‘The play, Macbeth, explores the effects of guilt and evil.’ Discuss. William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, explores many different themes including loyalty, betrayal, 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.
Shakespeare’s language and imagery constantly reinforce the theme of evil. The opening scene introduces the themes of evil and disorder as the three powerful hags, personifications of evil, plot Macbeth’s downfall, amid a stormy setting. Murders are committed at night and Lady Macbeth calls on the ‘dark forces’ to help her.
The ‘valiant’ and ‘noble’ Macbeth is a mighty warrior, one of the leaders in King Duncan’s army. When he hears a prophecy from the witches that he will one day be king he says in an aside that ‘this supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill, cannot be good’ reflecting his inner conflict about the awakening of his own evil desires. This is contrasted to the steadfast Banquo who is not tempted at all by the witches’ words.
Macbeth’s innate propensity for evil and his and Lady Macbeth’s desire for power, cause them to commit the heinous murder of a king and to descend down a path of evil destruction. Shakespeare creates dark settings to mirror their evil acts and their dialogue shows them to feign goodness while secretly harbouring dark desires evinced by Lady Macbeth’s words, ‘Look like th’innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t’.
Once Duncan has been murdered, Lady Macbeth attempts to free herself and her husband of guilt, declaring ‘a little water clears us of this deed.’ She initially believes that by washing her hands she will be wiping away the guilt forever.
Macbeth is a victim of his own flawed evil nature rather than a victim of external forces beyond his control and this is revealed to the audience in his soliloquies when he says that his mind becomes ‘full of scorpions.’
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