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How is Evil Portrayed in Macbeth

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Introduction

How is evil portrayed in 'Macbeth'? Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth, set in Scotland in 1040 explores issues and themes that are just as relevant in our modern society as they were when the play was written. In this essay I will discuss how Shakespeare creates a mood of evil through the characters, the scenes and language and explore how the audience of the time would have reacted to it. At the centre of the play is Macbeth, a national hero. We identify with him and are shown his good qualities. He is, however, a man whose ambition to become King and rule the nation creates national terror as he disrupts the natural order of life. The opening scene with the Witches is a key scene as it sets the mood for the play. At the time Shakespeare wrote the play people had a more religious way of life and the idea of witches would have been something that was taken very seriously by his audience. Witches were believed to be real beings, living in secrecy amongst the good, Christian citizens. Witches and the supernatural were associated with the devil, and so this scene would have been very likely to scare, and excite Shakespeare's audience. Shakespeare creates this mood of evil with pathetic fallacy shown when the witches speak, 'In Thunder, lightning, or in rain.' This reinforces the audiences' beliefs about the evil in the air. This is when the witches are first introduced. When the Witches enter the stage Shakespeare emphasises that we are expected to believe them to be evil by making them speak in rhyming couplets, whereas the noble characters speak in Iambic pentameter. ...read more.

Middle

At the time of the play any action against the natural order of things would have been met with horror and to the audience the thought of killing the King, who was God's representative on Earth, would have been considered evil. At the meeting with the Witches Banquo feels uneasy about believing what they have to say and dismisses it. However, we begin to see a change in Macbeth as he gets carried away with the witches' prophecy. This becomes a vicious circle. In his lust for power Macbeth can even consider killing the King to put himself on the throne. The audience's sympathy for Macbeth decreases and is replaced by horror. Macbeth was clearly receptive to the influence of the Witches in their suggestion that he is to become King. Both Macbeth and his wife were prepared to believe the prophecies and do whatever necessary to make them come true, despite having previously lived the lives of loyal subjects and respected landowners. Shakespeare seems to want his audience to believe that 'evil' is not something that overwhelms the Macbeths, but is something that is already within them. Perhaps it is easy to blame outside influences such as people or forces (witches and the devil) for his actions, but in the end Macbeth is responsible for his own actions. This is the most frightening aspect to the modern audience - how people, who seem so ordinary can justify behaving in such a violent way to serve their own needs. ...read more.

Conclusion

Anyone that is capable of committing regicide would have been considered to be evil. Macbeth, in his state of confusion and hope after the murders, returns to the Witches. In doing this Shakespeare confirms Macbeth's evil nature, as the Witches are symbolic of the devil and evil. The apparitions 'descend', which implicitly link them with the netherworld and the devil. To emphasise Macbeth's descent to evil he begins to speak in rhyming couplets and monosyllables like the Witches, 'What man dare, I dare.' Macbeth is now utterly alone. His decision to return to the Witches and his reaction to the visit shows that his degradation has even silenced his conscience, 'This deed I'll do before this purpose cool.' The audience now see him as cruel and treacherous and will have no more sympathy for him as he commits more murders and goes against what is considered the natural order of things. The murder of Lady Macduff and her son confirms Macbeth as the tyrant and leads to his destruction. Banquo's son, Malcolm and Macduff build their army to rebel against Macbeth further highlighting the contrast between light and dark, good and evil. Malcolm comments that Macbeth 'was once thought honest'. He is also spoken of as 'black Macbeth' and 'devilish Macbeth'; so being identified with the devil and evil. Other characters are talked about with heavenly symbolism. Macbeth is referred to as 'mad.' His 'pester'd mind' behaves erratically. Malcolm will be the 'med'cine' for the sick country. Macbeth is presented as devil-like, only being able to keep his place through a reign of terror. ...read more.

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