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Shakespeare’s classic tragedy entitled Macbeth tells the story of a proud nobleman who attempts to reach the pinnacle of the hierarchy commanding the kingdom he serves by following a cryptic, supernatural prophecy. Considering the treacherous deeds he would have to commit to achieve this prophecy, Macbeth was hesitant to move forward. With the influence of his wife and the challenge she presented him, he was able to carry forth his deceit. The task now is to determine who is more sinister; she who sharpened the blade, or he who ran it through.
Macbeth’s character was introduced in the play as a valiant warrior capable of amazing feats on the battlefield fighting in the name of his Kingdom. After succeeding in one of his conquests, Macbeth and his partner, Banquo were met by three mysterious women speaking in intriguing riddles (Casson). The three weird sisters told Macbeth that his destiny was to become king. Bewitched and excited by this prophecy, Macbeth told his wife of his fate in a letter that would unfold in an onslaught of treachery and betrayal. The letter explained not only of his prophecy, but alerted Lady Macbeth that the King Duncan will be staying at their residence. Lady Macbeth took this as no mere coincidence and began conceiving her plot to capture the throne. Her plan was simple in theory, needing only plenty of libations for the guests and guardsmen and a blade to remove the King. Macbeth was a faithful warrior, however, known for his honor as a man of his kingdom. Macbeth was hesitant to commit such an atrocious act against the kingdom. His wife took advantage of his reputation, threatening his manhood and scolding him for his fear. “The seeds of Macbeth’s eventual assertion of his own arbitrary will as supreme and his consequent nihilism are already contained in Lady Macbeth’s desire that they have ‘sovereign sway and masterdom’”(Hibbs). After taking such a hit to his self-worth, Macbeth immediately decides to act according to his original ideals and carry out his claim to the throne (Casson). “Macbeth also harbors black and deep desires to ascend to the throne by whatever means necessary” (Hibbs). In the dark of the night, Macbeth entered King Duncan’s quarters and slew him along with the two guards posted outside. Returning to his wife, bloody daggers in his grasp, Macbeth was shaken as he relived the crime he committed, leaving his wife to deal with covering it up.
While both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth held some sort of responsibility for the murder, the question remains; who is the more responsible of the two? “Shakespeare’s Macbeth depicts a deed done with full recognition of its maliciousness” (Hibbs). Both are painfully aware of the magnitude of their deeds but their separate methods of dealing with their guilt exposes the darker participant. Macbeth experiences visions centering on floating daggers, serving as reminders for the horrid act. The bloodstained noble simply dismissed his guilt, reminding himself that the daggers are only a vision. “There’s no such thing”. “Alternation in Macbeth between moral horror at the thought and fulfillment of an idea of manliness in carrying it out is focused in the double significance of his soliloquy and vision of a dagger” (Clark). Lady Macbeth, while reliving the events herself, recognizes her guilt plainly. “Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done it.” She too eventually is plagued by familiar visions; her bloodstained hands that can never be fully cleansed. Lady Macbeth becomes hysterical while experiencing these visions, washing her hands tirelessly and aggressively. That one night had begun to deteriorate both of their minds.
During the entirety of Macbeth’s rule as King, Lady Macbeth is consumed with grief and despair over how they achieved their titles while Macbeth sits on the edge of his throne afraid that he too will succumb to the fate that had befallen the previous King. “He is not a villain, but he is no longer a hero; he is determined to understand himself, but he is hopelessly confused about himself… Ultimately, it is Macbeth’s inability to stop acting after he has become king that especially makes him into the play’s monster” (Clark). Consumed by paranoia, Macbeth hires a few of his men to kill his partner on the battlefield, Banquo, and his sons who were prophesied by the weird sisters to be king after Macbeth (Casson). Needless to say, to murder a man he fought so closely with for so long based on a supernatural prophesy is a major indication that Macbeth will literally do whatever it takes to secure his throne. Once again, after hearing news that Banquo was slain, Macbeth suffered from visions; seeing a spectral Banquo in the midst of his dinner guests after his crowning. According to Clark, Macbeth seems to be constantly switching from a state of ‘manly readiness’ to rid himself of those who stand in his way and a condition in which ‘a torture of the mind’ unmans him.
Later on in the story, as those who serve Macbeth closely begin to identify him as a harsh tyrant, the bloody king once again is consumed with paranoia and fear, ordering the death of a nobleman’s wife and child (Casson). Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth is still suffering from her bloody visions, a doctor ordered by Macbeth tending to her strange affliction of the mind. Shortly after Macbeth’s last killing order, the men who once served Macbeth decide to rebel against him, once again forcing Macbeth into a downward spiral of fear (Casson). Upon preparing for battle, Macbeth receives word that his wife had succumbed to the guilt of her actions and took her own life. In a sense, Lady Macbeth gave the ultimate apology for her sins by paying a price of equal worth. As Macbeth had done with his previous thoughts of guilt and remorse, he simply shrugged it off, announcing his newfound lack of fear. The reign of Macbeth ended in bloodshed, and the king answered for his sins.
Evil is defined plainly as the lack of good. According to Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth, people certainly have the capabilities for both, but the concept of evil almost takes a step further by revealing a person’s true desires and what they would do to obtain them. According to Tufts, if one were to examine the cause of Macbeth’s actions, the witches’ prophesy is open to interpretation; it only tells Macbeth that he will be king, not that he had to kill the current one. One could say that the catalyst for Macbeth’s crime spree was when he murdered Duncan, but to continue murdering others in fear that they would mimic his own actions represents his resolve to squash out anyone who threatens him. While his wife groveled in sorrow after the murder of King Duncan, Macbeth bathed in the bloodshed.
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