The Struggle Between Good And Evil; In Macbeth
Macbeth is without a doubt a play about evil. The play revolves around the bad and wicked qualities in human nature, but Shakespeare also contrasts this evil with the power of good. In this essay I will explore the ways in which Shakespeare contrasted good and evil in Macbeth.
These contradictions start in the very beginning of the play, with the witches. In line 12, the witches say, “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” This is interesting as they are suggesting good and evil as being one. The witches’ line reflects on human nature as there are fair and foul parts to everyone. Shakespeare wanted to get this message across as the main character, Macbeth, is a prime example of the struggle between good and bad within one person.
This opening scene is set in a battle field. The scary thunder and lightening is an example of pathetic fallacy; the weather reflects the aggressive atmosphere and vicious characters.
In line 8, the witches mention that they will “meet with Macbeth”. This makes the audience wonder who Macbeth is. We are curious to find out about the elusive character as we wonder what sort of person associates with such vile and unnatural creatures. Our questions are not answered and we are left wondering at the end of this scene.
This opening scene is one of the most important. It establishes the witches, who are considered to be the root of all the evil in this play. This is the start of the battle between good and evil, right and wrong, and this creepy beginning makes the audience feel that things are only going to get worse.
Scene Two, however, is a stark contrast to the previous scene. In this scene we first meet Duncan, the King of Scotland.
In Shakespearean times, the people believed in the “Divine Right of Kings”, which suggested that kings were chosen directly by God. This means that the audience would have a preconditioned view of Duncan. They would assume that he was good, gracious and holy, all traits that would definitely not apply to the witches.
The mysterious Macbeth is also mentioned in this scene. However, we hear a different view of Macbeth. In line 16, the captain described Macbeth as “brave.” He also goes on to tell the King of the horrific battle between Macbeth and Macdonald. McDonald was fighting for the Scottish but changed sides to fight for the enemy, the Norwegian king Sweno. When Macbeth hears of MacDonald’s deceit, he thinks it to be so appalling that Macdonald deserves a horrific death. In his anger at such disloyalty to his king, Macbeth fought his way to MacDonald and “unseam’d him for the nave to th’chaps”.
When the captain’s story is told, Duncan declares Macbeth to be “o valiant cousin, worthy gentleman.”
This is outstanding praise from the king, but it confuses the audience. We have heard of Macbeth twice now, but both views contradict each other. The mystery surrounding Macbeth intensifies and we are curious to find out more about his character.
However, in scene three, we finally...
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Evil in Macbeth is best illustrated by the actions of the the three witches, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, the assassins hired by Macbeth later to commit his evil, the king of Norway, and the traitors, Macdonwald and the thane of Cawdor.
In contrast to this, good is best depicted by King Duncan, his older son, Malcolm - rightful heir to the throne, Banquo, Macduff, Lady Macduff and the king of England, Edward, as well as the forces who are gathered to overthrow the usurper and tyrant, Macbeth.
It is ironic that Macbeth, who virtually becomes the epitome of evil, is initially depicted as good and honorable. An injured sergeant's report of him at the beginning of the play speaks of a courageous general who was prepared to sacrifice his life for king and country, as illustrated in the following extract:
For brave Macbeth--well he deserves that name--
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour's minion carved out his passage...
It is his 'overriding ambition' as well as the witches' predictions and his wife's urging, that turns Macbeth into a bloodthirsty tyrant. He and his wife plot the king's assassination and then murder him in his sleep, whilst Macbeth also kills the king's guards to prevent any suspicion falling on him. This act sets him off on a pernicious journey of vile evil. Once he is crowned, he becomes paranoid and sets out to destroy whomever he deems a threat. In the process, he has his best friend, Banquo, murdered and sends out assassins to kill Macduff's entire family.
Lady Macbeth, ironically, appears to be the more evil of the two partners in crime at the beginning. She urges her husband to carry through their evil plot when he expresses doubt. The depth of her perfidy is best illustrated by the following quote from Act 1, scene 3:
I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.
In the end, it is she who is destroyed by remorse for what they have done. She iss tortured by visions of their crime and, overwhelmed by guilt, she commits suicide whilst Macbeth heads toward his own doom, believing that he is invincible since the witches predicted that 'no man of women born shall harm Macbeth.' The evil tyrant is eventually killed in a fight by Macduff, who had been 'from his mother's womb untimely ripped.'
The witches take great pleasure in watching Macbeth's road to ruin. They set out to deliberately confuse him, using paradox and equivocation, literally leading him down the garden path. Their predictions encourage and empower him to commit further and greater evils.
The king of Norway, Macdonwald and the thane of Cawdor represent evil because they all plotted against king Duncan, planning to usurp his throne. They were defeated by the forces of good, ironically lead by Macbeth at the time, who had obviously been assisted mainly by his courageous compatriots, Banquo and Macduff.
The remaining forces of good, (i.e. after Duncan's assassination) represented by the characters named previously, initially suffer heavily at the tyrant's hands. Banquo, who has been suspicious of Macbeth from the outset, is murdered but his son, Fleance, manages to escape.
Macduff, who is aware of Macbeth's malice, flees to England where he seeks assistance from the English king and joins forces with Malcolm to plot the tyrant's defeat. It is a necessary and desperate move and he pays dearly for it, for Macbeth has his entire family murdered. This, however, encourages Macduff to seek vengeance and ensure Macbeth's annihilation, as depicted in his passionate declaration in Act 4, scene 3:
But, gentle heavens,
Cut short all intermission; front to front
Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself;
Within my sword's length set him; if he 'scape,
Heaven forgive him too!
Edward, the king of England, who has taken Malcolm under his wing, is depicted as one blessed with healing powers. In effect, the implication is that he will provide the cure for Scotland's disease - Macbeth. He vows to assist Malcolm by providing ten thousand English troops to invade Scotland.
In spite of their earlier setbacks, those who represent good, under the leadership of Malcolm, his uncle Siward, and Macduff, soldier on and eventually defeat the tyrant Macbeth, whose decapitated head is displayed by Macduff for all to see. Malcolm becomes the new king of Scotland. The forces of good have triumphed.