Evil And Ambition In Macbeth By William Shakespeare

The Elizabethan Era was a time where evil and ambition were very evident and played a big part in everyday life. It was seen mostly in politics, and social hierarchy. During this time power was everything. William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth was published in 1623, during this era. The play Macbeth follows a noble soldier (Macbeth) and his friend (Banquo), who are met by three witches bearing prophecies. They revealed that, among other titles,

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Macbeth will become the king. We watch a once-loyal soldier (Macbeth) descend into the depths of darkness and despair as he pursues the crown, no matter the consequences. The play Macbeth portrays the nature of evil and ambition and their consequences through the characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and The Three Witches. Evil drives Macbeth to the point of losing interest in life, ambition pushes Lady Macbeth into an endless spiral of guilt, resulting in her suicide, and The Three Witches reveal the true nature of evil, through manipulation. Through the character arcs of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth and the Witches, Shakespeare highlights the awful consequences of committing evil actions, as well as illustrating the manipulative nature of evil itself.

In the play, Macbeth, the consequences of evil and ambition are illustrated through the play’s main characters. Macbeth mostly depicts evil and its consequences through actions and words. Macbeth becomes tainted by his ‘vaulting ambition’ which turns him from ‘noble Macbeth’ into an ‘untitled tyrant’. The price of evil actions for Macbeth is that he has no peace after his evil endeavours. He loses everything he valued, friendship, respect, the title of king, his wife’s and his own life. To get what he wants, Macbeth is ready to do whatever it takes. This comprises of evil actions like trickery and violence. He even goes as far as to murder his friend Banquo, once he figures out that Banquo suspects that he might have been the one who killed the king. Macbeth states, ‘Our fears in Banquo stick deep’. Macbeth is later haunted by Banquo’s ghost, and this is one of the first times that we can see him slowly going crazy. Macbeth becomes very paranoid as we can see in the banquet scene, where Banquo’s ghost haunts him as a ‘horrible shadow’. This shows us that as a result of his evil actions, he no longer has peace with himself and is starting to drive himself mad. Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that the deceased will have their revenge, after he realises what he has done in order to achieve his goal “It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood.” This again shows us that he Is no longer at peace with himself and driving himself crazy. He also loses interest in life, which is shown when he says, ‘Life’s but a walking shadow’. It could be said that a worse fate than death is the guilt that he faced for his evil actions. It leads into an endless spiral, until he drove himself mad, it’s almost as if Macbeth died without his spirit intact.

Shakespeare perfectly portrays how ambition and evil can corrupt a person, through the actions or words of characters such as Lady Macbeth. It is said that Lady Macbeth was the true mastermind behind the plot to kill King Duncan. She badly wants to become queen and is prepared to do anything to get it. She is overtaken by corruption and reflects on Macbeth’s character when she says “Thou wouldst be great/Art not without ambition, but without/The illness should attend it” Lady Macbeth believes that Macbeth is reluctant to display the merciless behaviour necessary to achieve his vision of being king. This quote shows Lady Macbeth’s own viewpoint on what she believes, is the nature of power. Which is given only to people who are willing to set their honour aside to gain it. She becomes corrupt with ambition, she is the one who convinces Macbeth when he has second thoughts about killing the king, by questioning his sense of manhood, this is revealed when she tells him ‘Be so much more the man.’ Her true evil nature is shown when she calls out to dark spirits to, ‘fill me’ with ‘direst cruelty’. Which means she wants to become evil, regardless of the consequences. Later we can see the consequences of her evil actions and deeds. In the sleepwalking scene, we can see that she has been overcome by her overwhelming sense of guilt and believes she cannot be forgiven of her evil actions. We can see this when she starts washing her hands free of the blood of King Duncan, and when she says, “To bed, to bed! There’s knocking at the gate/Come, come, come, come, give me your hand/What’s done cannot be undone/To bed, to bed, to bed!”. Her evil actions and ambition have corrupted her, and we can see the true consequences of this, when she kills herself out of guilt for the death of King Duncan. Shakespeare provides a lesson for the audience, by showing the true consequence for evil actions.

William Shakespeare’s celebrated play, Macbeth brings forth the true nature of evil, this is shown through the depiction of The Three Witches. Shakespeare suggests the nature of evil is manipulative, chaotic and to delight in the destruction of others. They are a symbol of evil and manipulation, we see this through their actions and words. They use deception and dark magic. This is shown through the quote “Double, double, toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble”. The witches put ideas into Macbeth’s head by telling him half-truths, with the evil intention in manipulating him for their enjoyment. The witches are evil from the start of the play, whereas we see other characters such as Macbeth who was noble and loyal at the beginning, but then was manipulated by the witches into performing evil actions. This is depicted when Macbeth approaches the witches and the Second Witch says, “By the pricking of my thumbs/Something wicked this way comes”. The witches enjoy watching suffering and death, at the beginning of the play, one of the witches asks the others where they have been, one responds by saying “Killing swine”. When witches make potions and summon evil spirits, they have to give something to get what they want. In act 4 scene 1 the potion needs a witch’s mummified flesh, the gullet and stomach of a ravenous shark, a Jew’s liver. All of these items must have been extremely hard to get and would’ve required for them to kill, or make others suffer. The witches are the only characters in Macbeth besides Hecate (their leader) that are naturally evil. The witches are also the only characters in Macbeth who are still alive at the end of the play. Macbeth is killed, and lady Macbeth committed suicide. Both died because of guilt and the fact they no longer cared for life after what they had done. However, the witches remain unpunished and seem unbothered about everything. These Witches represent the true nature of evil, through pleasure in seeing others suffer, manipulating others, and their chaotic behaviour.

The world-renowned play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, clearly shows the audience that evil action brings forth horrible consequences and reveals the true nature of evil. He does this through exploration of character arcs, such as Macbeth who after being manipulated by the Three Witches, kills King Duncan, loses interest in life and is killed. Also, through Lady Macbeth whose overwhelming desire for ambition brings on a crushing sense of guilt, that causes her to commit suicide, and The Three Witches, who were the ones who brought forth the true nature of evil, through manipulative, chaotic and delight in the suffering of others. Shakespeare convinces the audience that evil never wins in the end and shows the audience the consequences and true nature of evil, but also leaves the author to ask themselves what the true nature is of evil, and what is the true cost of evil.      

16 December 2021

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