evilmac Evil Defined in Shakespeare's Macbeth and Beowulf

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Evil Defined in Macbeth and Beowulf

For centuries evil was defined by human preoccupation, and it was often

indicated in the English literature. From Beowulf to Macbeth, people's

perception on the nature of evil had matured and became more complex.

In Beowulf's period, evil was simply defined based on outer appearances and

actions. The author of Beowulf described the evil Grendel as a fearsome monster:

"He(with sharp claws)...snatched up thirty men, smashed them." For the same

reason, Grendel's mother was also considered evil although she merely wanted to

revenge her son. The last evil character in the story was the Dragon. He

killed the Geats and burned their homes with his breath of fire. Monster and

evil certainly had the same meaning in the Pre-Christian time.

As Christian was introduced, a new definition of evil that concentrated on

human values and thoughts had emerged. The Christian believed that the seven

deadly sins were the cause of evil. Thus in the play Macbeth, Macbeth's tragic

flaws were actually the deadly sins. They were greedy and envy. Macbeth was not

satisfied with his current position, "Thane of Glamis," and not even his newly

gained "Thane of Cawdor" would please him. He had only one thing on his mind,

the throne. When he became the king, he envied Banquo's having heirs who would

be rivals for the throne. The Christian also developed the theory of the great

chain of being. It basically stated that a person could not and was not allowed

to change his social status. Thus in the play, everyone eventually turned

against Macbeth, who had broken the great chain of being by taking the throne

from the rightful king. At the end, Macbeth died as an evil being who had

broken all the Christian rules.

The nature of evil also became unclear as it got more complex. In Macbeth,

the play began with the three witches' meeting. To a first-time reader, it

would appear that these "weird sister" were the evil ones, because it was a

common human perception. Who could be more evil than a witch who vowed to

punish a sailor only because his wife cursed her and refused to give her some
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