Macbeth is a play written by Shakespeare about Macbeth, a thane of Glamis and later King of Scotland. Macbeth’s desire for power leads him to murder the current king, Duncan, in order to take his throne. Macbeth has many flaws that contribute to his fate including ambition, pride, anger and lack of morality… The nature of evil in Macbeth is shown through Macbeth himself as he devolves from a noble warrior into a ruthless murderer who gets caught up in his own lust for power. Many other characters fit within the definition of evil throughout the story including Lady Macbeth, Macduff and even Banquo.
In ways these characters represent different aspects of Macbeth’s evil and how Macbeth himself changes as things continue to go wrong. Macbeth begins the play as a brave and noble warrior who macs but shows mercy on those he defeats in battle. Macbeth is also “valiant” (3. 2. 24) and gets his strength from those loyal around him. Macbeth starts out as someone who does not seek power for its own sake, but only wants to help make Scotland a better place by removing the current king Duncan who Macduff says is an extremely poor king.
However, Macbeth foresees that being king would give him power to do more good deeds for Scotland, which makes it clear that he cares about people and has a moral compass. Macbeth is more focused on doing things that are good for the people of Scotland then on gaining more power for himself, especially since Macbeth justifies his actions by saying he would be helping Duncan’s “posterity” (1. 7. 11) . Macbeth’s lack of greed is one of the driving forces behind his motivation to claim the throne in Act I, Scene III.
Macduff embodies what Macbeth was early on in the play before he began having delusions of grandeur and being corrupted by power. Macduff first comes off as arrogant when he tells Macbeth that if they met on the battlefield Macduff would cut Macbeth into pieces despite Macbeth having more men at the time (1. 3. 152-154). Macduff is also prideful when Macbeth challenges Macduff to a duel and Macduff continues to refuse Macbeth’s challenge.
Macduff’s refusal to accept Macbeth’s challenge leads many of Macbeth’s men to doubt Macduff and even accuse him of being afraid which makes Macduff seem even more prideful. Despite his initial show of arrogance, Macduff seems like he may still be a moral character as we see later on in the play when he becomes one of the first people who believe Duncan has been murdered by Macbeth and then goes off to tell Duncan’s son Malcolm about his father’s death. Macduff is also another evil character throughout the play including Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth’s children.
What is the nature of evil? Is it purposeful, or is it simply a result of human nature? Macbeth examines the causes and qualities of evil through various characters in the play.
Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, The Witches, Duncan’s Murderers, Macduff and Ross are characters that exemplify features of evilness. Macbeth also begins to experience evilness in Macbeth, and Macduff experiences it when Macbeth is no longer present. Macbeth is a unique play because there’s not really a protagonist in the traditional sense. Macduff and Lady Macbeth could be seen as an antagonist and an anti-hero since they both kill Macbeth.
At the beginning of Macbeth, Macbeth is already experiencing strange visions that he believes are from witches who prophesy that he is destined for Kinghood. He sees Banquo’s ghost on two occasions, before and after killing Duncan which validates that prophecy or illusion can foreshadow true events. Also Lady Macbeth tries to convince him into killing Duncan by saying “… Macbeth shalt be King Macbeth”. Macduff also experiences some evilness when Macbeth says “All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?” Macduff kills Macbeth because Macbeth has become a tyrant and killed Macduff’s wife and children.
In Macbeth, Banquo is on the opposite side of Macbeth in power and beside Duncan, which makes him an enemy. This puts him in a good position to not only oppose Macbeth but perhaps die at his hand, since he’s an enemy of power. The prophecy states that Banquo will father kings who kill each other until one them is king of Scotland, so Macbeth kills Banquo because he needs to fulfill the prophecy. Macduff on the other hand is not evil, but his wife and children were killed by Macbeth so Macduff’s motive to kill Macbeth becomes more personal than what it would be for Banquo.
Lady Macbeth is an interesting character because she seems like a “bad person” at first but isn’t really evil until all of her guilt gets to her. She starts wanting Duncan’s blood on her hands after seeing Macduff’s reactions, which suggests that she also has some degree of conscience. This causes her to go crazy in the end consequentially causing her death as well as Macbeths’. She shows no real signs of evilness before Macbeth kills Duncan.
The witches themselves are another symbol of Macbeth’s evilness and the consequences that come with it. At first they seem like an innocent group of women, but as Macbeth becomes more and more obsessed with them and what they prophesy, they become a stronger presence in Macbeth’s life. They too can be seen as ominous symbols; their magic is used for dark purposes such as killing people even when the witches don’t want to kill someone or cause harm to someone else (like Macduff’s wife and children).
Whether or not there is actual magical power involved is left up to the interpretation of the viewer. The Witches represent Macbeths’ ambition and Macbeth’s desire to do anything and everything. The first time Macbeth sees them he doesn’t know who they are, but as Macbeth becomes more and more consumed by the power of Kinghood the witches become stronger symbols of Macbeths’ guilt. They show Macbeth that evil can be unknown or hidden even by those who seem innocent or good because the witches don’t really represent good.
The murderers also fit into this category especially since they murder Duncan in his sleep without consideration, which is a cowardly act that contributes to Macduff’s decision to kill Macbeth.
Duncan himself could be seen as an anti-villain since his killing sets off Macbeth and Lady Macbeths’ decision to kill Macduff’s family. Macduff also doesn’t particularly show any malice towards Macbeth until Macbeth kills his wife and children, which causes Macduffs’ motive of killing Macbeth to become more personal than Banquo or Macduff himself.
In conclusion, there are many different characters who could be seen as the antagonist of Macbeth but they all contribute to Macbeth’s evilness in some way, shape or form. Shakespeare has a specific type of writing style that makes the reader linger on a question or an idea for a long time. And throughout Macbeth he asks “Is this a dagger I see before me?” A lot.