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How does Shakespeare invoke a sense of evil in Macbeth?

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Introduction

How does Shakespeare invoke a sense of evil in "Macbeth"? Narrating the climactic downfall and eventual death of a Scottish thane, "Macbeth" is widely regarded as one of Shakespeare's four great tragedies, alongside "Hamlet", "Othello" and "King Lear". "Macbeth" is typical of the other three tragedies through several key factors, the first of which is the qualities of the protagonist. As with the other tragedies, Macbeth is a notable man of high status who bears many heroic qualities, including extreme valour and honour. However, much like with Othello and his jealousy, Macbeth is undone by his greed and ambition, his fatal flaw, or "harmartia" in the Greek. These flaws play a role in the hero's fall from grace and eventual death, and these occurrences imbue the audience with a sense of loss and waste; thus the genre is deemed a 'tragedy'. If the protagonist was solely brought down by his own flaws the piece would cease to be a tragedy, as there would be no sense of loss or waste upon the hero's demise, as they would appear to be malevolent and deserving of their downfall. Instead, Shakespeare also incorporates external factors contributing to the downfall; in the case of "Macbeth", Lady Macbeth and the Witches are used, coaxing Macbeth into regicide. If the protagonist were to be influenced too heavily by the separate circumstance then the hero would begin to appear as a puppet, completely corrupted and controlled. A fine balance is found during Shakespeare's four great tragedies between character-based flaws and external circumstances' influencing the hero's actions, and subsequently the feeling of tragedy is massive. This is perhaps a defining factor as to why these four tragedies have received so much acclaim, after all a tragedy is defined by the effect it has on the audience. "Macbeth" however makes one large departure from the generic formulae in that throughout the play Shakespeare conveys a sense of concentrated evil, not seen in the other tragedies. ...read more.

Middle

James's paranoia went so deep that he even wrote a book entitled "Daemonologie" inciting hate towards witches and other like creatures. Thus witches were widely regarded as a threat to the contemporary Renaissance audience and so when Shakespeare included the "three weird sisters" in "Macbeth" the audience became more emotionally invested in the performance. Also, the prevailing theme of regicide, central to the play, would hold significance to the somewhat paranoid king, thus further immersing him in the drama. Although the witches are certainly responsible for triggering the eventual decision to commit regicide, it must be acknowledged that Macbeth himself is culpable and so may be considered partly malevolent. Highlighting his drastic choice of evil is his initial potential and heroic virtues described in Act 1, Scene 2. The Captain exclaims "brave Macbeth- well he deserves that name" telling us how his comrades admire his valour and respect his courage. We are then told how Macbeth fought "disdaining fortune", thus fighting unafraid against the odds. Macbeth is then likened to "valour's minion", symbolising just how courageous and brave he is; that he is the darling or minion of courage. And so with these references, we expect great things from this protagonist when he arrives on stage. It is because of this description that Macbeth's fall into darkness and evil seems all the more pronounced; that a celebrated soldier, of such audacity, can fall into such a concentrated crucible of evil, killing a virtuous king, his best friend and even a helpless family. Also augmenting the perceived concentration of evil in "Macbeth" is the fact that he knows full-well the evil of his actions. Indeed, just before killing Duncan during Act 1, Scene 7 Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that he no longer wishes to kill Duncan, stating "we will proceed no further in this business". Therefore, it is discernable that he knows the consequences of his actions and so when he does eventually commit the crime it seems all the more malevolent; he knows what he is doing yet he continues nonetheless. ...read more.

Conclusion

The play boasts many memorable teaming references to darkness; a typical one can be found in Act 1, Scene 5 where Lady Macbeth proclaims "come thick night and pull me in the dunnest smokes of hell". Aside from the obvious reference to hell Shakespeare cleverly refers to darkness to evoke the feeling of deception and hidden evil, as well as the primitive evil of the darkness on its own. On the same note, the theme of cancelling out light is integrated as well as when Macbeth notably says in an aside "stars hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires". Perhaps the most obvious pattern in "Macbeth" in terms of sinister language is the regular reference to predatory animals. Animals can often portend omens which in "Macbeth's" case translate into dire events; however at times in Shakespeare's application they can also just conjure up dire images. On occasion the characters allude to animals related to ill omens; for example when Lady Macbeth says "the raven himself is hoarse", the raven being the bird of ill omen. Or in other cases the reference may just be made in terms of sinister imagery, like when Macbeth says "full of scorpions is my mind". At times the imagery also contains biblical-related animals; for example when Lady Macbeth tells her husband "look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it". In this case the serpent is a sinister use of imagery as it is related with the biblical 'fall' and so is often an animal linked with malevolence in literature. Shakespeare's choice of regularly adding emphasis on blood further exaggerates the evil perceived by the audience, as well as darkening the image of the play. In particular, the murder of Duncan conjures many references to blood, for example Macbeth says "will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?" In this manner, emphasis is added on Macbeth's bloody hands, questioning whether even all the ocean's waters will clean them. ...read more.

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