William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, explores many different themes including loyalty, betrayal, and ambition but is it the powerful theme of evil and the consequent guilt that have the most devastating effects on the play’s protagonist, Macbeth and his loyal wife. It is this theme above all others that stays with us, the readers long after we have finished reading. This play explored many of the branches in evil, namely human’s propensity to commit evil acts, and supernatural evil. Evil was portrayed through two main characters: Macbeth and his wife. Evil was also portrayed in this tragic play through the use of stylistic techniques like pathetic fallacy and language.
The opening scene introduces the themes of evil and disorder as the three powerful witches plot Macbeth’s downfall, amid a stormy setting. The vision of evil is powerfully presented through the witches. They are seen as personifications of evil, as their actions always involve the cruel misleading or suffering of their victims. It was clear to us that they have great power over events and knowledge of the future, but that they use this supernatural power for evil and not for good, causing chaos and mayhem wherever they go. It is evident that they have no ethical values and their mantra ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ represents their reversal of morals. The cruel acts they commit such as the torture of a man at sea ‘I’ll drain him dry as hay, sleep shall neither night nor day’ or ‘killing swine’ they hold proudly, like trophies and so we conclude that they do this for the pleasure of it. In our opinion anything that can delight in others suffering can only be evil. The most evil act that they perform is the misleading of Macbeth. They lulled him in to a false sense of security, making him trust and become dependant on them. Their aim was no to help him along the path of power and glory as he thought, but to instigate his ruin. They delighted in this. The apparitions they conjured in Act 4 Scene 1 comforted Macbeth – he was reassured by them, such as the second apparition telling him that ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’, and this prophecy is what caused Macbeth to think he was indestructible. This kind of mind play on people’s emotions and ambitions show us the witches’ wickedness. The gruesome imagery used in Act 4 Scene 1 also showed us how dedicated to evil the witches are. They added disgusting ingredients such as snakes venom, mummified corpses and dead babies. ‘Finger of birth strangled babe, ditch delivered by a drab’, ‘nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips’. Their visual appearance also represents how wicked they are. Banquo was shocked at their hideous appearance . ‘What are these so withered and so wild in their attire,that look not like th' inhabitants o' th' Earth’
Shakespeare’s vision of evil in this play is further personified through Lady Macbeth. In my opinion she was a huge driving force in the transformation of Macbeth’s character. From our first meeting of her in Act 1 Scene 5 she forms a pact with the evil spirits to take away her tender, womanly qualities. ‘Come, you spirits that tend on moral thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty’. She urged Macbeth and manipulated him in to proceeding with Duncan’s murder. ‘Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent underneath.’ Readers and Lady Macbeth were aware of Macbeth’s hesitation to commit sacrilege but she would hear none of it – it was clear all she wanted was the crown. ‘If we should fail? We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail’. I think it is here that her driving ambition developed into evil.