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How is Evil Presented in William Shakespeare's Macbeth

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Introduction

William Shakespeare's Macbeth was written during the reign of King James I of England and VI of Scotland. This kingship signified a new era for Britain since England and Scotland now shared a monarch and the Tudor rule had ended. The new King James had a tenuous link to the throne in the opinion of many citizens therefore the King was eager to strengthen his claim to the English throne in the opinion of his subjects. King James also had a fascination with the supernatural which he shared with people of the time. Popular belief was that the supernatural were instigators of the Devil and this caused fear and curiosity of the supernatural world. Shakespeare drew on these feelings to write his Scottish play to impress King James. The analysis of evil in the play is crucial because the supernatural beings, depicted in the play as three witches, were considered evil in Jacobean society and they believed these creatures could tempt humans into wrongdoing also. Shakespeare linked the supernatural to the idea of regicide which King James would have believed and wanted his subjects to believe was also immoral especially in the aftermath of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot against him. The evil of regicide was backed up with the belief in the divine rights of kings. In the play Macbeth is prophesised to become king by the three witches and this leads to all the action of the play. Through this action Shakespeare shows his message about what evil is and how it affects humanity through the development of his characters especially that of Macbeth. Evil is presented through the three witches; how the witches' prophecy affects Macbeth; and the degeneration of Macbeth from hero to tyrant. The devices which Shakespeare uses include: imagery of nature; symbols of blood and sleep and dramatic irony. The idea of whether fate makes us do bad deeds or our own choices is also something that Shakespeare explores to look at evil actions. ...read more.

Middle

If this interpretation was taken then Shakespeare is saying that although fate is set in stone, the way we achieve our fate is up to free will. This interpretation is backed up by theaforementioned fact that Macbeth contemplated murder of his own accord. However this interpretation would not have been one which the audience of the play agreed with in Shakespearean times evil was instigated by an external force. Although human beings could be evil this was not something innate in them but a part of what they learnt to become after temptation, therefore another interpretation must have been made by the audience. Lady Macbeth descirbes her perceived lack of strength in Macbeth as not having an 'illness.' This shows that being evil and cruel is not normal or human but actually unnatural. Shakespeare calls the witches the 'weird sisters', they are only once called witches. The word weird comes from the Old English word 'wyrd' which means fate. Shakespeare could be using the three fates which in Ancient Greek mythology controlled the fate of humans completely. Although the Jacobean audience no longer believed in this mythology they still believed in the principles of the belief, that fate existed and basically ruled their lives. They would have thought that the witches in the play were controlling the fate of Macbeth with their evil powers (even if this seems silly today). This view of the witches' being evil and fully controlling the actions of Macbeth would be backed up with another possible interpretation. Before murdering Duncan, Macbeth sees a dagger covered in blood and in his following soliloquy he talks about a lot of evil images including: 'Pale Hecate's off'rings.' This shows that Macbeth is going to kill Duncan as an offering or sacrifice for the goddess of the witches. This seems very off character for Macbeth because although the audience has seen and heard him contemplate murder and mingle with witches, he has always seemed uneasy or unsure. ...read more.

Conclusion

Although, nowadays, some may argue he evil is relative to what each individual believes therefore since Macbeth did not consider his actions evil he was not evil. However although this interpretation may be valid for some, I think the loss of distinguishing between good and bad morals, just proves how deep he has waded into unnatural acts that he no longer sees the purpose of life. He surely understood the meaning and significance of his actions back in the earlier Acts when he was plotting murder and deliberating over whether he should commit it or not. Therefore I believe all this soliloquy shows is that he really has gone so far into evil that he does not recognise life any more. When Macbeth is killed, Shakespeare's message almost explicit: evil destroys the human soul. His soul is as seen with the 'Tommorow' soliloquy already destroyed because he cannot even understand the purpose of the life. His wife Lady Macbeth's suicide equally portrays the message as both Macbeth and he became deeper entrenched in evil, the guilt of the evil caused Lady Macbeth's death and Macbeth's loss of humanity caused his demise. Shakespeare's overall portrayal of evil in the play shows us that evil is not natural within us; this is shown by the fact that either ambition or the witches caused Macbeth to murder. Shakespeare also tells the audience that evil causes the natural order of the world to become tumultuous. And finally Shakespeare's ultimate message, I believe is that evil destroys the soul either through the guilt symbolised by blood or by the degeneration of the human shown by Macbeth's degeneration from the beginning of the play. Shakespeare tells the audience key things about human nature which can cause us to become evil and he also shows that appearances are not always what they seem using dramatic irony (even when Lady Macbeth acts hospitable when really she seeks murder of her guest). Shakespeare effectively warns people from evil ambition by using his powerful symbols like blood. ...read more.

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