How Does Shakespeare Present Evil In Macbeth?

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The play Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare who was famous in the 17th century for his poems and plays during the Jacobean period. He wrote the play for James I who later became a patron to his theatre. The play was set in Scotland to appeal to the King at the time who was also from Scotland, also he only used real historical figures in the play. King James I wanted the play to teach the English people that regicide was the ultimate sin. After several terrorist attacks including the 1605 Gunpowder plot, so the King wanted to make sure the people knew.

The reason people believed in the King was due to the Great Chain of Being where the King was the only one to answer to God, as well as the Diving Right of Kings which explains that The King was God’s representative on Earth and as such his ideas and reasoning was believed to be God’s ideas and reasoning. King James I wrote a book called ‘Daemonology’ which outlines the powers of witches and added to the people’s superstitions. People believed in witches. Many women were accused of being witches being blamed for crop failure and drought. People thought they could cast spells, cause storms and inhibit the bodies of animals or familiars. In this way ordinary people had somewhere to lay blame when things went wrong in their lives.

Shakespeare uses various techniques throughout the play to present the concept of evil, using pathetic fallacy to create a dark and sinister tone. At the beginning of the play the witches chant an incantation to the heavens “In thunder lighting or in rain”. This chant sets the tone for the rest of the play giving the audience a feeling of gloom as is reflected in the gloomy weather.

In act 1 Scene 1 the witches show that they have the gift of prophecy. They talk amongst themselves about a meeting with Macbeth but at that point they would not have known if Macbeth had been victorious in battle, “When the hurly burley’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.” The audience are given a clear taste of what is to expect in the play and the role of evil personified by the witches and their influence over Macbeth. In addition, it foreshadows some of the events of turmoil that occur during the play. Also it could be referring to the belief at the time that witches could control the weather inferring that what the witches are doing is bad.

Throughout the play, Shakespeare explores the concept of evil through another technique using trochaic tetrameter for supernatural characters, “When the hurly burley’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.” Which sets them apart from the other characters who speak in iambic pentameter, or when they all chant “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”. Which is a paradox and implies that all is not what it seems, Shakespeare uses this to set the witches apart from the rest and make them seem supernatural, further adding to the superstition of the audience and the concept of evil in the play. As the play begins, Shakespeare creates a dark and sinister atmosphere to present the concept of evil in using the witches to open his play, which would have spooked the audience, because at the time, in the 17th century lots of people were superstitious because of the King James I book on Daemonology.

In act 1 scene 1 Shakespeare uses the quote “There to meet Macbeth” before the battle where they couldn’t have known they he’s survive the battle, so that would have also spooked the audience as this prediction and knowledge of the beyond couldn’t be known unless they had some sort of supernatural ability. As the 17th century audience watching the bloody story of the flawed protagonist Macbeth unfold, Shakespeare shows the witches disregard the brutal was going on and don’t care about people with the quote “When the hurly burley’s done”. Whereas “hurly burley” only means a minor issue where as normal people would be very affected by war trauma, which then sets them aside from society, which the audience at the time would be very aware of.

In Act 1 Scene 3, Shakespeare initiates a concept of evil through the vivid imagery that the witches use to describe how she is going to use her supernatural powers toward the sailor who insulted the witch. ”I will hang him dry as hay.” This simile infers that she will hang him and drain him of all his blood as she kills him using the verb “drained” implicitly suggests that she rather enjoys the man leak blood and also that they have no real regard to human life. This adds to the superstition that witches are evil and enjoy torture. Shakespeare deliberately uses the fears of the audience to add the evil presence of the play.

Shakespeare uses the repetition of three in act 1 scene 1 to further support the theme of evil behind the witches, also when they greet Macbeth they use the three titles “Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, Thou shall be king thereafter.” Whereas Macbeth already knew that he was thane of Glamis, but the next too were predictions that Macbeth wanted to hear, but still would have shocked him. Also the witches used 3 titles, like previously where they had used “All hail” 3 times, which the audience would have picked up on because of the superstition that 3 was an unlucky number, so Shakespeare cleverly uses it to heighten the fear of witches from the audience.

The witches are perceived as evil through the eyes of the audience due to the vanishing off of the stage. ‘Witches vanish’. This goes back to the idea that the witches are supernatural and can disappear, supported by the book of Daemonology, wrote by the King James I.

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The witches use the three aspirations to trick Macbeth into believing that he is invincible. The first one is. “Beware Macduff” Which scares Macbeth but also makes the other two believable. Second aspiration “No man born of woman shall harm Macbeth” This gives him hope and deceives him into believing that he is invincible when he thinks that every man is born of women, when what they mean is people born from C-Section, can kill him. And the third aspiration is that Macbeth will never be killed until Durham wood walks to his castle, and he’s thinking that forests cannot move so he is safe but what happens is that they chop off branches to hide behind as they march so the wood does arrive. This manipulation is considered evil.

In act 4 scene 1 there is lots of the repetition of three, the three aspirations, the three chants “Macbeth” and the three witches. Three was considered an evil number so the audience would have picked up on it, however Macbeth is so entrapped in evil by the witches that he is completely unaware. The repetition of “Double, double, toil and trouble” shows that the witches intend to double Macbeth’s trouble and make him worse off than he already is. “Fire burn and cauldron bubble”. Implies that the witches intend to end Macbeth’s life and send him to hell which is evil because no normal person would want the King dead.

