The character development of Macbeth and of evil in Shakespeare's play

Essay, 2014

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The Character Development of Macbeth

3. Conclusion

Work Cited

1. Introduction

"So foul and fair a day I have not seen" (Shakespeare Act I, Scene 3, l. 38) . Thesewords mentioned byMacbeth, the main protagonist ofthe corresponding tragedy echo one of the main themes of the whole play:nothingis as it seems to be. This central topic also arises in other tragediesbyWilliam Shakespeare. For instance in "King Lear", where hiding behind a mask is an essential instrument of evil. In "Macbeth", this motive appears in a muchstronger way. This tragedy tells the journey of aformer loyal and shining hero, whoevolves into the center ofevil.

Macbeth is considered as one of the most sinister tragedies of William Shakespeare. From the beginning on, the setting is depicted as a world full of nightmares, darkness, murder and treason. The play is constituted in a barrenlandscape, considered as a reference to hell.Most of the eventshappen during the nighttime, which supports this sinister impression. Some of the attempts that were made to analyze Macbeth,describe him as pure evil and a tyrant. A psychopath, who merciless defends his position as a king by killingevery possible opponent who crosses his path. Other interpretationsdraw him as a victim, torn between the question of what is right and what is wrong and influenced by the evil that surrounds him. How can a man, who is firstly described as a hero and a loyal subject change in such a dramatic way? Which path does he take to becomesuch a criminalindividual like he mostly is described? What changes happenwithin his mind? These questions about the character development or in other words, the development of the evilwithin Macbeth are the core of this paper.In this research, the Reclam version of Shakespeare's "Macbeth", published 2011 in Ditzingen, Germany, is used.

2. The Character Development of Macbeth

Right from the beginning, the world in "Macbeth" isdepicted as a world full of supernatural evil. The witches in the first scene are the manifestation of this dark magic. They are trying to create "hurlyburly" (Shakespeare Act I, Scene 1; l. 3). To fulfill this task,they want to lure Macbeth on a sinister road, to spoil and use him as their instrument of darkness. The first characterization of Macbeth is made by a captain during the battle between the King of Norway and the troops of King Duncan. Full of admiration,the soldier describes the "brave and heroic" victory of Macbeth, who fought the"merciless traitor" Macdonwald (Shakespeare Act I, Scene 2, l. 9). Brave like a lion and pride like an eagle(Shakespeare Act I, Scene 2., l.35), Macbeth finally defeated his opponent. Macdonwald's description with negative attributes justifies the picture of the brutal warrior Macbeth. His skills as a fearless and scrupulous soldier are advantageous in this context. The other attendee, especially Duncan, praise Macbeth, calling him a "gentleman, valiant and noble" (Shakespeare Act 1, Scene 2. l. 24). He is the hero who brought order back to the world; the one who challenged Fortuna and was able to succeedover her (Shakespeare Act 1, Scene 2, l.17).

Immediately after the victory, Macbeth and Banquo meet the three witches. When the witches greetMacbeth as "Thane of Cawdor" and "king hereafter" (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 3, l.50), he seems to be struck and haunted by horrid images. Firstly, heremains silent. But Banquo' s words reveal to us an image of the troubled mindof Macbeth (Shakespeare Act I, Scene 3, l.51: "Good Sir, why do you start, and seem to fear..."). After Rosse and Angus confirm the fulfillment of the first prophecy, the title of the Thane of Cawdor, we see Macbeth's confusion, depicted by the number of asides he uses to bring his thoughts in order. Hereveals to the audience that heintends to become king indeed (Shakespeare Act I, Scene 3, l. 118: "The greatest is behind."). While Banquo calls the prophecies an "instrument of darkness" and suspects the witches as temptresses of supernatural evil (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 3, l.124), Macbeth himself is torn between evaluating the prophecies as ill or good. Ill, because he is immediately struck by horrid pictures of taking the crown in violence (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 3, l.134-135). Good, because these prophecies speak to his advantage (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 3, l.133). Yet as great as Macbeth's intentionto become king are, the violent occupation of the throne would be againsthis nature. He also sees the consequences of the supposed action. Except the fact that he shows a moment of craving power, Macbeth is depicted as a very reflective characterwho makes reasonable decisions. Parallels with another Shakespearean Character, namely Hamlet occur.Like Macbeth the Prince of Denmark is stuck in an inner struggle. Although Hamlet, the student from Wittenberg,and Macbeth, the brave warrior, seem to be different like day and night, we see parallels between them in their inner character depiction. Shakespeare shows us that Macbeth is more than just a brutal and brave fighter. Poetic words and thoughts stand in a sharp contrast to his outer appearance. In his first inner struggle for power, his bonds to the law of nature succeed. He decides to wait and see what chance is giving him (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 3, l.144). If these prophecies made by the witches are good, they will happen on their own, without his "help".

After Duncan reveals his plans to make his son Prince of Cumberland and the new King of Scotland, Macbeth apparently accepts this decision. However, his asides show a harsh division between his inner self and his outward appearance. Again we see how foul and fair his character is. While he still acts the loyal servant of his king, we can read between the lines that he seems to be disappointed and won't give up his intention to become king (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 4, l.48-53). He wants to make a "fair" appearance and aims to hide his "black and deep desires". The seeds of his intentionto becomeking are already too deep rooted. Ironically,Duncanunintentionally describes the future Macbeth while he is characterizing the traitor Macdonwald. He trusted the former Thane of Cawdor like he trusts Macbeth, the new owner of this title (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 4, l.14-15). The climax of the irony isDuncan's entitlement of Macbeth as "my worthy Cawdor" (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 4, l.48).

When Macbeth meets his wife, she instructs him to hide his thoughts and to keep on playing the game of foul and fair (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 6, l.60). In this scene it is mostly the very audacious and motivated Lady Macbeth who is showing her inner thoughts and prepares the plan to murder Duncan. The fact that Macbeth himself merely says nothing and that his wife evokes him to hide his thoughts show us that he still is the prisoner of this own thoughts and is still struggling between justice and wishful thinking. This struggle is shown in his monologue in scene seven. He knows that the murder would be injustice (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 7, l.10). Furthermore it would be followed by consequences; not in the afterlife, but eternal perdition in this life. In his inner conflict, moral issues arise: the worry of doing a double sin, the issue of killing a family member and of killing a man who is his guest (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 7, l.13-15).Especially the fact that he as a host who promised safety under his roof andis about to commit the murder is a sin of sinister quality. The abomination of the crime is supported by a wave of colorful metaphors. He condemns the murder even more by depicting Duncan as a defenseless "naked new born baby" and as a good and almost holy ruler and person. Even the bands ofheaven may cry over his death (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 7, l.18-20). Struck by this, he is about to refuse his plan. He sees no real justification for the murder, other than "vaulting ambitions" (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 7, l.25-27). However, instead of supporting Macbeth, his wife turns his weakness against him. The play is pervaded by the sharp codification between manhood and womanhood. As a "manly warrior", Macbeth refuses any feminity or weakness. By calling him a coward and questioning his manhood (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 7, l.49-54), Lady Macbeth harms his honor. Furthermore, she as a woman tells him what cruelty she would be capable of, namely harming her own baby (Shakespeare Act1, Scene 7, l.55).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


The character development of Macbeth and of evil in Shakespeare's play
University of Potsdam  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Shakespeare’s Tragedies II
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Shakespeare, tragedies, Shakespeare's Tragedies, Macbeth, character, development, evil, foul and fair
Quote paper
Fabian Wähner (Author), 2014, The character development of Macbeth and of evil in Shakespeare's play, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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