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Evil And Gender Archetypes In Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
Honors English 11
Evil and Gender Archtypes in Macbeth
At the heart of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is an examination
of the nature of evil and it’s many faces and facets. The principal evil characters in the
play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, are both evil, but the manifestation of evil is different
Macbeth’s evil is a dynamic character trait. He begins the play as a celebrated
hero, loyal to his friends and dedicated to his king. He is strong and noble, a man to be
admired by his audience. Then he and Banquo are visited by the three witches, who
promise him that he will be king. This veiled initmation ignites a secret ambition within
Macbeth. Evil has dawned within him, but at this early stage of his transformation
Macbeth is ashamed of his evil urges. He says, “Stars, hide your fires;/ Let not light 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.” (I, iv, 50) Soon, however, Macbeth is overcome by his
ambition and his fall begins. He says, “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but
only/ Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself/ and falls on the other.” (I, vii, 25) As
soon as the descision to murder Duncan is made, and until his death, Macbeth is a vessel
relentlessly filling with evil. Macbeth is the source of all the dastardly deeds in this play.
The witches ignite his evil ambition, Lady Macbeth stokes the fire, but the blame for
Duncan’s murder rests squarely on the shoulders of Macbeth. Macbeth may not have
held the knives that killed Banquo or Macduff’s family, but the agression is his.
Lady Macbeth does not descend into evil. She wallows in it. From the first
moment the audience meets her, she has blatantly committed herself to evil. She longs to
be even more evil, and tries to commune with unseen spirits to help her. She says,
“Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here./ And fill me from the
crown to the toe top-full/ Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;/ Stop up the access and
passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature/ Shake my fell purpose, nor
keep peace between/ The effect and it! come to my woman’s breasts,/ And take my milk
for gall, you murdering ministers,/ Whatever in your sightless substances/ You wait on
nature’s mischief! Come think night,/ And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,/ That
my keen knife see not the wound it makes,/ Nor Heaven peep through the blanket of the
dark,/ To cry ‘Hold, hold!’” (I, v, 36) For all the sound and fury, Lady Macbeth’s evil
signifies nothing. She has no goal which requires this sinisterness. When she learns of
the witches’ promise, Duncan is nothing to her but a suitable victim. Her true goal is not
to gain the throne. Her motive is only to increase her personal perception of her power.
It is interesting to note the importance of gender in the personifications of evil in
Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is as obsessed with her gender as her evil. When she implores
evil to “unsex” her, to take her “woman’s breasts for gall” she reveals the sense of
powerlessness and weakness she feels. Being a woman makes her dependant on her
husband for her social standing. She feels that her femaleness is the cause of the
sympathy, compassion, and remorse that stand in the way of free action. She feels that
her gender makes her physically weak. It is idle posturing when she assures Macbeth, “I
have given suck, and know/ How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me;/ I would,
while it was smiling in my face,/ have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,/ And
dashed the brains out” (I, vii, 54). This comment is purely a rejection of her womanly
self, in favor of physical power to “dash brains out.” She is trying to convince herself, to
believe that she can overcome her natural emotions. She urges Macbeth to kill Duncan
for the same reason: to prove to herself that she posesses the cruelty to do it. However, it
remains a struggle for her, as she admits after seeing murdered Duncan. She says, “Had
he not resembled/ My father as he slept, I had done’t.” (II, ii, 13) In addition, the murder
does not relieve her of her self-doubt and insecurity. The evil deed has not imparted the
feelings of power she had expected. This is what she means when she says, “Naught’s
had, all’s spent,/ Where our desire is got without content.” (III, ii, 4) Lady Macbeth does
not seem to realize that her greatest advantage in evil is her womanly intelligence. She
makes the plans and handles the emotional and mental consequences of the deed, where
Macbeth is overcome.
Macbeth’s evil is physical. Where Lady Macbeth schemes and waits, Macbeth
rushes to violence. His evil is brutal and impatient. His weakness is his inability to
control his mind.
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