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Macbeth: Protagonist Becoming Evil
The story Macbeth is like no other in plot and poetry. It sets itself apart
from the rest by having a protagonist becoming evil. What makes Macbeth such a
complicated character is the way his outlook keeps on changing throughout the
play. This essay will prove that Macbeth is an evil man and was not overpowered
by ambition to get what he wanted. This essay will also determine that certain
characters like the witches did not force him to do evil; they simply triggered
In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is shown as a hero in the Scottish army,
that is ironic because Macbeth has defeated a traitor and he will become one.
We feel that a person of his loyalty could never commit evil unless he had a
good reason or if he would be provoked. After Macbeth's first meeting with the
witches, we learn from his aside that he has thought about killing Duncan " My
thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical" 1(Macbeth 1.3.152). Macbeth also
says " If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me Without my stir."
2(Macbeth 1.4.157-159) which means that maybe he does not have to murder the
king to gain that title. Luck has been very generous to him and might continue
and make him king.
Macbeth's true evil thoughts about being king are first shown when he finds out
that king Duncan has named his son Malcolm as Prince of Cumberland. He now
shows his evil and his true feelings.
" Stars, hide your fires; Let not night see my black and
deep desires. The eye wink at the hand; yet let that
be Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see." 3
Macbeth is actually seeking help from the dark and supernatural. Macbeth is
saying that he does not want to see the evil that he will commit until it is
done. It is now known that Macbeth is capable of evil and would commit it.
Upon meeting Lady Macbeth, we can assume that any evil done by Macbeth would be
contributed by her influence. Lady Macbeth is a very powerful women and she has
a-lot of power over Macbeth's decisions. After Lady Macbeth reads the letter
from Macbeth, she says that he is in fact too noble to kill Duncan in cold blood
but he would like to.
" It is too full o'th'milk of human kindness To catch
the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great, Art not
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without ambition, but without The illness should
attend it. What thou wouldst highly, That wouldst
thou holily; wouldst not play false And yet wouldst
wrongly win." 4(Macbeth 1.5.17-23)
Lady Macbeth also talks about Macbeth's ambition and how he is not the kind of
person to let anything stand in his way if he wants it enough. Knowing there is
evil in him, once he starts with the murder he will not let anything else stand
in his way.
Macbeth's guilt is recognized after the killing of the king; in fact he is
filled with so much of it that he is unable to pronounce the word AMEN.
Macbeth shows once again his guilt when he says "Will all great Neptune's ocean
wash this blood Clean from my hands?" 5(Macbeth 2.2.78-79). At this point, we
can assume that Macbeth is in fact not an evil man instead one who was overcome
with the idea of great achievement (his becoming king of Scotland). His
attitude is shown to have been changed as he tries to put the blame of the
murder on Duncan's children. "We hear our bloody cousins are bestowed In
England and in Ireland." 6(Macbeth 3.1.33-34) This shows the reader that
Macbeth is trying to cover up his cruel actions by laying the blame on someone
else. Macbeth is trying to hide the evil that he has committed.
Macbeth's evil is now progressing. The assumption that Macbeth's wife was the
reason for the evil deed that was committed can now be no longer since he is now
planning things without her knowledge. Leary put it best when he said "Macbeth
makes the desicions to murder of his own free will, sins and falls from grace"
7(Leary,200). He doesn't want anyone to take his hard earned title away from
him and is willing to kill everyone who he considers a threat. Evil is
overpowering him as he decides to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. The witches
predicted Banquo's children to be kings but not him. Clearly Banquo was no
threat to the title of Macbeth yet Macbeth had him killed anyway. Macbeth no
longer thought of the loyalty he owed Banquo as he had done in Duncan's case.
The banquet scene is very important and symbolic. Shakespeare shows that
Macbeth is so evil that he is in some way not human anymore. "The table's
full." 8(Macbeth 3.4. 54) said Macbeth. The place where he was suppose to sit
was taken by the ghost of the now dead Banquo. Macbeth now doesn't have a place
among the others. He became enraged as he knew that that was true but later
accepted it by going to meet with his own evil kind, the witches.
The witches do play an important part in Macbeth's evil actions and his downfall
but can't be held responsible for it. The witches told him more or less exactly
who were a threat to him. If it were not for them Macbeth would have had to
continue on guessing and might have killed many people who pose no threat to him.
Until now, everybody that died was a threat to Macbeth in some way or another.
To a certain degree, Macbeth is considered only an evil man to who he thinks
stand in his way of greatness and happiness. All that changes when he has
Macduff's castle attacked by a band of murderers. The murderers killed many
people who have nothing to do with Macbeth's continuing reign over Scotland.
Macbeth's evil is now at its peak. Nobody can blame Lady Macbeth for his actions
now. She doesn't even know what he is doing at this point. The witches
prophecies told him that Macduff poses a challenge for him. Still they never
mentioned his family or even anybody else. That didn't stop Macbeth from
killing anybody and everybody at the castle.
Macbeth is in fact an evil man. Maybe at one point he could have been admired as
a soldier, a brave man who would fight willingly for his country. He had the
titles of Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor but that wasn't enough for him. At
the beginning of the play he would contemplate evil actions and then he would
feel the guilt for these actions. The play concluded with him killing at the
chance that someone was against him without giving it a second thought. To the
very end, Macbeth proved to be a traitor and felt no longer any remorse for his
actions. The play concluded with a satisfactory ending and Macbeth wasn't known
for his great achievements and his aid to Scotland but as "this dead butcher"
9(Macbeth 5.8.82.) Scotland had seen it's worst king and awaits its new fate.
Harold Bloom put it best when he said that " we welcome the daylight as if we
were awakening from a nightmare." 10(Bloom,131)
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10. Harold Bloom, Major Literary Characters, Macbeth, : Oxford University Press,
Shakespeare, William, Macbeth, New York: The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992.
Ribner, Irving, Patearns in Shakespearean Tragedy, London: Meutheun, 1960.
Bloom, Harold, Major Literary Characters, Macbeth, Toronto: Oxford University
Leary, Daniel, Macbeth , in the original and modren english, New York: The
perfection form company, 1987.
Harbage, Alfred, A Reader Guide to William Shakespeare, New York: The Noonday