The appearance of a ghost shows how Macbeth is not at all in control now ? he is imagining apparitions, and is totally led by his evil desires. His reaction shows how frightfully unstable he really is:
Avaunt, and quit my sight, let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are narrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
Which thou dost glare with!
(Macbeth, III, 4, 94-97)
In scene 6 of act three some of the noble men are beginning to realise that Macbeth is responsible for the death of Duncan and Banquo, most noticeably Macduff. Macduff goes to the English court to raise an army to defeat Macbeth. In retaliation to Macduff?s ?betrayal? Macbeth, blinded by his evil, quickly orders the siege of his castle and the execution of all that live there, including Lady Macduff and Macduff?s son. Here we see what evil heights Macbeth has reached ? he has ordered the death of women and children. However, we see a shimmer of good in the form of Macduff as he aims to defeat Macbeth and his evil, ?tyrant? ways.
Also, when Lady Macduff and her son are killed, we see how evil has won another battle over evil ? Lady Macduff represented good, as her and her son shared a loving relationship. However, Macbeth and his murderers, representing the forces of evil, kill her.
Why then, alas,
Do I put up that womanly defence,
To say I have done no harm?
(L. Macduff, IV, 2, 73-75)
Here Lady Macduff believes she will not be harmed, as she has not done anything to anybody ? she represents ?good?. However, she is killed anyway because Macbeth is being governed by evil and so he is killing whom he pleases.
Macduff meanwhile is at the English court, seeking out Malcom?s help in getting rid of Macbeth. Macduff then learns of the murder of his wife and son ? Macduff is devastated and vows to take revenge. Malcom also wishes to even the score with Macbeth for Duncan?s murder ? they leave to join up with the English forces and march to Scotland. Here we see good is fighting back against evil ? evil will soon be defeated and honour and peace restored in Scotland.
In the ?sleepwalking scene? ? act V scene 1 ? a doctor observes Lady Macbeth sleepwalking. In this scene it becomes apparent just how much effect the murders have had on Lady Macbeth and her husband. Lady Macbeth talks during her sleepwalk of how evil the deaths Duncan and Banquo were ? it seems as if an emotional battle is going on inside her ? a battle between her evil side, the side shown when she finished off the murder of Duncan, and her good, loving side, seen when Macbeth returns from battle at the very beginning of the play, before the murders.
What need we fear who knows it,
When nobody can call our power to account?
Yet who would have thought the old man would have
So much blood in him?
The thane of Fife had a wife ? where is she now? (L. Macbeth, V, 1, 37-42)
Soon after this Lady Macbeth commits suicide ? this shows how she was unable to take her mental unstability any more, and so chose to end it all. This shows that good is now winning over evil, as Lady Macbeth has killed herself, showing that the murders were, for her, for absolutely nothing.
In scene 8 Macduff and Macbeth finally meet on the battlefield ? Macbeth says how he can not be killed by any man born of woman, but Macduff informs him he was ?ripped from his mother?s womb? ? he was born by caesarean operation. This shows how the witches tricked Macbeth ? they made him over-confident so it would lead to his demise.
Despair thy charm,
And let the angel whom thou hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother?s womb
(Macduff, V, 8, 14-18)
Macduff and Macbeth fight ? this signifies the ever on-going battle between good and evil. Eventually Macbeth is slain and the evil has been stopped in Scotland ? good has triumphed, as Malcom is crowned the new King.