Macbeth: the Realms of Evil
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth ‘The heavens, as troubled with man’s act, / Threaten his bloody stage. By th’ clock ‘tis day, / And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp. / Is’t night’s predominance, or the day’s shame, / That darkness does the face of earth entomb, / When living light should kiss it? The natural order of the universe has collapsed giving rise to the realm of darkness where ‘Men must not walk too late’, since things are not what they seem and evil circulates at his ease. So we have from the very beginning three nightmarish figures--The Weird Sisters--telling us that ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair: / Hover through the fog and filthy air’. In nightmares nothing is certain to keep its consistency. Forms shift, and what was solid becomes a fluid unexpectedly and vice-versa. Thus, ‘The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, / And these are of them’ says Banquo of the vanished witches. In fact, Shakespeare uses this opposition between light and night, between appearance and reality as a tool for exploring evil and its corrupting influence on humanity. This exploration is aimed at providing an answer for one of the most debated issues around mankind; are human individuals good by nature? If not, how does evil start operating in the world?
Let us now look at how Shakespeare faces this dilemma: Macbeth and his wife are not inherently malevolent. It is through the witches and their ambiguous prophecies that evil is introduced in their lives. However, the Weird Sisters themselves do not have the power to enact a diabolic course of events; rather, their power lies in tempting humans to commit sinful acts. So they deliberately wait for Macbeth and Banquo, as they wait for all men because the inclination to evil has always been within man since the original sin. In this light, we can infer that the potential for evil is around us but it can only be generated through one man’s moral choice. Thus Banquo, unlike the Thane of Cadwor, can resist their appeal. He recognises the Satanic origin of the witches: ‘What, can the devil speak true?’ or ‘And oftentimes, to win us to our harm / The instruments of darkness tell us truths, / Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s / In deepest consequence’.
In Macbeth’s fall into the pit of hell, the figure of his wife is central: once she has been stunned by dreams of glory--’Thy letters have transported me beyond / This ignorant present, and I feel now / The future in the instant'--she calls upon the forces of darkness to support her in her purposes: ‘Come, thick night, / And pall me in the dunnest smoke of hell, / That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, / Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, / To cry “Hold, hold”!’ Further, Lady Macbeth can be considered as a second Eve. Her function is to ‘water’ his husband’s growing ambition seed for the purpose of mitigating against those forces within him which are in opposition to evil. She encourages him to perform the murder: ‘Art thou afeard / To be the same in thine own act and valour / As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that / Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, / And live a coward in thine own esteem, / Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, / Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage?
In this play the woman is not portrayed as a symbol of life and nourishment--her traditional role in classical literature. On the contrary , they are depicted in an unnaturalistic way. So Lady Macbeth cries: ‘Come you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood” or ‘Come to my women’s breast, / And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers, / Whenever in your sightless substances / You wait on nature’s mischief!' The witches, as means of evil, are also depicted contrary to nature. They are women with the beards of men—'You should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That...
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