The witches use several suggestive items to present evil in the play. “Liver of blaspheming Jew, finger of birth-strangled babe, wool of bat, tongue of dog”. The list of evil things are items that they shouldn’t be able to get a hold of unless they had special powers and that they plan to put the items in a potion to give Macbeth. By using the “Blasphemous Jew” which at the time Jews were considered evil so adding some would be feeding the King evil During act 4 scene 1 the familiars are used to create evil. ”Cat hath mewed” and “hedge pig whined. These were evil animals that were associated that were associated with the witches, and because these evil animals were concerned on Macbeth’s arrival that suggests that Macbeth is truly evil and his situation is about to get worse.

When Shakespeare first introduces the character Macbeth in act 1 scene 2, the audience is given the impression that he is a well-respected Thane – however, Shakespeare uses language to hint that he has a darker side. “For brave Macbeth – well he deserved that name” “with his brandished steel”. Using “Brave suggests that he is fearless and well thought of. But however the verb “brandished steel” suggests that he takes care of his sword and because he wants to take care of his sword, he must want to kill lots of people in battle which is an evil thing to want. Macbeth is hinted to have no respect for kings by Shakespeare in act 1 scene 2. “Unseamed from the naïve to the chops” This unnecessary violence means that he sliced a King from his groin, to his jaw. This shows is that Macbeth has no self-control and a huge lack of respect for other kings.

Shakespeare suggests that Macbeth enjoys murdering people. “Which smoked with boldly execution”. The verb “smoked” suggests that he has used the blade so much that it has heat up and started to smoke, this also foreshadows that Macbeth is a killing machine and will kill again after the battle. In act 1 scene 3 Shakespeare cleverly makes sure that the witches are linked to Macbeth from act 1 scene1. “So foul and fair a day I have not seen”. That Macbeth said compared to the paradox “Fair is foul and foul is fair” That’s the witches shout. This link signifies the evil forces between how Macbeth and the witches were meant to meet

IN act 1 scene 3, during his soliloquy we learn that, at his point in the play, Macbeth hasn’t completely turned his back on what is good but his potential to become more evil becomes more dominant. This is shown in the quote “Why do I yield to that suggestion”. Because he is questioning why he is thinking of killing the King it suggests that he knows what he is doing is evil and is therefore turning his back on what is good. The audience in act 1 scene 3 see the start of Macbeth’s downfall as he fights against evil thoughts to kill his kings and cousin “Whose murder is yet but fantastical” The word “yet” suggests he is willing to kill the King implying that he and his morals are on a downward spiral of evil.

At the start of act 2 scene 1, Macbeth begins his descent to evil. In his famous dagger soliloquy, the audience witness how he battles with the beginning of his insanity which eventually leads to his downfall “Is this a dagger I see before me, “The use of a rhetorical question is the first sign of madness and hints that Macbeth isn’t sane as he is hallucination that there is a dagger in front of him which is suggesting evil intentions. In Macbeth’s famous soliloquy at the start of act2, scene 1 Macbeth is clearly fighting insanity as he follows an imaginary dagger leading him to commit regicide “Than marshall’st me the way I was going” the verb “Marshall” is used as a sort of guide to Duncan’s room. Along with the quote “fatal vision” which suggests that Macbeth thinks it’s made to be, shows that he is becoming insane as normal, sane people wouldn’t think that killing people is made to be, they would think that it’s evil

In act 3scene 1 Macbeth is now pure evil and acting the same way that Lady Macbeth was. “That it was he, in the times past, which held you so under fortunate” This tactic was used to manipulate Macbeth and he is turning their ambitions into Banquo’s fault. Macbeth’s vaulting ambition is constantly making him commit evil deeds. “Upon my head they place a fruitless crown. And put a barren sceptre in my grip” This metaphor suggests that even though he’s killed and put lots of effort in getting the crown, it would eventually end up in someone else’s hand because he cannot have children.

The change in Macbeth’s speech suggests his downfall. At the start of the play, Macbeth is speaking in trochaic tetrameter but as he is talking to the murderers he is talking in prose showing that the respect for him is changing because prose has more basic structure, Shakespeare cleverly uses it to show the difference between social classes and Macbeth’s descent into evil Before Macbeth is defeated by Macduff in their dramatic duel that restores the natural order in the great chain of being, Shakespeare demonstrates how evil and corrupt he has become in his penultimate battle with young Siward through the language used to describe Macbeth. “Worthy cousin Macbeth” compared to “The devil himself could not pronounce a title more hateful to mine ear”. This shows that Macbeth is more hated that anyone and is considered to be evil which juxtaposed how he was described in act 1 scene 2 which lexus describes him as “Brave” and “valiant” which are positive but now he has had a complete circle of Macbeth’s evil downfall.

Shakespeare introduces Lady Macbeth as a woman who doesn’t conform to the Jacobean expectations of a woman which were to be wives, mothers, obedient to their husbands, meek, caring and maternal. She never gave Macbeth a child and she was the least bit meek. They were also never to judge their husbands decisions or order them about, Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth into killing Duncan. This violence was unheard of from a woman and only acceptable from a man, this contradicts the Great Chain of Being and what society allowed Lady Macbeth to be. This definitely would have caught the audience’s attention and she was Shakespeare’s device to not only stimulate audience’s emotions, but to also provide historical context and elicit dominant themes which reflected Jacobean society.

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How Does Shakespeare Present Evil In Macbeth? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/how-does-shakespeare-present-evil-in-macbeth/
“How Does Shakespeare Present Evil In Macbeth?” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/how-does-shakespeare-present-evil-in-macbeth/
How Does Shakespeare Present Evil In Macbeth? [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/how-does-shakespeare-present-evil-in-macbeth/> [Accessed 4 Jul. 2022].
How Does Shakespeare Present Evil In Macbeth? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2022 Jul 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/how-does-shakespeare-present-evil-in-macbeth/
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